Live, Music, News & Commentary

Live music venues need financial disaster relief, not loans

| |

Federal Arts Minister Paul Fletcher’s assertion in The Guardian on Friday, that the creative sector can be saved without federal government intervention because “that’s what JobSeeker and JobKeeper are there for”, made me shake with anger.

That’s because nothing could be further from the truth. The government is happy to watch the cultural economy drown and then be hung out to dry. 

This puff piece is the federal government’s way of politely staring down the joint Live Performance Australia and National Association for the Visual Arts proposed cultural sector’s rescue package for the cultural sector.

In my world of live music everyone understands that if there are no venues, there will be no bands. There will be no music. There will be no art form. All our major artists who were touring internationally started off in small venues. In pubs and bars. The Courtney Barnetts, King Gizards, Amyl and the Sniffers, Drones. As Paul Kelly said “these are our universities”. Venues are the roads and ports of the cultural sector, whether privately or publicly owned.

The reality of the federal government’s response is that these venue organisations have had their income reduced to zero by edict, and yet they are expected to do the work of the social security system. And we are expected to do this when we are under extreme financial pressure. 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s response to our plight is to loan us working capital money via the banks with deferred interest payments which will ultimately compound. Venues get no financial assistance to administer the government’s stipend. In other words, we are expected to pay for the government’s social obligation and somehow be grateful for being “saved”. 

Let’s be clear, venues are being set up to fail because we will be encumbered by debt. 

Fletcher is fooling no one.

What is needed is financial disaster relief, not loans. The creation by government of a profit centre for the banks from this pandemic disaster is an unconscionable act. It places small businesses in an impossible position in re-opening at a time of limited patron capacity, screaming creditors and compounding costs. This is not a scenario for profitable operation or business longevity.

The reality is that live music venues pay more taxes, either directly or indirectly than any other sector of the economy. These taxes include the Wine Equalisation Tax, Alcohol Excise, Liquor License Fees, Land Tax, PAYG, Payroll Tax, Rates, Fire levies, GST, and Company Tax. Venues are also responsible for paying the OneMusic music copyright licenses. 

Live music venues have never complained about carrying this tax load. 

But now, we need the government to meaningfully invest in venues or the future revenues from these taxes will evaporate. To put the economics in perspective, live music is worth $16 billion to the Australian economy annually. Every dollar spent directly leverages $3 dollars in the economy.

Unlike other industries such as mining that leave a legacy of environmental clean-up costs, original contemporary music continually creates copyright revenues from ongoing music usage. Intellectual property is the future of a modern economy and it’s worth $526 million annually. Yet, contemporary music has also never received its fair share of arts funding through the Australia Council.

If there are no venues, there will be no bands. There will be no music. There will be no art form.

The key to fostering the careers of songwriters and composers is to stop live music venues from closing their doors. This is where musicians start to build audience, refine their stagecraft and road test their repertoire. No one goes from bedroom to stadium. 

Government cultural expenditure priorities could easily be repurposed. For example, the $50 million ridiculous Captain Cook pantomime that is the 250th Anniversary project could be repurposed.

A chunk of the $600 million allocated to the National War Memorial could be redirected. Frankly, the dead can wait because their songs exist in perpetuity whilst our culture needs saving for the living.

I’m sure that there are many other pet projects that money could be repurposed from. Maybe defunding lemons like out of date technology proposals for new coal-fired power stations that nobody wants.

Minister Fletcher finished his article by saying, “It will be even more exciting when venues can reopen and live performances can restart and our national cultural life can resume with its full vigour. That day will come!”

Well, it won’t unless the Government meaningfully invests and doesn’t leave live music venues drowning in debt or bankrupt.

3 responses to “Live music venues need financial disaster relief, not loans

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *