Let’s not beat around the bush: Live music is collapsing, and it’s fking depressing

Let’s not beat around the bush: Live music is collapsing, and it’s fking depressing

Even in the parts of the country where live music is beginning to thrive again, it’s hard not to think about the greater effects being felt nation-wide.

Header image by Liam Fawell.

It’s no secret that coronavirus has had a long-lasting, negative impact of live music around the world. The lockdowns and regulations associated with preventing the pandemic’s spread mean that live music has reduced to near-nothing in a physical form across the world, and while we are absolutely 100% in support of lockdowns that keep the virus from spreading and ensure the health of everyone, it’s hard to not be incredibly disheartened and jaded towards constant setbacks that are preventing our live music scene from recovering.

While coronavirus’ impact on live music has been much-discussed and publicised across the last six months, it’s hard to grapple with exactly how wide-ranging the impacts are. Today, a survey by the Australian Live Music Business Council found that over 400 live music businesses are facing imminent closures: 70% of the businesses participating in the survey - conducted back in August - said they’ll be forced to close within six months (based on cash flow predictions and current initiatives), and of those, almost a third will close within the next three months.

That’s almost an entire industry, and you can be sure that many of those 70% are independent projects started (and funded) by a passion for live music. That’s approximately 18,000 jobs according to their predictions - a.k.a. 18,000 people who have sacrificed a lot to work in music and pursue dreams and passions, all left without any income and support whatsoever due to something completely unexpected, unprecedented and out of their control. 73% of those interviewed for the study recorded 75% - 100% revenue losses within the space of just months, and with an entire shutdown, you can suggest that many of those would be teetering towards the 100% mark.

It’s hard not to feel dystopian about the current predictions for live music in Australia. It’s something that’s going to affect a long-troubled, high-profile asset to what makes Australian culture so brilliant, and its disheartening to see a lack of support for an industry that constantly, time and time again steps up to support those in need. When bushfires ravaged the east-coast at the start of the year, the music industry stood up to raise money. As coronavirus first began to impact Australia, the music community gathered together to raise money and even for a moment, provide a distraction to everything going on. Now, they’re getting nothing back.

Even in Perth it’s difficult. The city has been long-absent of community transmission and because of that, lockdowns and regulations are lax to the point where live music can operate once again - albeit with 50% capacity, and extensive planning needed behind them to ensure they meet safety and health standards. Live music has been making a comeback here and it’s incredible - there’s nothing quite as special as experiencing a live show after being forced without for six months - but it’s still something that sits at the back of your mind. 

Perth’s live music space is strong, but how will it exist without those on the east coast that support it? How can Perth musicians tour on the east coast and find a sense of interstate commercial success if there are no venues to play in? Or no promoters to tour them? As much as we’d love to daydream and say we have nothing to worry about here, the roll-over effects a major east-coast collapse will have be immense and almost unpredictable. We can exist on our own, but it almost feels selfish to think about that; a similar sense of guilt you get when posting a video of Spacey Jane performing live on your Instagram Story, at a time where no-one else in the country - albeit the world - can experience the same thing.

We’ve written about this in the past. We’ve talked about the negative impacts of coronavirus on live music, and how it’s looking remarkably bleak. People in comment sections - we know, don’t read the comments - tell us to “be uplifting”, “share some positive stories for a change”, be a little more “hopeful in a time where we need it.” But it’s hard to be hopeful when things, realistically, are bleak as fuck, and reminders such as today’s survey and the data included within that are constantly barging in and reminding you of how fucked everything is right now.

It’s something you can joke about and laugh about - “oh, how I’d give anything to be drinking a half-warm double black queuing for a toilet for two hours while The Wombats blare in the background” - but at the end of the day, it’s a real threat. It’s a threat to those 70% of companies that predict they can’t survive six months. It’s a threat to the further 18% who say they can’t survive 9 months. It’s a threat to companies like us - companies that strive for live music and do everything we can to uplift it, and in return, be supported back. Touring companies pay us for advertising and we make money bringing east-coast and international acts to Perth for shows; all of which are ruled out from March 2020, to god-knows how long when it comes to international acts.

The thing is that coronavirus’ impacts on live music is very real, and while it’s so incredibly depressing and disheartening to read about and always have in the forefront of your mind - especially if you work in music itself - it’s something that needs to be paid attention to. 

People are doing what they can to survive. Online events - the small fragment of live music many people have in their lives, rather than physical gigs - raise money for Support Act and other foundations built to aid the music sector, and it’s important to continue support those. Bands are putting out merch to recoup some of the money they lost with an absence of touring (a reminder that generally speaking, live performance fees make up the majority of a musician’s income), and it’s important we buy that shit up and support it how we can (providing you have the money and financial security to do so, of course).

JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments are altering this week, which is saw to be a nail in the coffin for many that work in the live music indsutry. It’s going to be a really difficult few weeks ahead, and we’re allowed to feel beat down and depressed because of that. But we - and everyone else - need to keep speaking up, and keep pushing forward. Australia’s music world is one of the world’s most special and bright - if not the most, full-stop - and we’ve constantly stood up for others at a time of need. Now, we need to stand up for ourselves, and keep fighting our fight, and make sure people listen and take action.

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