White Sky is Australia’s largest audit firm. The Melbourne-based company provides accounting and business management services to many of Australia’s most famous artists, including Tame Impala, Amy Shark, Tim Minchin, Vance Joy and Peking Duk.
White Sky works with major events, such as 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 held company, headquartered in Melbourne’s inner suburb of Collingwood, recently celebrated its 20e anniversary. White Sky has come a long way since founder Tom Harris began offering accounting services to local bands and labels from his shared bedroom in 2002.
“I didn’t have a grand vision of what White Sky has become,” Harris said, speaking to The music network a few days after White Sky’s internal 20e birthday party. “At the time, my motivation was only that I wanted to hang out with people who wanted to talk about music all day like I did.”
Harris was 25 at the time and dreamed of becoming a filmmaker. He believed that by starting his own business he would have maximum flexibility should the film career take off, and he knew that people in the music industry were often not the most knowledgeable accountants.
“The GST had recently come into effect and that made accounting for businesses a bit more complicated,” says Harris. “And I knew how to get around that. So that was my thing.
Harris connected with Melbourne label Rubber Records, whose roster of artists included 1200 Techniques, Icecream Hands, Jet and The Casanovas. This turned out to be a first step for White Sky. “From there, I met more bands and people who worked in the industry,” says Harris.
Another milestone was taking over the accounting of Eskimo Joe, who was about to Black nails, red wine trade peak. “It went from there, picking up more and more big-name actors,” says Harris.
The company’s growth was steady but substantial during its first decade, building relationships with independent artists such as Gotye, Midnight Juggernauts and the John Butler Trio. But, although Harris’ cinematic prospects never blossomed, he managed to keep a finger in many pies.
“I ran The Temper Trap from when they were little until they became a big international band,” he says. “I ran a comedy promotion company with a friend of mine for a few years, bringing comedians to Australia.”
However, White Sky continued to grow, leading Harris to drop everything else and focus on the business. He has recruited a multi-skilled staff to help expand White Sky’s services, which now encompass accounting, tax services and royalty accounting.
The arrival of Gerry McKenna was instrumental in broadening the conception of what White Sky could be. McKenna joined ten years ago, by which time she was already Australia’s number one music royalty expert.
“She came in and ran our royalty division, which meant we went from being a music accounting company to music financial experts,” Harris says.
A few years later, White Sky launched its tax division. “It was an obvious progression,” Harris says. “If we do everything else, it was just more efficient to also do all the tax work for our clients.”
One of White Sky’s main innovations is TourTracks, a bespoke cloud-based software for band managers and promoters to plan and budget their tours. “Basically, all of the route accounting – which used to be a huge, time-consuming job – is now automated and on this single platform, which our customers log into and use themselves,” says Harris. “They love it.”
The fact that White Sky has not only survived for 20 years, but has continued to grow and thrive indicates that the music remains a lucrative industry. Harris identifies two major challenges the industry has faced over the past 20 years: the first is the decline in physical sales and the rise of streaming; the second is COVID.
Harris characterizes the advent of streaming as a “huge unknown”. He was not optimistic that the revenue generated by digital streaming platforms would save artists from the drop in sales brought about by the P2P file sharing revolution. “I thought the model was massively flawed and the artists had been hung up to dry,” he says.
But Harris’s opposition isn’t so firm these days. “I do not say [streaming is] perfect,” he says, “but as more and more people sign up and there’s more and more revenue to share, we’re now seeing that trickle down to artists.
He adds, “Although it’s not as good as it was in the 90s with the sale of CDs, it’s much better than the 2000s when it was just assumed that your music was going to be ripped and shared for free.”
Artists and labels are now beginning to reap various side benefits from streaming, such as the ability to see where their fan bases are and earn what Harris calls “long tail revenue.”
“It used to be that you sold all your CDs when your song was on the radio and then you saw it drop pretty quickly,” he says. “While now the algorithms are constantly running in the background, so your music can last for years; decades, even.
After 20 years in the business, Harris and the 50+ member team at White Sky are leaders in the music business accounting industry. So what comes next?
“I still think there’s growth in Australia,” Harris says. “We have plans to attract more customers internationally. Our royalty services have grown very well in the UK and US pre-COVID. »
But the main priority, says Harris, is to keep doing a good job. “We love being the experts in what we do. And the thing with the music industry is that there are always new bands, it’s always changing, it’s always exciting. So that’s the fun part.