A Journey through Australia’s Live Music Scene with COVID

Most musicians find that playing live is their favorite part of being a music artist. Writing, recording, and filming videos can be fun, but nothing beats the high of a great show. It’s great to be heard on the radio and reach new listeners via streaming sites, but nothing can beat a great show.

This sentiment was expressed repeatedly to me by both my local peers and by some of the largest bands in the entire world, which I had the chance to interview. It’s always a highlight for touring musicians to perform in front of an audience. As a musician, I can attest to this feeling.

One of the most important concerns that musicians had after COVID-19 was the impact it would have on their lives without being able to perform live. We were all forced to change or cancel plans, and many of us were worried that our careers could even go backward.

Pressures on the individual and the professional

In the last 14 months, I have seen this worry manifest itself in various ways. As a woman working in an industry where youth is celebrated, I felt that ‘time was running out’ for me to reach my goals. The pressure of this, coupled with the social isolation and inability to see my loved ones, led me to some dark places. I’m sure I wasn’t alone.

One of the most beautiful symptoms of being trapped inside is having to look inward and not always liking what you find. Reflecting on the past year, I can now say that despite all the uncertainty I experienced, the transformation I’ve seen in myself personally and professionally was not what I expected.

Melbourne was awash with uncertainty and cancellations.

Max Watts was the last place I went to see a show before Melbourne shut down on Friday, 13th of March, yes, Black Friday. I was invited along with guests to a nearly sold-out show of one of our clients. As uncertainty spread through our city, many punters chose to stay at home, away from the crowds. My friends also did the same. I had no idea that I would have to wait eight months for my next live show, which happened to be at Max Watts in Sydney.

I felt the reality of things when my band, The Last Martyr, was forced to cancel our video shoot for ‘Hindsight.’ We rescheduled it five times before releasing it over a full year later. The night before the shoot, I didn’t want to get too excited. “I’ll believe when I’m in the studio, dressed and with a camera pointed directly at me,” was my thought.

The pandemic affected not only musicians but also promoters and venue staff. It may have even been more detrimental to music media.

We could use other revenue sources like merchandising, fan subscriptions, and even teaching to compensate for the income and exposure lost by musicians. Musicians have a wide range of options to reach out to new audiences, thanks in part to the fact that they can use social media and websites.

I felt bad for promoters and music media outlets that had put their money on the table and relied heavily on revenue from advertising, largely generated by tours and festivals, to stay afloat. What was the worst part? Nobody knew when it was going to be over.

Danny Bazzi, Silverback Touring’s Owner, said: “Logistically, Covid was a nightmare.”. We moved our internationals initially for six months on advice from the beginning and have continued to move them as advice has changed. At the best of all times, tours are a jumbled mess. But coordinating dates between agents, managers, and artists and then stringing dates together with venues has been a mind-numbing and frustrating experience.

Music venues: funding options

In May 2020, Change.org launched a petition titled “Live Venue Pleas are Falling on Deaf Ears.”. Many were concerned for live music venues that had been around for decades. This was especially true in Sydney, where the live music scene has been ravaged by Lockout Laws, which have forced many venues to shut down since 2014.

Save Our Scene published an open letter to the Victorian government in late May. The initiative also launched the biggest Parliamentary ePetition in the history of the state, not only to ask for more funding but to provide a roadmap that will allow the reopening to be done safely.

The Australian Government’s introduction of the JobKeeper Scheme was a great relief, as it would allow employers to retain staff by subsidizing their salaries. The scheme would not be beneficial to all, and many in the music industry felt the pressure. The grants and stimulus packages available were not enough, if at all.

Anthony Blaney of Your Mate Bookings said that funding was not enough. “I and many others are on a dramatically reduced wage, and even now, the Job Seeker Income is barely enough for expenses (after losing job keeper income, which has been reduced since 2020). The grant was only $5000 for NSW residents who run small businesses, but it’s not much .”

The music industry is changing to survive.

From the beginning, it was obvious that anyone who wanted to survive this situation with their band or business intact would need to pivot quickly. And pivot they did. In the following months, I was amazed at how many companies made this pivot.

Silverback Touring, which focuses on international acts, launched a local booking agent arm to add a few local acts to its roster. I watched as media outlet Wall of Sound, booking agency Your Mate Bookings, and countless bands launched Twitch channels and podcasts. Also experimented with live-streamed concerts. Venues began offering takeaway food and cocktails to go, and even the famous Sydney dive bar Frankie’s Pizza By The Slice became the coolest bottleshop in the country.

In The Last Martyr’s case, the inability to release a single on time led to the recording of an entire EP. This resulted in a complete rebranding, a new sense of direction, and a new understanding of who we are as artists. Reduced hours at my job enabled me to grow my consulting firm, which I started full-time in April.

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