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The future music ecosystem: fractured or thriving?

Decades ago musicians were seen as Artisans– creatives who produced music for the everyday life of their community. But as the music world evolved, music started to take on a formality and it began to be seen as an entertainment industry, and those within it became professionals stepping out into the world of capitalism.

The swinging sounds of jazzy blues shaped the music scene of the 20s and 30s, while the 60s and 70s celebrated the likes of guitar solos in rock ‘n’ roll and Motown. Hip-hop and R&B became popular in the 80s and 90s, with the introduction of rap having changed pop music forever.

With a swag of music genres and a plenitude of music legends to gain inspiration from, it’s no wonder why musicians around the world are constantly creating new strokes that are changing the future of music as we know it. However, in recent years the music scene has been disrupted by new laws, stunting the growth of opportunities for young and aspiring musicians.

Recommendations from NSW Government’sparliamentary inquiry into the music and arts economyhas unveiled Sydney’s music venue crisis which lockout laws have helped shape. Since being introduced in February 2014, Sydney’s lockout laws have seen a decline in the amount of music sites available to performers and entertainment groups, with more than 170 venues having closed since the law was brought in.

The report found that there is no link between live music and the violence the laws are meant to stop. And although new venues have opened their doors – such as The Vanguardin Newtown – other regulations, like noise complaint laws, continue to cripple live music venues.

One example is Sydney's Harold Park Hotel, which temporarily stopped hosting music on Sunday afternoons after a resident at a new townhouse development complained about noise.

Famed Sydney music spot, The Annandale Hotel, moved away from live music for a period following protracted battles with council over noise complaints and late trading.

Situations as such leave performers and music lovers alike wondering if the closure of live venues will eventually deplete the motivations of ambitious musicians in generations to come? The answer is obvious. Although there’s plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the future of Aussie tunes – like rising artists and collaborations with international talent – industry disruptors cause a ripple effect.

The music industry is a complex ecosystem with many moving parts, according to The music and arts economy in New South Walesreport. It includes artists, venues, publicists, venue managers, record labels, festivals, booking agents, artist managers, bar staff, sound engineers and lighting technicians. As the music ecosystem is so heavily entwined, when one part is disrupted, the ripples of impact can be felt across the entire industry.

In the government report, Dave Faulkner front man for the iconic Australian rock bandHoodoo Gurussaid he doesn’t believe his success would have been possible in today’s environment due the breakdown of the live music ecosystem.

The band had successive acclaimed pop-rock singles and were inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 2007. Mr Faulkner said he feels very fortunate to be able to make a sustainable living solely out of playing music. He noted that when the band formed in 1981, they went against the grain of what was popular music on radio at the time. 

Mr Faulkner described building up the Hoodoo Guru’s fan base gradually, a bit like door-to-door sales people, by playing for audiences in small venues across the city before eventually the band’s music hit the airways. However, when Mr Faulkner started out there was a much healthier live music scene in Sydney where bands could play seven nights a week to large crowds. Now, given the state of Sydney’s music scene, Mr Faulkner believes the Hoodoo Guru’s journey would not be possible as there are no venues, and no way of playing and spreading the word as they once did.

The Aussie artist said he sees music as being artistically and culturally necessary to the community and there’s a need to support aspiring musicians to ensure the art thrives in the future. The Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA)compliments this belief, cautioning the need to get the musical grassroots right, because if Australia doesn’t have the next generation of musicians coming through, there will be an inability to put those artists on the national and world stages.

So, what will the Australian government do about all this?With the aim to support the music and arts economy, in February 2015, the New South Wales government launched Create in NSW: NSW Arts and Cultural Policy Framework– a 10-year plan to support the development of arts and culture across New South Wales.

The plan backs the diverse and vibrant arts and music culture by supporting contemporary arts practice through the Arts and Cultural Development Program (ACDP). It also encourages opportunities for arts and cultural tourism through Destination Management Planning, in consultation with the Regional Arts Networkand Destination NSW.

Although Create NSW is working with state government agencies and local councils to develop policies to support continued growth of live music, it’s the smaller venues who incubate and support new and emerging talent. Consequently, many cogs in the music ecosystem have expressed concern that the closure of these venues have led to fewer opportunities for artists to perform, ultimately undermining career pathways for musicians and the modern-day music industry.

To hear more about the future of music, tune into the new podcast presented by CGU in partnership with SBS, The Few Who Do– two hosts, one problem, two possibilities. Episode 6 will be available to listen to on 10th May 2019.