Words by Rachel Short
White Sky music business management was born out of Tom Harris’ desire to assist musicians with their finances.
Harris began the company in 2002, from his bedroom, after working in book keeping for Rubber Records and Media Arts Lawyers.
“I wanted to work in the music industry specifically, just because I wanted to hang around other people who wanted to talk about music all day, rather than working in a sterile corporate sort of area. David and Stephen (from MAL) were nice enough to recommend me to a few people here and there in the industry and the word just spread,” explains Harris.
The introduction of the Liberal Government’s GST had just come in and band managers who had once looked after artist’s finances suddenly realised they didn’t know enough to take care of business. Harris knew enough to step in and run the artist finances for them. His first major client was Eskimo Joe – who were very big at the time – and since then his company has grown to 250 clients over the last twelve years, 150 of those being musicians and the rest being managers, record labels, publishers and industry folk in general.
Harris also works as a band manager, having managed The Temper Trap from 2006 to 2011. He currently manages The Little Stevies.
White Sky has offices in Melbourne and Sydney and now has thirty-three staff. Six weeks ago, they launched the White Sky Hub, which is an office space in their Melbourne building where managers, publicists, music lawyers and industry people can work. Harris’ partner Paul is a certified CPA accountant and Gerry McKenna, a music royalties expert, has joined Harris in beginning White Sky Royalty Accounting — a division of the company that specialises in reviewing royalty statements for artists and making sure they’re getting paid correctly by record labels.
“Finding royalties is highly specialised and can be quite time consuming because the statements are really ridiculous beasts, particularly now with streaming – there’s so many lines of data. We’re working on some software now that can streamline the process and that means we can make it affordable to artists of all shapes and sizes, not just the top tier.”
Harris mentions that unfortunately, thanks to piracy and the high level of streaming software these days, it is incredibly difficult for artists to make money from recorded music. From a strictly business point of view, musicians need to make money from other avenues than recordings.
White Sky offers a range of services for their clients. For the bigger acts, they perform as the accounts department. “Every business has an accounts department who receives the mail, reconciles the bank and pays all the bills. “Bands are the same, we’re the band’s accounts department.”
White Sky also oversee the budgets for tours and cash flow forecasting, making sure that artists don’t run out of money in the middle of recording an album or while on tour. For the smaller clients, they offer a more simple book keeping system, which Harris describes as a ‘shoebox scenario’ (or a ‘dropbox scenario’ in 2015) where the client sends in their quarterly receipts and gets reconciled in return.
White Sky has a team of Business Managers, Account Managers and Accounts Officers who work together to manage the client’s finances. The staff are expected to know everything about the clients they manage: the band members names, their tour manager, when they have a new album coming out, what shows they’re playing or which country they’re currently in.
The Account Managers have an umbrella of acts they are responsible for and they communicate with the artist’s management on a daily basis. For any smaller bands interested in having their finances taken care of, Harris recommends that unless you are registered for GST, you can probably take care of things yourself. “I’m happy to help and work with anybody. We have spreadsheets that we give away for free and we show people how to use them without having to pay us anything.”
Being a business management service that specialises in the music industry, White Sky is quite unique in Australia. Harris notes that there are other businesses similar but the one thing that helps White Sky stand alone is the fact that they don’t do tax returns.
“Although some people might see that as a failing, it’s actually our greatest strength because it means we’re not a threat or a competitor to all of the other accountants in the music industry, so they all love us and happily recommend clients to us and vice versa.”