Denis Handlin is stepping down as chairman of the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) board after an unprecedented ten consecutive years.

Sydney-based Handlin, chairman and CEO of Sony BMG Music Entertainment Australia and New Zealand (SMEANZ), served on the trade body's board for 25 years. In 2005, he was awarded an Order of Australia medal for services to the Aussie music industry.

The new chair is Ed St. John, president and CEO of Warner Music Australasia, who takes over from May 1. He joined the board eight years ago when he was managing director of BMG Music Australia, as it was known then.

Handlin tells, "The board has achieved a lot in the past ten years, and it's time for another board member to chair. But I'll still be heavily involved in the board, there's no such thing as a finishing line for me."

Under Handlin, the ARIA board achieved a cohesion which turned it into an effective lobby group. It also expanded the ARIA Awards and weekly charts to effective brand names, introduced the No. 1 Chart awards and Fine Arts awards to increase the profile of domestic acts, and launched the Hall of Fame as a stand-alone function in 2004.

Handlin says ARIA's Kazaa win in July 2006 set a "worldwide precedence." Action launched by ARIA led to Australian-based Sharman Networks agreeing to pay $100 million in damages for copyright infringement on its file sharing software Kazaa. "We've also achieved a closeness with government," Handlin adds, "and made them understand our issues."

Handlin wants to devote more energy to the diversification of SMEANZ. Its year-old TV and online production company Headlock Productions has a number of projects on the boil and is operating above budget, he says. SMEANZ recently bought a stake in Sydney-based David Caplice Management, and plans to announce a new touring division within the month. The major is also discussing sponsorship deals with 60 brand names to team-up with its acts.

St. Johns tells that the biggest challenge facing the ARIA board is "that in these interesting times, the encompassing issue is how music is valued. That intertwines other issues as to the responsibility that ISPs have for copyright infringement and the education of consumers that the wonderful artists and composers who make their marvelous music and the record companies who invest in them, should be compensated." He adds, "Music's cultural benefit to Australian society is reflected how sales of Australian acts have climbed from 15% of annual business to 28% to 30%."

St. John will remain as chair of ARIA's music awards/Hall Of Fame committee. Negotiations are continuing with the Melbourne city council to set up a permanent exhibition and museum in that city as an extension of the Hall of Fame.

Others on the ARIA board are George Ash, managing director, Universal Music Australia; Marcus Seal, CEO, Shock Records; John O'Donnell, managing director, EMI Music; Sebastian Chase, CEO, MGM Distribution; and David Vodicka, director, Rubber Group Of Companies.