Live Music: The State of the Union

We all know that the FL Forums love a good “impassioned discussion”, so each Friday over the next five weeks we will be fuelling that chatter with five controversial music debates. Thanks to Hyundai’s new Veloster will be giving away prizes each week for the best debaters.

Last week we moved into round three of the debate series with a topic near and dear to all our hearts – Is Music Journalism Dead. And if your response was anything to go by, it certainly isn’t.

This week we are talking about another issue close to all our hearts – the future of live music venues in Australia. We want to hear about your local scene, how it is supported by you community and local government and what you think the future holds. For getting involved you could win a $350 voucher for gigs at your favourite local venue.

What is the future of Australia’s small live music venues?

When high-profile venues close their doors, it’s easy to say that the entire live industry is in crisis. But is that the case? How much is the live music industry worth in Australia and how can things be improved to make it more profitable for more people?

In the past two and a half years, Melbourne and Sydney have seen the closure of pubs and clubs like The Hopetoun, the East Brunswick Club, The Arthouse, the Public Bar, as well as the high profile battle for The Tote. But Music Victoria’s project officer Bek Duke says the situation is far from as dire as it’s sometimes painted.

“There have been different closures,” she says. “But there are places opening as well. Remember all the places that are opening, or are still open and that the people running them are really committed to putting on live music.”

Owning and operating live music venues is a high risk business proposition in Australia, and always has been. When venues close, a variety of economic factors are at play – business is business. In the case of the East Brunswick club, the hotel’s new owners declined to continue to operate it as a music venue when it’s far more profitable to turn it into apartments in a now desirable part of Melbourne. There isn’t much that can be done to step in and save a venue in that situation.

However for every much-loved venue that closes, there’s usually another trying to take its place. According to Duke: “Last year we [Melbourne] lost the Arthouse and the East [Brunswick Club] is going to close, but there’s now Phoenix Public House and the Bridge Hotel in Castlemaine, for example. So I think the idea that live music is in decline is completely bogus.”

“And we have the bands to support the scene as well. Just looking at Unearthed by state there’s something like 7000 bands registered in Victoria, young unsigned bands,” Duke adds.

There’s obvious hurdles for venue operators, many of them financial. A recent report co-authored by APRA cited the top two impediments being overheads – the regulatory costs like security and the costs incurred booking talent.

While punters in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Canberra – at least – are able to head out to shows almost every night of the week, things can be quite different in regional areas, with options severely limited by geography.

“The regional touring circuit is kind of dead now,” Duke says. “No one anymore goes Sydney via Albury via Stall via Geelong via Melbourne, now it’s just the capital cities. The cost of putting on a show in Ballarat is the same as putting on a show in Melbourne, but you’ll just get less people turn up in a regional area. So it’s tough financially.”

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