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The Power 50: #2 - Denis Handlin

13 May 2020 | 2:19 pm | Jessica Dale

The 50 most influential people in the Australian music industry.

Pic by Cole Bennetts

Pic by Cole Bennetts

More The Power 50 2019 More The Power 50 2019

In 1970, Denis Handlin took on his first role at the company that would become Sony Music Entertainment. Starting out as junior record assembler at the Australian Record Company’s Brisbane warehouse, within five years he had taken on various promotions roles, become Queensland State Manager and then headed to Sydney as the National Promotions Manager. Australian Record Company became CBS and then into its final form as Sony, while Handlin stepped up as MD and CEO of the Australian branch in 1984 and then adding President of Sony Music Entertainment Asia to his title in 2011. 2019 marked 35 years leading Sony Music Entertainment in Australia.

The Sony Foundation, which is steered by Handlin and has raised $35 million for youth-related causes since its launch in 1998, brought in $1.52 million at its Sydney fundraiser, $810k in Melbourne and $480k in Brisbane. The 2019 Drought Relief CD raised close to $280k for Rural Aid, a new youth cancer centre was opened in Brisbane and the Children’s Holiday Camp had a record amount of guests. 

It was a year of successful signings with buzz act The Chats joining The Orchard/Cooking Vinyl, and 15-year-old The Kid Laroi joined Columbia Records with a worldwide deal after a three year development stint. Country artist Brad Cox and Australia’s Got Talent finalist Mitch Tambo both inked deals with Sony Music, while Jarrad Rogers inked a deal for his NOiZE Recordings to join the Sony family. 2019 was strong for Sony artists in the Asian territories, with Ruel, Cosmo’s Midnight, Guy Sebastian, Billy Davis and Robinson picking up everything from #1 hits to sold-out shows.

You couldn’t talk about Sony’s 2019 without talking about the gargantuan success of Tones & I. The Mornington Peninsula via Melbourne via Byron Bay artist, real name Toni Watson, joined the group as part of her Bad Batch label in February and by year’s end she had smashed the all-time record for most weeks at #1 on the ARIA Singles Chart - both consecutively and non-consecutively - with her hit Dance Monkey. Australia wasn’t the only successful market though, with #1 spots picked up in 30 countries and over one billion streams amassed from just May to November alone. APRA AMCOS welcomed Watson to their 1,000,000,000 List with the organisation noting that the track was inducted faster than any other so far. 

Handlin and Sony’s work was rewarded handsomely at the year’s ARIA Awards, with 2019 the most successful in the company’s history. Watson would score four (including Breakthrough Artist), while Guy Sebastian picked up both Song Of The Year and Best Video, RÜFÜS DU SOL took home Best Dance Release and Northlane became the first-ever act to win the Best Hard Rock/Heavy Metal Album award three times. Human Nature - who signed with Sony in 1995 - were inducted into the ARIA Hall Of Fame.

Sony headed into 2020 with a brand new Melbourne office - complete with a recording studio - and merchandise, podcast and expanded sports management divisions.

"We are proud of our track record of signing and developing world-class artists who go on to achieve domestic and global success. 2019 saw the phenomenal rise - and rise - of Tones & I; Guy Sebastian had the biggest hit of his career with Choir; albums from Conrad Sewell and Jessica Mauboy debuted at #1; and artists like Amy Shark, Ruel, RÜFÜS DU SOL, Tash Sultana and The Kid Laroi continued to expand their worldwide fanbases. These were very proud achievements for our artists and the team in our company. Breaking the record of $35 million raised for Sony Foundation Australia since its founding in 1998 was also incredibly special, as we continue to raise funds for youth based causes across the country."