White Sky Celebrates 20 Years as the Music Business Accounting Experts
by Augustus Welby for The Music Network
White Sky is Australia’s biggest music business accounting firm. The Melbourne-based company provides accounting and business management services for many of Australia’s most successful artists, including Tame Impala, Amy Shark, Tim Minchin, Vance Joy and Peking Duk.
White Sky works with major events, such as the Laneway, Boogie and Fairgrounds festivals, and various record labels and management groups, including Chugg Music, Cooking Vinyl, Remote Control Records, Spinning Top and Right Hand Management.
The privately owned firm, which is headquartered in the inner Melbourne suburb of Collingwood, recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. White Sky has come a long way since founder Tom Harris began offering bookkeeping services to local bands and labels from his share house bedroom in 2002.
“I didn’t have any grand vision for anything like what White Sky has become,” Harris says, speaking to The Music Network a couple of days after White Sky’s in-house 20th birthday party. “At the time, my motivation was purely that I wanted to hang out with people that wanted to talk about music all day like I did.”
Harris was 25 years old at the time and nursing dreams of becoming a filmmaker. He figured that by starting his own business, he’d have maximum flexibility should the film career take off, and he knew that people in the music industry often weren’t the savviest bookkeepers.
“GST had recently come in and that was making the bookkeeping side of things for businesses a little bit more complicated,” Harris says. “And I knew how to work my way around that. So, that was my in.”
Harris connected with Melbourne label Rubber Records, whose artist roster included 1200 Techniques, Icecream Hands, Jet and The Casanovas. This proved to be an early milestone for White Sky. “From there, I was meeting more bands and people who worked in the industry,” Harris says.
Another early milestone was taking over the bookkeeping for Eskimo Joe, who were on the cusp of their Black Fingernails, Red Wine commercial peak. “It just went from there, picking up more and more big-name acts,” says Harris.
The company’s growth was steady but substantial in its first decade, striking up relationships with independent artists such as Gotye, Midnight Juggernauts and the John Butler Trio. But, while Harris’ filmmaking prospects never blossomed, he managed to keep a finger in many pies.
“I was managing The Temper Trap from when they were small up until when they were a big international band,” he says. “I ran a comedy promotion company with a friend of mine for a few years, bringing comedians out to Australia.”
White Sky continued to grow, however, which led Harris to drop everything else and devote himself to the company. He recruited a multi-skilled staff to help expand White Sky’s services, which now encompass bookkeeping, tax services and royalty accounting.
The arrival of Gerry McKenna was pivotal to broadening the conception of what White Sky could be. McKenna joined ten years ago, at which point she was already the number one music royalties expert in Australia.
“She came and headed up our royalties division which meant we went from being a music bookkeeping company to music financial experts,” says Harris.
A few years later, White Sky launched its tax division. “That was an obvious progression,” says Harris. “If we’re doing all the other stuff, it was just more efficient to do all the tax work for our clients as well.”
One of White Sky’s foremost innovations is TourTracks, a bespoke cloud software for band managers and promoters to plan and budget their tours. “Basically all of the tour accounting—which was a huge, time-consuming job—is now automated and in this one platform, which our clients log in to and use themselves,” Harris says. “They love it.”
The fact that White Sky has not only survived for 20 years, but continued to grow and prosper indicates that music remains a lucrative industry. Harris identifies two major challenges the industry’s faced over the last 20 years: the first is the decline of physical sales and the rise of streaming; the second is COVID.
Harris characterises the advent of streaming as a “massive unknown.” He was not optimistic that the revenue provided by digital streaming platforms would rescue artists from the sales decline engendered by the P2P file-sharing revolution. “I thought the model was massively flawed and that artists had been hung out to dry,” he says.
But Harris’ opposition isn’t so firm these days. “I’m not saying [streaming is] perfect,” he says, “but as more and more people sign up and there’s more and more revenue to be shared around, we’re now seeing it flow through to the artists.”
He adds, “Although it’s not as good as the nineties with selling CDs, it’s a hell of a lot better than it was in the 2000s, where it was just basically accepted that your music was going to get ripped and shared for free.”
Artists and labels are now starting to reap various side benefits from streaming, such as being able to see where their fanbases are located and gaining what Harris calls “long-tail revenue.”
“Previously you’d sell all your CDs when your song was on the radio and then you’d see it drop off pretty quickly,” he says. “Whereas now, the algorithms are constantly working in the background, so your music can last for years; decades, even.”
After 20 years in the business, Harris and the 50-plus member team at White Sky are leaders in the music business accounting sector. So, what comes next?
“I still think there is growth in Australia,” says Harris. “We do have plans to pick up more clients internationally. Our royalty services were picking up really well in the UK and US pre-COVID.”
But the main priority, says Harris, is to keep doing good work. “We just love being the experts in what we do. And the thing about the music industry is, there’s always new bands, it’s always changing, it’s always exciting. So, that’s the fun part.”