The Hot Seat: Philip Mortlock, Head of Creative, Alberts

Published in The Music Network


Philip, the Australian record industry’s flagship ARIA Awards this year celebrates its 25th anniversary. You’re one of the ARIAs’ founding fathers. Why was it initiated?

They were established to create peer-voted awards to “recognise excellence in Australian recordings” by Australian artists. It came at a time where we had popular voted awards via Countdown – the highly popular ABC TV series – and it was felt we also needed an award that would be judged by a collective of artists and music industry and media. It was also important to cover genres of music that weren’t being recognised.

Ratings for the ARIAs have taken a kicking in recent years. Are you concerned with the direction the Awards has taken?

I’m concerned with the obsession with the TV show itself and not enough focus on the credibility and integrity of the awards and the Australian artists they’re about. It has always been a balancing act to get it right. And they got it right once it settled into the Acer Arena with enough scope for the industry gathering, the live performances and the TV event. Sure it costs a lot to make it work but the benefits for the industry go way beyond TV ratings and of course there’s an important post-awards knock-on effect.

Televised awards ceremonies around the globe have all endured declining ratings, not just the ARIAs. Should energies be placed elsewhere?

The Awards process – that is the nominations, the focus on what has been great in Australian music and the presentation of the winners in each category — needs as much exposure as possible. The media focus and the TV event are crucial but the obsession with competing on prime-time TV is a major distraction. If the awards and the artists who feature in them are not potent enough for this position on TV, then tone-down expectations and find another avenue for exposure.

There is an air of desperation when non-music “star power” is added to the mix to supposedly increase the potency of the TV event. We’re fortunate to have a remarkable, original talent pool of artists – less about stereotypes, more about inventive, creative innovative and diverse musical exploits.

What do the ARIAs need to do this year to get back its mojo?

Focus on the great talent we have. Let them be the creative force to make the ARIA Awards a “must see” – “must be at” event. At last years event – which we would all prefer not to be reminded about – Megan Washington was asked what she would like to do in her performance. She asked for and gave the awards a very entertaining highlight. The ARIAs honours many genres, but it’s important not to appear to discriminate in the selection of awards to be highlighted.

You’ve steered independent music companies for longer than you might care to remember. Are the ARIAs as relevant to the indies as they are to the majors?

Quite simply, the ARIA Awards is the best marketing opportunity the industry has to show its best. I remember much of what has occurred when I worked at a major (Warner Music for 17 years) and then as an indie now for 19 years. We all deal with the same artist community. The artists and the music itself grows organically and we, as an industry, are there to nurture and develop the prospects. It can be done via an indie or a major. And in both ways it can be done with the same level of expertise and integrity. The ARIAs can and should reflect that.

Speaking of the indies, where do you see the independent publishers and labels really exploiting their opportunities in the coming years?

The lines are being fudged. Labels, indie or major, publishing and management. A more general term these days is “rights management”. The machinations of the business are being tested due to the changing dynamics of how people consume music. As an industry, we need to go with it. There’s growth to be made and the focus should always be on quality and accessibility.

The indie sector is best equipped to develop the new talent from the ground up. They have the patience and long-term view. But we’re also seeing that many artists that have done the development stages can stay indie and still do remarkable business. Major companies can and do play a role as well. We should never lose sight of the endless possibilities an Australian act has in getting out to a wider international market.

Anything else you need to get off your chest?

The key word for these times is “listen”. We’re bombarded from all angles on a moment-by-moment basis. Listen and take it in before being judgmental. Listen for the spark of a difference and don’t simply listen to hear familiarity. Having been so fortunate to live through the growth of “the album” as an artistic expression for the artist and a hugely successful format for the industry, I’m hoping the concept of “an album” will remain in some form.

This is where you discover more about the artist, the music and yourself, when you delve into the work. I’m excited by the instant gratification aspects of digital and streaming and all the rest, but I’m hopeful and confident that the idea of an artist wanting to create a body of work to record and perform is still the fundamental.


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