Writing

Live Music is not back

16/10/21

Despite loud headlines from the Victorian government and local music press that “Live Music is back”¹ – I am here to pour a lot of cold water on that statement. Here are some of the reasons why Live Music is not back.

Before I get into it, I am positioning myself as a musician with layers of privilege. I am a cis-white-settler abled bodied male living and working on unceded land, sky and waters of the Wurundjeri and Boon Wurrung peoples of the Kulin nation. Everything I say should be viewed through this lens and yet I speak up in advocacy – to speak up on behalf of those who cannot.

There are many reasons why speaking up is difficult. The music industry has been hallowed out from federal, state and territory governments over the years before COVID-19 struck². At this point it is simply devastating to watch, participate, and be in. Also, I believe that it is possible to follow and support the health advice whilst also critiquing government policy. To be clear, I am not advocating for the removal of public health restrictions until there is parity in vaccination levels and I reject having my words being used in this way. My issue is with priorities.

Finally, it is a compromise to use the broad terms “music industry” and “music community” interchangeably in this piece – my intention is to emphasise the diverse experiences within the local music scene whilst affirming the collective experience of workers who are entitled to economic support by government.

Live Music is not a one-off event of “several thousand people” at the Sydney Myer Music Bowl, Live Music is community building. It is an equation of experiential and transient moments. It is based on a geographical sense of place or an abstract landscape and resists attempts to track temporality from those who come into contact with it. Live Music is ubiquitous and part of an ecosystem. Live Music is seeing your friend play down at the local pub on a Saturday afternoon, or an ambitious set of music at a grassroots music venue that closely resembles a living room. Live Music is booking small gigs at least 2 – 3 months in advance and live music is booking larger theatre performances 6 – 8 months in advance. Live Music is getting to the venue 2 hours early to EQ the room and run a sound check with the bands.

A one-off performance of several thousand people may play a part in the Live Music equation but workers in this industry are vastly under-represented – there is no authoritative body or union leaving workers unable to mobilise effectively whilst occupying different tiers of inequality and inequity. For example, workers in the music community have had to put up with a systematic lack of funding and pandemic support by the federal government. It is worth acknowledging that the funding of arts in Australia and how funding is allocated is a complex issue and is not necessarily the point of this rave. It does however provide the context for the absolute disaster circus the music industry is experiencing right now.

To be eligible for pandemic support payments the Victorian government requires sole-traders to be registered for GST. This is blatantly unfair. The music community always contributes altruistically in times of fires, floods and other national disasters within Australia and globally and is only given support now on a conditional basis. You are either contributing to the market economy or you are being left behind. Economic and tax policies aside, you do not get to champion Melbourne’s music scene whilst not examining and fixing the structural inequities that disadvantage the most vulnerable. The pandemic has impacted women more than men and these issues are intersectional i.e. a disabled Gunai Kurnai woman is more likely to experience an increased level of disadvantage compared to an abled-bodied white woman. Despite a lack of equal opportunities in the music communities over the years, a large percentage of women now work in the music industry and have been significantly affected by the loss of income. As sole-traders who are most likely not represented through an effective union – they are falling through the cracks when it comes to economic support.

For indoor music venues over the coming months it is likely that density limits of 1 person per 2qm will remain in place meaning that music venues will be unable to operate at full capacity. This is on top of increasing financial pressure with venues owing over 100% in full rent to landlords that was paused last year with rental moratoriums. Throughout the destabilising of the music industry there have been billions invested in economic support for construction by the Victorian and Commonwealth government. This in spite of the music industry contributing between 4 – 6 billion dollars a year to the Australian economy³. To add insult to injury, workers in the music community now have to compete against their peers in competitive grants cycles whilst enduring insufferable optimism from our represented music organisations that the industry will bounce back and bounce back quickly.

To arrive at this point where the Victorian government is employing the rhetoric that “Live Music is back” is at best misguided and at worst – demonstrates government’s complete lack of ability to understand how the Music sector functions.

I am optimistic that Live Music will be back but believe it will only come back when the above conditions have been fixed and addressed. This is however not an ultimatum with demands to be met. The privileging of higher level corporate events such as the Melbourne Cup and the “mystery” Sydney Myer Music Bowl concert over smaller community events is no accident. Who is performing at this concert? Who is organising this concert? Where was the community consultation? Did our represented music bodies approve such a concert before starting similar processes with community music? These developments should be treated and watched with great caution. It marks a shift away from common everyday activities towards corporate excess and exclusion as Victoria re-enters public spaces again.

Links:
https://www.saveourscene.com.au/
https://supportact.org.au/

Sources:
[1] https://musicfeeds.com.au/news/dan-andrews-says-live-music-back-victoria-october/

[2] https://australiainstitute.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Creativity_in_Crisis-_Rebooting_Australias_Arts___Entertainment_Sector_-_FINAL_-_26_July.pdf

[3] https://www.aph.gov.au/DocumentStore.ashx?id=f2a5ee09-a982-47f9-8bb8-7d4b41b8cf65&subId=660301#:~:text=Music%20in%20all%20its%20forms,billion%20to%20the%20Australian%20economy

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