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Is there hope for Australia’s dying music scene?


Australia’s live music scene is on the decline – but it’s not quite dead yet. Aussies still have an appetite for live music. Statistics by Contemporary Music show that more Australians attend live music events than sporting events – with more than 40 million people going to see live gigs a year. 


These figures would indicate that our live music scene is well and healthy. However, when you look past the big numbers and delve a little deeper, you see a picture that’s not so pretty – one of a music scene struggling to keep standing on its feet, let alone moving forward.


It’s not a sudden fracture, either. Over the past few decades, the music industry has been slowly chipped away at by a series of problems which, if ignored by the government, have the potential to kill the live music scene dead.


For many, Australia’s live music scene peaked in the 70s and 80s. It was a time when pubs were packed to the rafters, and when people were there for the band – not the beers. Former partygoers bring up memories of all-night dancing, singing and socialising – they cite live music as their avenue of letting go and shedding the stresses of the everyday grind. This moment in time was a good one for local artists. They were in demand across lots of packed-out venues across the country, contributing to a booming music industry that propelled iconic music acts such as AC/DC, INXS and Midnight Oil.


Behind the scenes though-, the wheels of government regulation, industry profiteering, and underestimation of the value of music had started turning. With stricter drink driving laws and more residential development that brought about noise complaints, lots of live music venues were forced to shut.


More recently, Sydney’s lockout laws have caused the end of many live music venues – even though they have no correlationto the violence the laws are there to stop. 


Agovernment inquiryinto the music venue crisis showed that Sydney’s reputation as a vibrant night-time economy has been replaced by the 'negative narrative of an out-of-control night-time'. It also showed that people didn’t view Sydney as a 24-hour city, and residents are overall not satisfied with the eating, drinking and entertainment options the city has to offer. Another factor said to be impacted by this is tourism, with people being deterred from visiting due to the lack of after-hours activities.


In this 2018 inquiry, the committee of MPs made 60 recommendations to revive the music scene. They included:


  • The Premier appoint a Minister for Music
  • The NSW Government matches Victoria's funding of the music scene
  • NSW Government provide grants of up to $25,000 to assist live music venues to install noise attenuation measures
  • An objective test for noise complaints be used, as the current subjective one leaves too much room for 'personal opinion'
  • A 25 per cent Australian content quota for locally curated playlists on streaming services like Spotify - similar to the way commercial radio stations are already required to play 25 per cent Australian music
  • Pokies revenue be used to support live music
  • Certain live music venues to be identified as "assets of community value" and supported by government


Ross Williams, lecturer for Griffith University’s Bachelor of Popular Music, has told the Daily Reviewhe believes that to save the industry, the government needs to implement the same model they did for the film industry.


“I would like to see the music industry adopt what the film industry did, where if you invest in Australian film production it would be made tax deductable,” Williams says.


“It saved the Australian film industry and we need legislation like that in Canberra. If someone needs to invest in a new venue or recording and it is tax deductible, we might just save the industry.”


It turns out there is hope for Australia’s music industry, we just need the people in power to rally behind it.


To learn more about this topic, tune into Episode 6 of CGU’s new podcast in partnership with SBS, The Few Who Do– two hosts, one problem, two possibilities.