Former Sony Music Australia artist Dami Im comments on label’s allegedly toxic culture: “We all knew that was going on”

The pop artist said she left Sony “because I wanted control, and to be my own boss”

Pop singer Dami Im has commented on the alleged ‘toxic’ workplace culture of her former label Sony Music Australia.

Im was signed to Sony from 2013 until 2019, joining its roster after she won the fifth season of The X Factor Australia. Discussing her move from Sony to ABC Music in a new interview with The Australian, she said: “I left Sony because I wanted control, and to be my own boss.”

Sony Music Australia became embroiled in controversy earlier this year, when reports emerged that the label’s head office in the US was investigating allegations of discrimination, bullying and harassment in the Australian office.

In June, a week following those reports, longtime CEO Denis Handlin was reportedly ‘fired’ from the chief executive position he had held since 1984. No reason was given for his departure, though Sony Music Group Chairman Rob Stringer said in an internal email that it was “time for a change in leadership”.

Earlier this month, investigative journalism programme Four Corners aired an exposé on Sony Music Australia, in which a number of former employees alleged a workplace culture where bullying, discrimination and misconduct were rife. Four Corners said it interviewed over 100 current and former employees for the programme, though no artists agreed to go on the record about the label, Four Corners executive producer Sally Neighbour later claimed on Twitter.

Responding to the allegations aired on Four Corners the day after it aired, Im claimed: “It wasn’t shocking, because everybody who was signed to Sony or worked there, we all knew that was going on. I was shocked very early on in my career rather than while watching it [on TV]. It’s good to see at least some of it come out, and people know more about that.

“Watching it made me feel a little bit heard and understood, because until last night, or more recently, none of us could really talk about it because no one would understand it. At least now, when I speak about my experience of those frustrating years in the company, people understand a bit more.”

Im also discussed her time at Sony as part of their management roster, saying: “I think because I was managed by Sony as well [as having a recording contract], that made the label feel like they owned me. They treated me like I was their worker, rather than an artist.”

She continued: “An artist should have equal say to the company. I really wasn’t treated like an equal. My biggest issue was I didn’t have creative freedom or creative control.

“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. 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.”

Im claimed that although senior executives at Sony – including Handlin – would often make decisions that impacted the longevity of her career, she never saw them at her own concerts. “[Handlin] seemed to think he knew what was best for me,” she said. “He would always say, ‘I’ve got your back. I know what’s best for you. I’m protecting your brand.’ I’m like, ‘Well, how can you know my brand when you don’t come to my shows?’”

Im said that despite her success, she “just wasn’t respected or favoured” and ultimately decided to leave Sony, thinking that even if she didn’t have a career afterwards, she could still “leave and make music for my friends and family, and my church”. Her thinking went, she said, that “having no career at all is better than doing what they’re making me do.”

Sony declined to comment to The Australian about Im’s claims, the publication noted. In a statement shared by Four Corners, a spokesperson from Sony Music Entertainment said: “We take all allegations of bullying, harassment and other inappropriate behaviour from our employees very seriously and investigate them vigorously. Only recently did claims surface and we are examining them expeditiously.”

In his own statement to the programme’s team, Handlin wrote: “I have always provided support and encouragement to women in the industry and personally championed diversity. I would never tolerate treating women in an inappropriate or discriminatory manner. 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.”

Handlin was stripped of several accolades following the Four Corners exposé, including his honorary Queensland Music Award, his ARIA Icon Award, and his APRA-honoured Ted Albert Award for Outstanding Services.

Im released her sixth album, ‘My Reality’, last Friday (October 29) via ABC Music. It marked her first album not to feature any cover songs, with Im as a songwriter on all 10 of its tracks.

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