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Do Council-Run Music Festivals Exploit Musicians?

Nate Nott, co-owner of Melbourne music store Polyester Records, has penned an open letter challenging the relevance and equity of Melbourne’s council-funded music festivals, such as Yarra’s Leaps & Bounds Festival and Melbourne City’s Melbourne Music Week. Nott has criticised the Council-run festivals for not only exploiting artists, labels and venues, but for also not adding anything substantial to Melbourne’s existing music scene.

Published in The Lifted Brow, Nott’s open letter gets straight to the point.”The cynic inside me considers that maybe councils are misspending arts funds – that they aren’t at all in touch with what local musicians actually need,” he says.

After citing a SLAM (Save Live Australian Music) campaign which encouraged local governments to increase arts funding, Nott explains his key concern. The City of Melbourne and the City of Yarra “need to sell – annually and also long-term – the Leaps & Bounds Festival and Melbourne Music Week, both inner city week-long music festivals, to a city that pretty much already had a music festival occurring every week of the year,” he says.

He then notes that organisers of both festivals have approached “bands, record labels, promoters and venues to stage events, almost always with very minor, if any, financial assistance”.

“Leaps & Bounds has a budget of around $147,500, and Melbourne Music Week’s is $944,510,” Nott claims, before describing the often dire outcomes of council-funded music festivals. “The problem is that neither of these two new festivals yet have a solid or reliable brand,” he says. “It is the bands, the record labels, the promoters and the venues whose identities are being exploited… who at the end of the festival go home, as always, with little more than taxi fare in their pockets.

“Meanwhile, what about the people of the councils and the governments?” Nott asks. “They stand up proud and proclaim loud and wide that they support the arts – and, in a sense, they do. But in a real economic sense, it is they who see the financial benefits flow into their municipalities, and thus it is they who get to keep collecting their regular and ample salaries.”

Nott concludes by suggesting that councils and governments should try to capitalise on the interest of “interstate and international music fans” when organising such festivals. Read his open letter in full at The Lifted Brow.

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