The split, confirmed in a statement from Melbourne-based Mushroom Group, was triggered by an investigation into claims from former Harbour Agency staff on past management behavior and workplace culture.
“Mushroom Group can confirm that The Harbour Agency is no longer part of the Mushroom Group of Companies,” reads the message, seen by Billboard.
“For many years now Harbour has operated independently of the Mushroom Group,” the statement continues. “Unlike all other Mushroom Group companies it has not shared HR, legal, finance or other group corporate services.”
Mushroom has distanced itself from its former affiliate, noting it has no controlling shareholding in Harbour, nor input into its decision-making process.
According to Mushroom reps, several former Harbour Agency staffers stepped forward and contacted the music company with historical allegations. External investigators were tapped and those concerns raised were explored, the statement explains.
During its probe, a number of unidentified former employees were interviewed, and, those issues raised by the investigation, the statement reads, “have been taken seriously and are now being addressed by the directors of Harbour Agency.”
Based in the so-called “Harbour City,” Sydney, Harbour Agency opened for business in 1978, and was a jewel in the considerable crown that is the Mushroom Group, the empire built by the late Michael Gudinski.
“Representing world-class established, mid-level and developing talent it has become Australia’s largest booking agency,” reads a statement on the Harbour Agency website.
Prior to his passing in March of this year, Gudinski had served as a director at Harbour alongside Mushroom Group top brass Philip Jacobsen and Frank Stivala.
The findings of the investigation “emphasized the lack of direct day to day visibility and influence we have over the running of the Harbour business,” concludes the statement.
Now led by CEO Matt Gudinski, the Mushroom Group’s portfolio of companies numbers two-dozen, though Harbour Agency has been scrubbed from its website.
Premier Artists, which is based in Melbourne, and has, over time, worked in tandem with Harbour Agency, is unaffected by the investigation.
When the dust settles on 2021, many music industry observers will identify this as the year when bad behavior would no longer be tolerated, and offenders would be punished. In recent months, the domestic arms of Sony Music and Universal Music launched investigations into their own corporate cultures, and a working group was assembled to see that the industry’s dark elements are exposed in the mainstream media.
The #MeToo movement cranked up a gear when, in early October, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation aired Facing the Music: The Sony Music Scandal, a 47-minute documentary which lifted the lid on the “culture of fear, harassment and bullying” in a workplace Denis Handlin led for 37 years. Handlin was ousted from Sony Music in June.
“The last three months have felt like a watershed in the music industry,” wrote Dr. Jeff Crabtree in August. “Truth be told,” he continued, “we already knew about toxic behavior in the music industry.”
Crabtree identified three engines behind the movement: the work of several journalists; the arrival of Beneath The Glass Ceiling, the anonymous Instagram account posting survivor stories and exposing abusive behavior; and his own report, Workplace Harassment in the Contemporary Music Industries of Australia and New Zealand, which found that but one of the survey’s 145 respondents had experienced some form of harassment at some time.
By cutting ties with Harbour, Mushroom Group is drawing a line in the sand. “At Mushroom we take the creation of a positive and creative workplace culture seriously and, without the ability to influence the culture at Harbour, Mushroom has made the decision to formally separate the business from the group,” the company explains.