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6 Questions With Jenny Morris, APRA Chair And ARIA Award-Winning Artist

Jenny Morris
Photo credit: Hugh Stewart

Jenny Morris

It’s coming to the end of an era at APRA/AMCOS, where a rare change at the helm will take place in the months ahead. With effect from next July, Brett Cottle will exit the rights society he has guided as CEO since 1990. 

Cottle joined the organization as its first in-house counsel back in the late 1970s, and has presided over a seven-fold rise in royalty collections and distributions. He’s the only Australian to have been elected chair of the International Confederation of Authors’ Societies (CISAC), a post in which he served for two consecutive terms. 

APRA (the Australasian Performing Right Society) was established in 1926 and now boasts more than 90,000 members, while AMCOS (Australasian Mechanical Copyright Owners Society) was created in 1979 and counts more than 16,000 members (Cottle brought the organizations together in 1997). In its most recent financial report, APRA/AMCOS generated revenue of a third of a billion Australian dollars for the year 2015-2016, up 11%, and the next full-year period should also reap record results. 

The search is underway for Cottle’s success (it’s led by Julie Steiner, managing director at international recruiting firm Odgers Berndtson). The next chief will take the reins of an organization that’s in good shape. But there are battles ahead. Billboard caught up with Jenny Morris to talk APRA’s future and the big issues facing the domestic industry and music creators. Morris is a two-time winner of the ARIA Award for best female artist and she currently battles for artists' rights in the role as APRA chair. 

Billboard: With Brett Cottle’s departure in mind, what benefits will a leadership change bring? And who are the global stakeholders who will be watching on?
Jenny Morris: I was recently at the CISAC AGM in Lisbon and there was a great deal of dismay and sadness at the news of Brett’s departure. He will leave behind a very steady ship though, mainly due to his excellent diplomatic and negotiating skills, his vast experience and his great vision. Having said that, there is always a point at which a company can benefit from a leadership change, even if that means embellishing or enlarging on the strengths the organization has already. There is a sense within the global copyright collection community that APRA is a star and for a myriad of reasons, it is seen as punching above its weight. I think there will be a great deal of interest in who Brett’s replacement will be.

What kind of workplace and board culture will the new CEO steer, and what are you looking for in the new boss?
APRA is a highly functional, complicated and many faceted organization but it’s an organization that exists for and because of music and the people who make it, so it is also organic.  We will be looking for someone who understands all of this and what has lead to APRA's successes so that there won’t be a slash-and-burn approach to leadership but a more sensitive awareness of the things the board holds most dear...such things as the satisfaction and trust of its membership, the ability to successfully navigate the swiftly-changing and complex digital environment, a collaborative atmosphere in the workplace with an emphasis on equal opportunity and an awareness of and support for the many different groups of writers APRA represents.
The upper management team are all extremely smart and accomplished and experienced; most have been with APRA for over 10 years. The result of all of that is a confidence and trust within the organization that comes from the very top and which filters right through to it's 300-plus employee. 

What's around the corner for the music industry and how has APRA set itself up for this future?
I’m not alone in saying it’s almost impossible to predict the future of our industry apart from saying it is unpredictable. The lightening speed at which change has come to the music industry has caught us somewhat off guard. It's imperative that we try to offset any negative impact and capitalize on all the positives. APRA  has gone some way to doing this by developing a new operating system called CLEF (Copyright Licensing Enterprise Facility) which will streamline operations, make savings and enlarge the scope of it’s activities. In addition to that, we are making a point of building relationships with other industry bodies directly and indirectly connected to APRA. Having a presence at a government level is also something we see as very important as we plan for future shifts and changes within our industry.

What role is APRA currently playing in the Asia-Pacific region and how it play that role in the years to come?
Another area where Brett and his team have shown great vision is in the belief that new multi territory systems must be found where market failure occurs and APRA is leading the way with this in regard to licensing of rights into Asia. This will result in APRA playing an important role in rights management through the Asia Pacific in years to come.

The issue of copyright in the Internet age won't go away. What role does APRA play in the shaping this discussion in Australia and New Zealand?
The issue of copyright in the digital age is a great roaring bear who’s sore tooth will take time to pull because that bear won’t stand still long enough to get the pliers in its mouth. Brett and his extraordinary team have worked wonders in a very tricky environment. In fact royalty rates are higher now than they were for old media. The problem is the phenomenal numbers of writers now sharing the income pool. The answer lies somewhere in pushing the consumer uptake of these new delivery systems. Brett has said that consumer use needs to increase four-fold within Australia and NZ to bring writer and publisher income back up to where it was prior to the steep decline in the record business.

How will the investment in new systems play a role in meeting the demands of a rapidly changing landscape? 
We are confident that CLEF will help us through the new and ever changing environment we find ourselves in. Where you have access to all of the capabilities CLEF will have, I think you’re going to be in as good a position as any to meet demands.

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