The live music industry is continually calling out for assistance, but these calls have largely been ignored. Sports however, is a different ball game.
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It's been seven months since the COVID-19 outbreak was declared a pandemic. The world grounded to a screeching halt, locking down for months and descending into an extended and open-ended period of confusion and economic turmoil. Australia was not immune to this, and as the country began to kick into emergency restrictions in an effort to fight the virus from affecting us the way it has other countries, nationwide event bans were quickly implemented to prevent the virus’ spread. However, as the country begins to slowly unwind restrictions in varying degrees across different states, it is painfully obvious that not all events, sectors and industries are weighted equally.
On Friday night, approximately 37,000 people attended Suncorp Stadium to watch the Melbourne Storm play the Canberra Raiders. As the game was set to begin, a malfunction meant the ticket machines at the entry gates glitched out, leaving some 20,000 people waiting to be let into the stadium. Photos from the chaos have gone viral, and many from industries still in limbo have been left scratching their heads as to how this is even possible when until very recently, we couldn’t even stand up in a bar and no one could dance at a wedding.
Next weekend, the NRL grand final will see 40,000 attendees. The AFL grand final will see approximately 30,000. There have been sporting events in Brisbane for months with thousands able to attend, something which has also happened around the country for months as well. However, the same luxury has not been afforded to the arts. For live music, many venues remain crippled by capacity rules, while security staff and bar staff are faced with the seemingly impossible task of ensuring those who are in their venues remain seated while there. Bands are playing to seated crowds, if at all. Venues used to hosting hundreds of people at a time have had to slash capacities, losing big when it comes to their already decimated financial bottom lines thanks to such a devastating year. Compare this reality with the thousands kept waiting outside Suncorp Stadium on Friday night due to a ticket malfunction, as pictured above, with not a single person social distancing, and you can easily why people are very upset indeed.
Let me be clear: The way the Queensland government in particular has battled COVID-19 has been successful in terms of keeping the virus at bay. I live in Brisbane, so I can only speak to my experience here. But, as the path to recovery is now well underway, there is no denying the live music industry and the many other facets of the industry which rely on this have been largely forgotten. If the issue was to come down to economics, live music would still win the fight based on how much it generates compared to sports: As community advocate, former Greens candidate and passionate music industry member Trina Massey pointed out on social media over the weekend, "In Queensland 2018 - Live performance generated 317.2 million dollars in revenue in Queensland. This was the second highest growth across all states and territories in Australia (source in comments). At the same time the Stadiums Queensland 2017/18 Annual Report also shows the Queensland Government’s venue agency reported an operating loss of $22.543 million during the last financial year." This then begs the question, why do those in power not value arts and culture like we do sports?
In a recent survey conducted in August by the newly launched Australian Live Music Business Council, the results in regards to the outlook for live music in Australia could not be more bleak: 70% of live music businesses said they wouldn’t last six months based on current cashflow and government support. That was two months ago, so realistically we can all expect a funeral march of announcements of business closures as we move into summer, a period once responsible for major income boosts for live music across the country. Furthermore, 73% report downturn of 75-100% revenue downturn in the last six months, and a whopping 69% have had no rent relief and 75% have had no form of commercial loan deferral. As our friends Pilerats pointed out, "over 400 live music businesses are facing imminent closures," equating to at least 18,000 jobs hanging in the balance (nearly as many as some live sporting games recently). And, given the pandemic is far from over, this is almost guaranteed to get worse.
If live music goes, or takes an unnecessarily long time to recover without significant and real government support, the entire Australian -and by extension, global- music industry goes with it. The industry is intrinsically tied to its live component, not only because it is the major driver of income for artists but for the billion dollar industry that is built around it: from roadies to venues, marketing, PR, sound and technical staff, the tourism benefit that comes from bands on the road, and even the blogs and publications which cover it. JobSeeker and JobKeeper payments are providing some assistance but not for everyone, and as the stats reflect from the ALMBC, when that goes, many businesses will be left without the support they need to continue operating.
There have been some initiatives launched recently, but the impetus has mostly come from relentless industry lobbying, rather than respective governments acknowledging the crisis the industry still faces. As the rest of the country continues to open back up, live music and the arts in general has been largely left behind. If governments do not value the societal and cultural contributions live music and the greater arts industries offer our communities, they should instead consider the very significant economic contributions made each and every year by live music. After 2020 kicked off with the music industry pulling off momentous fundraising efforts for those impacted by the bushfires, digging deep as always to give to the community, the calls for support to now be extended back have been ignored. How many more people have to lose their jobs before these calls are finally heard?
Words by Emma Jones
Image via Facebook