Dami Im says she was in a “toxic environment” while signed to Sony Music Australia

Im was signed to Sony Music Australia from 2013 to 2020

Dami Im has discussed her time at Sony Music Australia, recounting her experience in what she called “a toxic environment” at the label in a new interview.

While appearing on The Project on Sunday night (November 13), the singer was asked how she would describe her time at the label. Im signed with Sony in 2013, shortly after winning the fifth season of The X Factor Australia. She released four albums with the label, but left in 2020, signing with ABC Music to release 2021’s ‘My Reality’.

In response to the question, Im said that it was “quite difficult” to talk about her time at Sony, but felt it was necessary to explore the subject in her new memoir Dreamer. “It was a toxic environment being at Sony,” she said. “I’ve had days where I would be locked up in the toilet just crying because it was just mentally so distressing.”

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“I would be working on albums and music videos. It takes a lot of time and team effort to get that together, just then to have it squashed and cancelled, thrown in the bin, without me ever getting to even see some of it,” Im continued. “So, I still have some music videos that I haven’t even got to see, even though I paid for it as well. It was a really tough time for me and all the other artists.”

Im was also asked about a chapter in Dreamer – which was published last Wednesday (November 9) – titled “Boardroom”. In it, she describes a meeting with Sony executives (“men in suits, lawyers, just to intimidate me”) that took place after she, in her words, “reached breaking point”.

“I was clearly outnumbered, but I had to go in there. I told them, ‘If this is gonna be my career, I can’t have this anymore, and if you keep wanting me to record these covers,’ that I wasn’t wanting to do any more, ‘then I’m happy to be off the record label,'” Im explained.

“I was essentially saying I was ready to give up my career and never sing again or record another album. ‘I’ve had enough.’ And having that meeting, it was actually cathartic,” Im said. “I’m not a confrontational person, but to just step up and to say, ‘Look, I’m done. I’m done with you and I’m leaving.’ So, that’s, I guess, a good and bittersweet moment of my time there.”

Im was then asked why she decided to speak up. She referenced “ex-staff from Sony [who] have spoken up about their difficult time” at the label, but said she felt most artists had been unable to “step up and talk about this”.

“I understand why,” Im said. “It’s really scary… to think that your dreams will never come true again. You can never make music. We’ve been working for all our lives to record these albums, and it’s scary to come forward,” she said.

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“There’s a real threat that Sony could make sure you’ll never sing again. But I thought, ‘Someone needs to come forward and talk about this,’ and I feel like I have the power and I’m in a position where I don’t really care or fear what they’re gonna do to me. I still make the music I want, and have a career.”

Sony Music Australia had no comment when approached by NME.

In June 2021, Sony Music Australia’s former chairman and CEO Denis Handlin was ousted from the company after five decades of working for the label. His exit came shortly after it was reported that Sony Music’s head office in the United States had engaged an external counsel to investigate allegations of discrimination, bullying and harassment in the Australian office.

In October last year, an episode of ABC’s Four Corners program detailed accusations of misconduct and a toxic workplace at Sony Music Australia alleged to have occurred under Handlin’s tenure at the company, with over 100 current and former employees being interviewed for the exposé.

In a statement to Four Corners, Handlin wrote: “I have always provided support and encouragement to women in the industry and personally championed diversity.” He said he would “never tolerate treating women in an inappropriate or discriminatory manner”, and that at “any time I was made aware of this sort of behaviour I took action to ensure that it was stopped and didn’t occur again”.

Shortly after the episode aired, Im commented on the allegedly “toxic” workplace culture at Sony in an interview with The Australian. She said she wasn’t shocked by the accusations, “because everybody who was signed to Sony or worked there… all knew that was going on”.

Discussing her time at Sony – where she both had a recording contract and was part of their management roster – Im said she thought the label “[felt] like they owned me” and that she “wasn’t treated like an equal”.

“I’m somebody who’s really open to working with the company, and not just pushing against them for the sake of my ego; if they’re funding it, I’d like them to be happy with what I’m doing,” Im said. “But I always felt it wasn’t reciprocated; for some reason, even though my albums and singles were going platinum and gold, and I was doing very well, I just always felt really disrespected.”

In June of this year, Sony Music Australia announced that Vanessa Picken, formerly of EMI and [PIAS], would replace Handlin almost a year after his departure, becoming the company’s first-ever female boss.

In October last year, Midnight Oil frontman Peter Garrett responded to allegations of toxic behaviour at Sony Music Australia. The band have been signed to Sony via subsidiaries CBS/Columbia since their 1981 album ‘Place Without A Postcard’.

In an interview with The Australian, Garrett said that while neither he nor the band were “mistreated by anyone at Sony” and “didn’t see any of [the alleged] behaviour”, they “oppose bullying; any form, anywhere” and “strongly support” those who spoke out.

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