Australia’s live music is quickly becoming a dead art

Can you imagine a world without live music? With an estimated 49 million live music attendances every year in Australia, it’s easy to believe the industry is a vision of robust immortality.

Delve a little deeper, though, and this unimaginable scenario is verging on stark reality. Over the last 30 years, serious problems have been left to fester and spread, slowly poisoning a cherished industry. Problems which – left unchecked – will kill Australia’s live music industry, leaving a key piece of our culture nothing more than a faded, dusty relic.

Live music in Australia conjures memories of raucous nights, dancing with friends and shedding the stress of everyday humdrum with frantic abandon. Hundreds of local artists were playing in numerous of venues across the country, driving a booming local industry and birthing icons like AC/DC, INXS and Midnight Oil.

We’ve cultivated an environment in which artists cannot survive.

But while our live music industry had the world at its feet, darker forces were threatening behind the scenes. A lethal combination of government regulation, insatiable industry profiteering, and disregard for the value of music are strangling our live music industry, leaving a vibrant and diverse culture gasping for breath.

“It’s changed in a bad way,” says Ross Williams, lecturer for Griffith University’s Bachelor of Popular Music. A lifetime musician, Williams says we’ve cultivated an environment in which artists cannot survive.

“I was working seven nights a week when I was 17. I couldn’t work seven nights a week now, there’s just not the opportunity. I’m earning less per night now than I was in 1986. If you compare that to the price of a postage stamp or milk, or any other consumer price index item – you tell me one other thing which has gone down. Musicians pay scale has.”

It’s a reality his students are living. Where Williams himself refused to play for less than $150 a show, his students regularly struggle to earn $100 to be split amongst their entire band. Even if they do, making a living is impossible. In lectures, Williams makes a point asking his students to raise their hand if they know anyone playing at least four nights a week. The response, he says, is a rude awakening.

“Not one hand goes up in the air. No-one in the room knows anybody making the bare minimum wage from live gigs.”

Musicians are finding themselves victims of a financial squeeze caused by the progressive impact of regulations imposed on venues. Stricter drink-driving laws, combined with the burgeoning home entertainment boom, saw patron numbers slump. Already desperate to counter this decline, venues were instead slammed when increased residential development brought a new issue: noise complaints.

Inundated by angry residents clamouring for quieter nights, councils succumbed to lobbying and introduced noise restrictions. Venue owners were confronted with a financial dilemma: soundproof their businesses at astronomical cost, restrict live music, or shut their doors.

In 2014, Melbourne’s Cherry Bar made headlines with their creative attempt to solve this issue: crowdfunding to raise money for soundproofing. The bar successfully raised a staggering $50,000, yet this wasn’t even half the total required.

While public support for the Cherry Bar is a feel good story, it’s not a solution every business can rely on. Worse, industry regulation is only increasing; Queensland and New South Wales have recently introduced lockout laws. The legislation is aimed at solving the epidemic of alcohol-fuelled violence, but industry lobby groups are terrified the laws have caught live music in the crossfire, collateral damage in the fight against violence. It’s a situation Williams can’t help but see irony in.

“I think if they brought live music back in, it would solve a lot of the ‘one punch kills’ problem. A lot of young people are very bored, which leads to angst, binge-drinking, and use of ice – which ultimately leads to violence. I remember as a kid going to watch a band. You’d be dancing, not standing there binge-drinking for five hours. You’d sweat it out on the dance floor.”

While live music has the ability to generate community and encourage creativity, little emphasis is being placed on securing its future.

According to a 2009 study, 62.7 per cent of Australian primary schools and 33.8 per cent of Australia secondary schools have no dedicated music classes. Instead music education is often squeezed around maths and English, or outsourced to community members.

Opportunities for music education or exposure outside the school environment is in danger, too. Though not directly related to music education, the recent Federal Government slash to Australia Council funding by more than $100 million over four years sends a message. According to Nick Stewart, a founding member of ARIA winning band george, neglect of the arts is becoming an art itself. Left unaddressed, the damage will be irreparable.

“I don’t know if it will be my daughter’s generation or her kid’s generation, but the art of handwriting is gone,” he says. “Elements of music are exactly the same.”

Stewart knows the devastating impact losing these elements – like ‘jamming’, for example – would have on Australian music. Entered in a Battle of the Bands competition with no actual band to support him, he enlisted the help of several artists he’d met and only played casually with at a party the week before. It was from this impromptu jam session that george was born; several hours casually playing in a friend’s lounge room ultimately leading to an ARIA in 2002 for Best Breakthrough Artist, and a debut album which went double platinum within three weeks and has now sold more than 480,000 copies: Polyserena.

“I would like to see the music industry adopt what the film industry did.”

Stewart says music sales are crucial for musician’s survival. Yet the shift towards a singles market, driven by record companies’ relentless rush for profit, has seen album sales plummet. Combining digital and physical products, ARIA reports the wholesale sale value of albums dropped more than 57 per cent between 2006 and 2015. April 2016 was host to the worst week for album sales in Australian chart history. Music sales generate exposure, which leads to more live shows and more exposure. Losing even one part of the equation is disastrous.

“If we can’t generate enough money from the sale of a CD in order to tour the band… we have to pay for it ourselves. And that’s not something that’s affordable,” Stewart says.

“It’s a cycle effect. Without one part of it, it breaks down.”

For the live industry to survive, Stewart believes the culture needs new life through innovation. Williams agrees, adding the Government already has a model it can follow to reinvigorate it.

“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.”

If they’re not, Williams says, then we’ll lose an industry which has played a huge part in defining our identity on the world scale. And for future generations of Australians, a night out watching live music with friends might not involve a trip to the local pub or club, but the nearest museum instead.

Main image: Ponyface perform at Melbourne’s Howler in April 2016. Photo: Shane Murphy

55 responses to “Australia’s live music is quickly becoming a dead art

  1. This is a big and complex situation and there just isn’t the room to cover everything so I will go over what I believe are the overlooked core elements that everyone seems to be missing.
    Let’s start by saying it’s not 1986 anymore.
    -Drink prices are through the roof.
    -Drink driving laws are different.
    -Parking and/or taxis are a rip off.
    -Smoking is not permitted indoors.
    -The internet has nearly killed cd sales.
    -Touring is cost prohibitive.
    -Most bands are not worth leaving the house to see.

    And there is so much more.
    What most people do not understand is that unless a band is already established and succesful, people don’t just go out to see a band.
    They never did.
    People go out I socialize, to get smashed and to get laid.
    The venue was where, at one time, people would meet to get all those.
    Now it’s nightclubs that are where people go for those.
    Unless the band was really popular, people never cared for who was playing. It’s just the same now in the clubs. No one cares about the dj unless they are poplar.
    It comes down to relevance.

    Also, venues are so loud now that people cannot talk or socialize so the best for someone to be at a live venue is outside, away from the band, in the beer garden where you can actually smoke, talk, laugh, flirt and enjoy yourself……which is what most people came to do anyway.
    It’s like everyone has missed this crucial point.
    It’s about the people’s night out, not the bands.
    Unless a band is really successful with a dedicated following, people are not going out just to see live music and then return home again.
    They are going out to enjoy themselves and socialize.
    Bands need to understand that.
    Let me also say again that most bands are simply not very good and not worth leaving the house to see.
    A brutally honest fact but true all the same.
    Over and over it’s the same thing, mediocre bands, standing well within in the shadows of their influences brining neither an inspiring performance or something unique to the stage.
    That said, there are still a few really, really great undiscovered bands.
    House PA systems are also louder now than the old days and sound techs tend to make things as loud as they can to the point where if you want but a drink, you must either mouth your order or type it on your phone and show the bar person.
    Further to the volume issue, you must earn your right to play loud and when you get to play loud, it’s in the appropriate setting….ie a main stage or arena and it is a reflection of your popularity and relevance.
    A live venue should not be treated like a rock concert in terms of volume.
    I can’t tell you the number of shows I have been to where the few people who turn up are all just sitting in deafening silence with a bored look on their faces while they wait for the chance to talk. I played many times at one venue where band members were not permitted out in the smoking area to talk for long as it made attendances look low and was not seen as supporting the scene.

    I would add that where live bands survive and thrive is where there is a scene around it and that’s what brings it to life, not just the bands themselves. If eager live bands themselves were enough, we would have no problems with live music.
    Everyone wants to be in a band but few want to go out to see one.
    I believe that two crucial points are socializing and relevance.
    Live bands with the exception of current trends, have lost out on both.
    Go and do a google search for “night clubs are dead” and see what comes up.
    Nothing.
    Why?
    Because the scene around them is thriving.
    Sure they are too loud but they make up for that by being socially relevant for many reasons.
    It’s not even like the club music is any good. But no one cares because it’s not what really matters and usually isn’t what they are going there for.
    Their night out is what matters most.
    Now go and do a search for “live music is dead” and see what comes up.
    Page after page after page.
    Trying to save live music is not enough.
    The music is alive and well.
    It’s the social scene that’s dead.
    Attention needs to be given to all facets of what creates and sustains the scene in the first place.

    Our culture has largely moved away from bands to djs and electronic artists. Hip hop is the new rock n roll now.
    Things change and not always for the better.
    There are many things to consider but at the end of the day it is going to come down to people socializing and social relevance.

  2. All the facts point towards more musicians and bands are forming and increasing. Plus, there are more venues opening up in all capital cities since the dawn of music. Since the introduction of the Internet causing a struggle from the major record companies not willing to invest in music anymore. An oversaturation of local and independent bands on current media outlets and venues doesn’t secure a career path for musicians as easy as it used too. Letting the government save the music industry like the film industry is probably not the best solution. I believe the secret of the solution lies with band/artists subscriptions. Would be great to here some ideas on how to solve this issue. Instead of just doom and gloom. The fact that over 14 million Australians are actively participating in music should be celebrated. Local and independent music is on the rise and are finding ways to receive better payments then signing with record labels. I think it’s an exciting time for the music community and there’s a change in the wind. It is evolving. We just aren’t seeing it.

  3. I read this article. It’s about rock music and rock musicians, not about live music in general. That’s OK but live rock is on the decline for all the reasons stated in the article. Lots of my friends make money on the covers circuit. Fair enough and good for them. Personally, I don’t like having to play for money, I don’t like a lot of live music venues and I don’t like having to chase work. I play all the time with friends, in show bands and at open mics. I write and self-produce for fun. If someone gives me money, that’s a bonus. For me music has nothing to do with money. I suspect that 90% of people who call themselves professional musicians are enthusiasts (i.e. hobbyists) who don’t make enough to get by. Hence, the grievance. The music scene is bigger than it has ever been.

  4. Eh? Live music is hardly “dying” there are venues opening and closing all the time as it is a cycle. I have been going to see 100+ gigs per year for almost ten years in Melbourne and started going to see more once the Caravan Music Club opened out in Oakleigh as there was a gap in the market for a venue in the South Eastern suburbs of Melbourne and also one for an older audience where the gigs finish at a reasonable time and you can book a table and sit down. No problems with noise complaints as there is a cemetery out the back and parks on either side. I have a record of all the bands I have been to see as I have been taking photos since 2004 and there are more bands not less. Also more of them are going overseas and touring which did not happen before.

  5. Sooooo…. say you’re a 27yo in 1982 running off to catch INXS at DeeWhy RSL. Australia is running at full employment and you have a full time, well-paid job. You probably own a house, which you bought in a decent suburb for under $100k. You have zero HECS debt, a modest highly affordable mortgage and plenty of coin in your pocket for the $4 entry fee and the $1.50 schooners. Meanwhile your heroes onstage are having a whale of a time. Their only competition in the live market that weekend is other rock bands, and they’re the best show in town. No other genre really attracts any kind of following in the pubs. Also there’s a general social perception that in order to make a full-time wage as a musician you need to be a) talented and b) have something interesting to say and c) work your arse off. There aThere’s no festivals competing for punters’ gig dollar, no live streaming of the show they did last week. No internet, cable TV, social media, spotify or Netflix to lure people away. Just turn up – sell out – easy! Publishing income isn’t really a factor, TV doesn’t use much commercial music and nobody allows their music to be used in anything as gauche as advertising and social media isn’t available to plug gigs. But records sell like hot cakes off the back of your tours, as do T shirts. Things are good.

    Fast forward 35 years and the industry has changed just a little. Rock as a genre is practically dead outside of festivals, with the result that less people want to see rock bands. Nobody buys albums and the market is impossibly crowded by a glut of acts across a myriad of genres that didn’t exist even 20 years ago. Punters have less disposable income in real terms, and a million new ways to spend it other than pub gigs. In muso world, there is an over-riding belief that talent is not essential to success (not just in music), and that anybody can be a star, given a laptop and a weekend. Venues struggle and income for locals bands plummets. Musicians who cling to the belief that can earn a wage from just playing live (a la lute players in the 1700’s) struggle and whinge. Articles like this get written. But it’s not all doom and gloom for musicians. Here’s a few things this article neglects to point out.

    – Publishing income (money derived from people using your music on TV shows, web-series, movies and advertising) is waaaaay up and spread across many more acts and genres. Many acts have funded their sophomore albums themselves from publishing income, reducing reliance on the label system, or anyone. Musicians, composers and producers have extraordinary income opportunity available to them that simply didn’t exist twenty years ago. If you have no piece of this pie and are leaning completely on live gig money then it’s probably time to reassess your career strategy or your place in the industry.

    – Demand for live music in Australia in real dollar terms continues to surge annually. People are still spending hundreds of millions of dollars on festivals, medium to large sized venues, festivals, raves, marquee events, festivals, heritage acts, winery gigs (did I mention festivals?). Thanks in part to social media, digital sales and streaming, mid-tier acts are managing to subvert the pub scene, break nationally without the label system (impossible in 1982) and run reasonably profitable tours. The Australian acts you hear on high rotation on triple J are all making money. Ask some of the music industry book-keeping houses how much a Parkway Drive, Alpine, Gang of Youths or Flight Facilities can turn over in a year.

    Maybe the live market is just correcting itself. One might say evolve or perish.

    1. Heres my take..Personally I think Ritchie Blackmore killed rock..it went south in my opinion with the hair bands..Rock in a way is 50s rebellion.. post baby boomer rebellion. But in those days elvis shaking a leg sent people wild..now lady gaga has to wear a meat dress. I say Rock in the day was pop music..whos to say someone else dont want the limelight…
      Henry Rollins says the music scene is fine..but it might be a band doing a tour of garages.. heres the tape..copy it and pass it on. Though you know..would be nice to be able to pay the bills..he talks of waiting at restaurants to eat the scraps when the patrons leave b4 they get thrown out. It easy to not see the value in music..but without it Im sure my life will be poorer. Like an elephant in a concrete jungle. Australian dont fight for the freedoms..lets say like the french do…but this comes back to ideologies. Kids generally want to follow something different to their parents.

      I also argue that the ownership laws of music suck..I know people copy ..but normally people copy (emualate) and evolve it.. thats what the classical composers did. Imagine breaking copyright on stairway to heavan, the laweyers would find you…. now were finding out that they didnt really even create it and are criminals.. How many white boys pirated Bo Diddley.. Im really annoyed.. I dont know whats a better system but I dont agree with first come first serve with something so limiting as the diatonic major scale.

      I liked jjj in the late 80s.. then it went gangsta rap.. I just figure these people want their time in the sun…ritchie doing 40 min solos got boring

    2. Well spoken Andrew. The world is different. Swing bands died, bebop jazz just disappeared. Rock music has had a great run. You can make aliving, just need to decide where your talent lies.

  6. Vote with your feet. go see any decent live show you can. theres more gigs on than I realised, theyre not all advertised in the same place anymore so you need to sign up to individual venue fb pages. kids can do their boring bedroom dj mixes and get on jjj who cares that station has zero credibility anymore. why should my tax dollars support royalties to fucking guy Sebastian I cant stand twats like him!!!

    1. They come out in their thousands for Black Sabbath… Maybe we need blue light discos for adults.. I argue with drunk people and Don’t like paying $12 for a stubby

  7. While noise issues, over-regulation, pokies and internet streaming have all played their part, I think a bigger part of it is just a change in what audiences want. For a start, rock music is dead. OK, not really, but the golden age of the pub band is over. There will still continue to be bands, but rock as the dominant form of popular music is done. The market has fragmented – there’s very musical acts that can unite a generation now. Everyone has their own sounds and own scene.

    For the masses it’s much cheaper to have a DJ playing top 40 than a cover band, and for the creative side, you can’t compete with sheer spectacle of a festival, nightclub or dance party. Who wants to hang out in blokey pub with sticky floors with four guys and their guitars when you can have thousands of LEDS, lasers, smoke and cutting edge music on a crystal clear sound-system?

    Kids these days (I’m 28 but I’ll use the expression anyway) don’t buy albums. They stream individual songs, they listen to DJ mixes. The creativity is there, but the format and way of listening has vastly changed. This article talked about kids picking up guitars and entering the battle of the bands, now kids download some pirated software and create sounds and beats that wouldn’t have been possible 15 years ago, and upload their tunes on to triple j unearthed.

    It does suck that museos can’t make a steady income from playing in bands anymore, I feel that. But to deride an entire industry and say that live music is dead just because your version of how it should be done is fading – well, that just misses the much bigger picture.

  8. Electric guitars were basically designed in the 50’s creating a new sound. Jimmy Hendrix came along and turned it into a monster, James Marshall designed an amplifier that would take it to another level which inspired musicians to write music that was called ‘Rock’. It had attitude! The electronic keyboard came along and helped create another style, computers came along and turned the bedroom into a studio. They were all new paths. That was a long time ago. What’s inspiring music today?

    1. I’ve been an amateur guitarist since the late 1960s and now have the time and means to explore some of the latest toys inspiring music today for people who prefer to do just a bit more than hit the “play” button. I’m now experimenting with pedals and gear that just wasn’t available decades ago (nor could I afford them!)

      During the last week or so, there’s been announcements about the Sensus Smart Guitar (still being developed by Mind Music Labs) and also the LinnStrument, an electronic keyboard designed by a guitarist. Look them up.

      Yeah, not cheap, but then you can get a $1 app called Music Memo to record YOUR musical ideas on your iPhone/iPad. Inspiration is everywhere now!

      1. ……the electronic keyboard came along and helped create another style, computers came along and turned the bedroom into a studio. They were all new paths. That was a long time ago……

  9. Some valid points, especially concerning poker machines(not by the author) and noise restrictions but at the end of the day it is more than possible to earn a decent full time wage as a musician if you are willing to work hard at your craft, play covers your own way whilst weaving your original material in throughout the gig, gain a good local reputation and be prepared to constantly pester venues until they say yes. It’s also important to note that you are there to sell beer and you have to give the audience what they want! Which is a good show. If it’s a good show the venue will have you back again and again. It’s just practice and business and I know plenty of musicians in my local area that are thriving, (and plenty of venues to match) this also creates competition which raises the standard every year. I accept that making a living from it is much easier as a solo or duo act playing mostly covers but excellent money can be made in the corporate and wedding market as well in a band format. I think it is perfectly acceptable for a musician to only want to perform original music but I find it a little irritating when they complain that they can’t get gigs and make a living from it. Even if you are hellbent on being an originals only artist it can still be done if you are willing to tour a lot, same principle, hard work and pestering venues. I agree that you would also have to tour overseas to make good money but if you were a touring artist wouldn’t you just love to do that anyway? No matter what the era, no independent original band ever made good without constant touring and gradually gaining a sound reputation. I believe there is more opportunity out there today than there ever was. (if you are willing to adapt) Well designed merch and cheaper (5-10) CDs still sell. Original CDs and merch can sell very well at cover gigs too!

    1. Here here… I do anywhere up to 10oook a month and earn quite well, and consistently.
      You have to remember, 20yrs ago there were no ‘classrooms’ full of touring musicians to be 😉
      I’m not surprised not many hands were raised…
      Also, too many people accept shit money
      Making it hard for the others… Luckily I’m a good negotiator and believe in what I’m worth👍🏼
      Cheers

    2. You know, learning covers, helps your trade..but personally I have no interest in that, though yes, there is a market for that. I think the key issue here is people like to hear stuff they already know…I mean the punters…

  10. Without a financial incentive bands are making the music they want to make, and working for the joy of community, and blowing their friends minds. There’s a level playing field at the grassroots level and amazing things are going on.

    As far as creativity and community go, the scene has never been better.

  11. All very interesting. I did note the comment “does anyone actually have a CD player anymore” and it is a very valid comment. Whilst streaming is good it needs to be worth it for the artist. Thats what should be regulated. Bandcamp is very good but Spotify ect are a bunch of thieves (.oo7 per play. 1,000,000 plays = $7000). What chance has a new artist of a million plays.
    Artists themselves need to value their music as well. I get the playing for low wages thing if you can sell merch but its not really sustainable. Costs for a band are huge in general and for a touring band astronomical.
    Punters need to understand value as well. It annoys me when I see bands trying to sell their CD for $5.00 (saw this recently at music land in Melbourne) only to have the punter turn away but will quite happily pay $5.00 for a cup of coffee. Seriously ??

    1. I’m crap at maths, so prepared to be corrected, but 1,000,000 plays at.007 cents is $70.00, not 7,000. Much more in line with the returns I’m used to seeing.

  12. The live music circuit instanced by Ross Williams hasn’t existed for an awful long time. Back then, the touring circuit extended around most of the coastline and inland to regional centres – football and surf life saving clubs, agricultural colleges etc. Pokies are now the principal draw and earner for those clubs and ag colleges are all on the decline.

    2 other things have happened since then. DJs have supplanted live bands at many venues that still provide music (and plenty of DJs earn quite well). But perhaps more significant is the inflation of property prices – the sites of many former venues became more lucrative developed for townhouses etc

    No, I don’t much like the situation either; its another aspect of the loss of the commons.

  13. Tax policy is usually effective in engineering social change. But again, you have to ask the question – losing tax revenue to assist a niche artform means that another societal need goes unmet. Where’s the tradeoff? I’d rather have decently staffed and maintained hospitals and safe highways. If people really wanted more live music then they would pay for it, and bang! problem solved by the unseen hand of the market.

    The reality is that young people these days don’t care much about live music, and would just as soon do other things like play virtual reality games and hang out on social media and spend their cash on designer stuff and inner city $5 coffee and $20 drinks and $50 meals. Also let’s be honest, the current cultural-ethical construct is that it is OK to obtain recorded music, either by file sharing or streaming, for free. Why would a young person with that belief system pay $30 for an album if she can get the same thing for nothing? That is reality, brought to us by technology, and there is absolutely nothing that musicians can do about it, so they had better get used to it.

    Whoever said that there was a time when record sales paid for tours has it backwards. In the old days tours were designed to promote albums and if you were at a certain level of record sales, your label paid for the tour. Now if you tour, on your own dime, it is possible to sell vinyl at the merch stand in small quantities, and by doing so the band MIGHT defray the cost of a cheap recording if it is lucky, but forget about record company tour support, and forget about significant profits from recorded music – that’s gone and it is not coming back. Intelligently managed bands who have a strong work ethic and a decent reputation for putting on a good show can tour occasionally and earn a bit from gigs and from merch sales, but unless they are already megastars they have to have regular jobs to survive.

    I believe that the people who are bemoaning the loss of live rock music are old punters who are nostalgic for a long lost past scene that, from the average musicians point of view, was NEVER favourable anyway.

    1. It dont have to support a niche.. It should support creativity.. but you will only get that with the opera here. Australian culture does not value music. Its for layabouts and pooftas is the general consensus in our society. Music is a sacred tribal thing…not having it in schools is very narrow minded and a great loss for the childs development…but its not immediately obvious…maybe we should stop the chase and go back to dickens day where we are headed… business and free enterprise will outsource and not give a crap about us the people..bhp dont even pay tax…

  14. Blah blah blah dance music eccies blah blah blah pub rock blah blah blah noise complaints

    All music is valid. Plenty of us make and play electronic music without DJing, or depending on a computer in many cases. And I have a soft spot for some pub rock :) Oversaturation is hardly an issue… more people can make more music, but that has little bearing on what people are paid, or if they can even take their stuff live. Few musicians are in it for the money…although it’s not a cheap hobby. THAT comes down the the consumer… music has been devalued by people unwilling to pay for it. And to some extent that’s ok, not ideal, but at least live shows provided an alternate stream of income. Not so much now.

    There is a lack of venues. Unless you are a poker machine. Sydney is hellbent on committing hara kiri culturally. Being paid is the least of our concerns… you can’t even get a gig before someone who wanted to “buy into” the cool part of town can’t stand you playing there and makes a noise complaint…

  15. Oh yeah. Kids would rather sit at home and do ice instead of go out and see a band. Because all the kids are on ice now. Right. Old man yells at cloud.

    Australian music is not dead by any means. There’s a lot happening in a wide range of different genres (and yes, that includes electronic music too) in every state in this country right now. It is however largely confined to the major city centres – I’m from outer Melbourne and for the bands I’ve been in (psych rock and garage rock bands), we’ve basically always had to go to the inner city (Fitzroy, Collingwood, Brunswick, CBD, etc) to play gigs as a band playing original music. But that’s fine. It’s been great and sometimes we’ve made a bit of money too, but it’s never been about making money for me.

    If by ‘playing in bands’ you mean playing covers, then yeah, there is obviously much less of that. But original music? Different barrel of fish and to be honest a different world a lot of the time, and that is going strong, although you’d be lucky to be able to make a living from it. There are people in Australia who are more or less household names who don’t – we’re a tiny market. You’ve got to market yourself overseas and go overseas.

    And everybody knows that you don’t make money selling records anymore. Streaming is the way these days, for better or worse. But life is much easier for the DIY musician these days. Soundcloud, Youtube and especially Bandcamp are great. Other services like Spotify less so but they’re also a lot less relevant when we’re talking local bands. There are new avenues to make and distribute music and new ways to earn money from it.

    It’s just that the cover band/backing band thing that a lot of musician thirty years ago could fall back on as a reliable source of income is gone. You’ve gotta have a regular job unless you’ve hit the big time – and local and young musicians today are probably more likely to be supporting themselves working in some other non-musical job than they are say playing Top 40 cover songs at suburban pubs 3-4 nights a week. Now I like playing music, but I like playing music that I like. I actually prefer working in hospitality and playing a few gigs a month in my band than I would covering pop music that I don’t care for for the thousandth time night in and night out to make my living. Do I expect to ever make my entire living from music? No. It’s unlikely.

    I agree with the poker machines thing, though, yeah. There seems to be an article about them and their impact on live music popping up every few months or so. They’re awful. But they’re not going anywhere either.

    As far as live music being in a bit of downturn right now, well….it’s whole ‘boom and bust’ idea, right? The Venue Collective dissolves, but something else will take its place. A downturn due to one business (sure, a large and important one) going bust doesn’t mean the industry’s necessarily in the shitter.

    The reality is the world’s different now. You can’t just try to take it back to the way it was.

    1. We culturally dont appreciate music like lets say a lot of European countries..People always like the music they grew up with..thats why these cloud watchers come out in their thousands to see the bands of their youth like black sabbath… but wont buy an album or support local music..

  16. So funny, the complete opposite of my experience. I was around in the late 70’s and early 80’s, and there were great bands around, but let’s face it, most of the venues were pubs, and they aren’t the best venues for live music.

    I listen to triple J, am amazed at the breadth and quality of music, and the fact is that to make it big these days you have to come up with good original music, and the kids are doing that in spades. It’s not all EDM, go and listen to unearthed for a day.

    The musicianship far exceeds the bands from my era, the quality of the music is outstanding, and the energy is there, and the kids are going to see live music. It’s moved on from pubs, they are morgues anyway. Today it is established genuine music venues (Enmore, Metro) plus about a million different day/night festivals, grooving the moo, falls, etc. The money might not be there for average bands doing not much, but that was never really a career option. Any money from that type of music is as it should be, pocket money for a hobby.

    Get over what isn’t working and go and see what is. It’s happening, right now, and you’re probably missing it. BTW, Cat Empire, is there a better live band going, (Enmore last Friday). Those guys aren’t struggling, but they are damned good.

    1. Took my teenage kids to Groovin The Moo. Great. Just as good as an 80s concert, eg Stop The Drop or 90s BDO

  17. While I think this article has some very good points and is extremely well written, I can’t help but feel the author has missed a couple of points that a) the younger generation aren’t as interested in live gigs/ rock n roll music anymore, and b) the blame lies partly on the standard of the gigs themselves. I wrote an article about ways I think, through my experiences, it could be clawed back. Here- http://tadtheapp.com/local-gigs/

  18. it’s also love music venues themselves that are killing the rock scene. cherry bar charge you $12 entry just to be there when no bands are on after midnight on a Friday and Saturday night.
    not to mention I need both hands to count the amount of regular patrons at cherry who have been kicked out and banned for stupid reasons.

  19. This is a great article and supporting the music industry with tax breaks, as we have the film industry, would hugely benefit Australian culture. Musos are just young people trying to make a go of it – something any government should get behind.

    My band tours a fair bit and had to accept a long time ago that it would be largely self financed. We just have to figure out how to sell more stuff until we can command higher gig fees. But with higher gig fee status comes less ability to work regular jobs.

    #AusMusicTshirtDay is a great initiative. I’d like to see this ‘buying stuff from local bands’ culture grow. The same people that balk at a $10 door fee will think nothing of buying Meredith tickets.

  20. About 1,000 years ago we used to hitchhike up to the Village Green for Chain. We were too young to drink but if you didn’t try to buy any you were ok. It was loud, I always thought it was supposed to be loud. I dropped off pubs a bit after a few exciting evenings. I think its a few things, most radio stations don’t play much Australian stuff unless its bloody skyhooks or ac/dc. doing a medley of their hit. As a young bloke I listened to double j but there was also the battle of the sounds or similar in summer at the beaches. So lots of people saw lots of bands. My local pub in Sydney had a different band nearly every weekend. Anybody we liked we’d tell the barkeep and he’d pass it on to the owner. I think its noise regulations in pubs, noise regulations in the street, loss of venues, lack of music in schools and greedy bastards who don’t want to pay anybody. The last live thing I saw was Hoodoo Gurus at the GP in Melbourne, nice loud R & R.

  21. over saturation of musicians is what causes it. there’s so many artists out there who think their music is worth something. maybe it is but are they actually demanding what it is worth? and if they are, why do they think it’s worth that.

    see, it doesn’t help when everyone thinks their music is good, i don’t think anyone knows what good music is anymore.

    1. I think that’s a fair if a little harsh poain’t! :) I think it’s a mix of bands not up to standard and the whole laissez faire attitude of gigs that mean if a random punter stumbles across a live gig their experience is most likely going to be a bad one. The more this happens the more it has a domino effect of people being turned off love shows. I wrote an article about it here – http://tadtheapp.com/local-gigs/ I’d be interested to hear your opinions on that! Lee

  22. I can get plenty of work playing Diana Krall type stuff and old fashioned rock n roll (Bill Haley) etc to Upper Middle Class Bogans. But for a youngfella, trying to break in with original music etc, I can’t see any hope at all. The Karaoke talent shows on TV don’t help much either.

    I don’t regard DJ’s as being “artists” in any sense. That’s what you get nowadays though. Ecstasy and so called Dance Music.

    Shame, I had such a great time 40 years ago getting trashed and going to see Chisel, The Tatts, Dragon etc.

    Our comment about street violence is horribly true I expect. Just another side of the shitty society the corporate/mediaa/government cartel has created.

  23. I read this headline and immediately knew that the article would pine a lost “heyday”… YAWN! To be honest, I was expecting more of a Go-Betweens/Hoodoo Gurus type of spin, but INXS, AC/DC is kind of funnier.
    Anyway, I’m sorry that you’re moving further and further away from your idyllic past with each passing day and that now, having lost touch, you’re afraid of change.

  24. I have two sons who play in a band and they are lucky to play one gig a week. To me, the poker machines have a lot to answer for in terms of knocking out the local music scene. When I was 19 years old, the Thursday paper had an 8 page gig guide, outlining all of the bands playing across that week in Sydney. Many of these venues have replaced their stage with poker machines, with the guaranteed profits returned by the slot machines winning out over young bands having a place to play. I fear where the next AC/DC or Midnight Oil will come from. The Voice or Australia’s Got Talent? I think not :(

  25. Very strange the article mentions the breathalyzer but not the back room mini casinos that replaced live bands in the 80’s. Why the omission?

  26. The expectations of millenials who expect everything for free does not help either. I manage a band part time and the fall off in interest if you try and charge more than $10 is huge.

  27. The breathalyser was the first nail in the music industry’s coffin. Then backing tracks and discos. followed by over amplification, followed by over regulation. Greedy agents and record companies contributed to the decline throughout also.
    Technology TV, ipads and mobile phones etcetera mean people don’t sit, socialise, converse and sing around the piano bar anymore. Their noses are stuck to screens. VERY SAD.

  28. The lock outs have nothing to do with it. In the heyday of Aussie live music which you mention (AC/DC, INXS etc.) no music or alcohol were available past one or two in the morning in Sydney unless you went to the Taxi Club or Barrons for your alcohol (no music included).

  29. I agree with Carol. I worked at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre until I retired and the sound is so loud that you can feel your chest moving in and out to the beat. There are notices outside the staff entrances to the auditorium stating that employees are not allowed to enter unless wearing hearing protection.

  30. Something that kills live music for me is music so loud my head hurts. I find I dont hear the music, only the volume. If a vernacular music develops which doesn’t insist on such heavy amplification then venues could host it without the need for $100,000 soundpoofing. I for one would be extremely grateful.

    The level of amplification regularly used by live musicians actually does permanent damage to hearing. The musicians use hearing protection but the the audience does not. It is the only art form I can think of, where it damages the sense that perceives it. It is like damaging your sight when you look at a painting. This is something the music industry itself has under its control.

    1. Live music is meant to be loud FCS. What has destroyed it is poker machines in big pubs once known as beer barns.

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