Arriving at the new headquarters for EMI Music Australia in Sydney’s Surry Hills, where the Star Observer had been invited for a first look around the premises and a one-on-one chat with openly gay company chair Mark Poston, we couldn’t help but think of the frequent doomsday reports about the music industry being in dire straits.
EMI’s new multi-level open-plan office houses more than 60 employees in positively palatial surroundings, with chandeliers, a chill-out zone with hanging cocoon chairs, and platinum plaques lining every wall.
Are these fancy new digs some bacchanalian last hurrah as the record industry eats itself? Has Mark Poston gold-plated a sinking ship?
“As someone who works in music and really believes in it, I’m angry that we’ve had this constant battering,” Poston told the Star Observer as we took to a couch in his office.
“And that’s not a naive statement. I’m not being a Pollyanna and saying everything’s just great in the industry, but we’ve re-engineered things and changed the way we work to survive.
“When the media comes out with doom and gloom reports about how record companies aren’t going to survive — well, that’s just not the case for us.”
Indeed, the move to the heart of Surry Hills (after 24 years in an outmoded office in Cremorne) seems like part of a concerted effort by Poston to engage the public with his company’s roster of acts.
As he puts it, it’s about “testing and trying what works to connect music to legal sales. There are great artists making great music out there, but it’s about finding ways to let people know”.
Record company offices are traditionally hidden away in backstreet buildings with little signage, lest any pesky members of the general public discover where they are and go in search of their favourite singers. But you can’t miss EMI any more — their airy, open-plan offices face out to Flinders St, with windows lacquered with a frieze of iconic EMI album covers past and present.
They’re also home to what’s been dubbed ‘The EMI Art Project’, an opportunity for burgeoning creative types to connect with EMI’s roster of artists.
At present, the windows play host to Archibald Prize entrant Stuart Hall’s painting of Paul Dempsey and a work by Sydney street artist Beastman, which is being used as the artwork for Faker’s new single.
The displays will be changed regularly, with the team at EMI eager for submissions.
“My gay senses went completely haywire when I saw these windows,” Poston chuckled.
“We want to open them up to Sydney’s creative community and allow them to get involved with our artists.”
Poston’s harboured a lifelong passion for the music industry. He told the Star Observer about getting his first job at a record company two decades ago in his native Melbourne, arriving to find he had access to a wealth of musical paraphernalia, from demos to master tapes to unreleased interviews.
“I wanted to go crazy and devour it all,” he recalled.
It’s the sort of collector’s fetishism familiar to many a queer music buff, which makes it all the more strange that Poston is reportedly the sole openly gay record company managing director in Australia.
“Someone asked me the other day what it was like [to be the first]. I didn’t even think about that to start with, but hopefully I can be a positive role model for people.”
Surely his open, relaxed nature about his own sexuality has a top-down effect for the organisation. What would he say if one of his artists came to him looking for advice in coming out?
“Funnily enough, that happened with Nathan [Hudson] from Faker. I told him if you’re going to come out, it needs to be for your own reasons and you need to be comfortable with it. It’s great that he did, and we’re so happy he and Nic [Munnings, Faker’s guitarist] are out and proud gay artists, holding their own in rock’n’roll.”
Poston listed Faker’s upcoming third album as one of his most anticipated releases for the second half of the year, alongside a well-deserved Goldfrapp greatest hits and releases from Empire of the Sun/Sleepy Jackson frontman Luke Steele, David Guetta (who’s recorded an ambient dance track with Sia) and most surprising of all, a new Kate Bush album.
“Of course, you can never be sure with Kate Bush. She does things at her own pace,” Poston said with more than a little understatement. “But we’ve been told to prepare for a November release.”
INFO: Find out more about the EMI Art Project at www.theinsoundfromwayout.com