How the Aussie music scene can bounce back from a 'double blow'
The Australian music industry needs a lifeline. Contact spoke with UQ’s School of Music Senior Lecturer, Dr Eve Klein, and UQ graduate and music venue owner, Scott Hutchinson, about the future of Australia’s live music scene post-pandemic.
The COVID-19 crisis has seen our everyday lives swept from beneath us, and there have been very few things we can rely on.
Except music and its incredible ability to dictate our moods or conjure up feelings of nostalgia.
Yet, despite being able to deliver moments of reprieve in recent months, Australia’s music and live events industry is reeling as a result of a ‘double blow’: the COVID-19 lockdowns, and last summer’s bushfires.
“Years of getting by on tenacity, ingenuity and hustle have left our sector depleted. Long-term projects, which people have been developing, often for many years, have been cancelled and may not be viable again after the crisis has passed.”
Klein said that while the industry had shown resilience by adapting its work to digital platforms, it was not clear whether these activities were generating sustainable incomes for artists that would be equivalent to their pre-COVID-19 activities.
Instead, she believes the future of Australian music lies outdoors.
“I think we can expect outdoor music events and experiences to flourish,” Klein said.
“This is going to require some innovation, while new approaches to presenting music will likely continue beyond the pandemic, especially in Australia.”
UQ graduate and music venue owner Scott Hutchinson (Bachelor of Engineering '81, Master of Business Administration '88) said Brisbane's music industry had faced an uphill battle to recovery even before the pandemic, with live music venues being torn down in place of large residential towers over the past two decades.
“The Brisbane music scene faced a particularly tough year in 2003 – the famous Festival Hall was demolished and it was the final year of [alternative rock festival] Livid,” said Hutchinson, who is also the Chairman of Hutchinson Builders.
“It became clear to me years ago, music venues in central locations just don’t stack up from a real-estate perspective.”
Yet, this didn’t stop Hutchinson from injecting $40 million into the creation of Fortitude Music Hall, Brisbane’s newest large music venue on Fortitude Valley's Brunswick Street Mall.
“JC (John Collins, the bass guitarist from Powderfinger) approached me shortly after I purchased the space saying he’d really like to see a music venue here and I thought, ‘that’s just too good to be true’.”
With the revival of iconic music venues occurring throughout central Brisbane in recent years, Hutchinson said the city had come back to life.
“People of all ages are heading back to the Valley, and we hope this will continue once the threat of the pandemic is over.”
While many musicians have been able to move to digital delivery during the COVID-19 crisis, diehard music fans know that nothing can replace the experience of attending a live music event.
Hutchinson said this could be actually be the saving grace for the live music and events industry.
“I think the industry will come back stronger. If you’ve been to the Valley lately, you can see people dancing in the street. They are just so happy to get out and about after being in isolation.”
Image: Henrik Sorensen/Getty Images
For the music industry in general, Klein said there were some silver linings to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic, such as an increase in people listening to music online, or learning how to make music.
“There is real intimacy forming between musicians and their fans as a consequence of COVID-19 restrictions, which goes beyond pre-pandemic social media connectivity,” Klein said.
“I'm expecting this will carry forward into the future and we will see a strengthening of patronage, digital tips, crowd-sourced commissioning and digital ticket models.”
When asked what the public can do to help the music industry, Hutchinson made it very clear.
“Go and watch live music,” he said.
"And don’t just go to one gig in the Valley; go to that gig, then visit a couple of different, smaller venues on the way home. It makes for a really good night out and it really helps.
“We need to support the big venues as well as the little venues.”
Klein said we can also continue to support the industry from home – for now.
“The best thing we can do to support the Australian arts sector is to contact our government representatives –especially federal MPs – and tell them what the arts sector means to us and ask for more significant support.”
What can you do to support Aussie musicians?
1. Buy or stream Australian music
Federal MP Tony Burke published a statement urging streaming services and commercial radio to support Australian artists.
This sentiment has been echoed across the industry with calls for Australian radio stations to play only Australian artists.
A CHALLENGE to Australian radio stations to play mostly/exclusively Aussie artists to jack up our royalties while we wait for our gigs to pick up again! 1 small, literally free way to aid local artists?— Kira Puru (@kirapuru) March 17, 2020
Who’s in? @triplej ? @TripleMSydney ? @fbiradio ? @kiis1011 ? @DoubleJRadio
2. Like, share and recommend
While we are still limited by face-to-face activities, one of the best ways you can support your favourite artists is by liking, re-sharing and recommending their music.
“Help them grow their support base. Even small gestures like this are making a difference right now,” Klein said.
With the ever-growing list of postponed or cancelled shows, #KeepYourTicket, as it is manifesting on social media, calls for fans not to seek a refund to curb the loss of income as a result of cancellations.