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OPEN LETTER: Aussie Music Industry Pleads With Canberra To Save It From Imminent Death

On Saturday, my band RedHook was in Fortitude Valley about to play The Other Festival, a new rock mini-fest hatched during the pandemic, designed to give the Brisbane heavy music community something to celebrate after a year of doom & gloom, and help breathe some life back into the flailing live music sector.

It was to be the second show we’d played in over a year, after barely breaking from touring to come up for air in 2019.

We’d flown up there from Sydney, loaded our gear into the venue, and were feeling beyond pumped to play in front of an actual stand-up moshpit.

Then, about four hours before we were scheduled to hit the stage, I got a phone call from NSW Health, informing me that I’d potentially been exposed to COVID-19 at a location the previous weekend, and should get tested and isolate immediately.

My heart was crushed like ribs in a Slayer pit. Never mind the emotional carnage of having our joyous return to the stage snatched from us at literally the very last minute, between flights, accom, transport and food for the trip it also meant we’d splurged close to $3K for absolutely fucking nothing. For a band whose primary income derived from touring, which had already been completely annihilated by COVID, this felt like a mortal blow.

The live music industry is in grave jeopardy. When borders keep swinging open and shut quicker than the changing staircases at Hogwarts each time the dreaded virus leaks out of hotel quarantine, the very act of touring becomes a dangerous and potentially fatal gamble for an industry already close to bankruptcy. This week, a study commissioned by the Victorian Music Development Office and the Victorian Office for Women reported that three in five workers have considered yeeting themselves out of the Victorian music industry due to the sheer hopelessness wrought by COVID, and tbh, it’s little wonder.

When the thing you’ve worked your entire life for is wiped out literally overnight, and a year on, even the most optimistic attempt to claw back some of what you’ve lost can leave you even more grievously wounded, perhaps the smart thing to do would be to get the hell out of dodge altogether.

If we’re to survive, we need help. Serious help. And today, more than 3,500 artists, workers, venues and businesses from across the Australian music industry have banded together to plead for just that.

They’ve written an open letter to the federal government, begging for something — anything — to help keep the gig economy afloat.

“Each time there is another COVID-19 cluster or a quarantine breach, any plans to trade again are halted. Musicians, sole traders, venues, clubs, festivals, music businesses and the industry remain out of work. Billions of dollars for hospitality and tourism generated from Australian music remains stifled. We are an industry in crisis,” the letter reads.

“We applaud the work of local, state and federal authorities, as well as the community and acknowledge the situation in Australia is much different to most nations around the world. But Australia remains in a cycle of lockdowns and border closures to keep on top of the insidious COVID-19 pandemic.”

The letter goes on to cite staggering new data from Aussie music rights organisation APRA AMCOS, which reveals that live music alone is operating at under 4 per cent of what it was this time last year.

“Extending JobKeeper, or providing an industry specific wage subsidy package, will keep the show on the road,” the letter continues.

“This doesn’t just make cultural sense, it makes economic sense. The arts and entertainment sector contributes around $15 billion per year in GDP, employing close to 200,000 highly-skilled Australians. Australia Institute research has found that for every million dollars in turnover, arts and entertainment produce 9 jobs while the construction industry only produces around 1 job”.

Among the signatures it bears; Kate Miller-Heidke, Paul Kelly, Bernard Fanning, Courtney Barnett, Laneway Festival, Missy Higgins, Archie Roach and loads more.

Read the letter in full, below.

OPEN LETTER FROM THE AUSTRALIAN MUSIC INDUSTRY

NOW IS NOT THE TIME TO TURN OFF MUSIC’S LIFE SUPPORT

The music and live entertainment industry will be the last to be able to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. We call on the Australian Government to extend JobKeeper, or provide an industry specific wage subsidy, to be continued beyond March for those who work in music and live events.

We applaud the work of local, state and federal authorities, as well as the community and acknowledge the situation in Australia is much different to most nations around the world. But Australia remains in a cycle of lockdowns and border closures to keep on top of the insidious COVID-19 pandemic.

Each time there is another COVID-19 cluster or a quarantine breach, any plans to trade again are halted. Musicians, sole traders, venues, clubs, festivals, music businesses and the industry remain out of work. Billions of dollars for hospitality and tourism generated from Australian music remains stifled. We are an industry in crisis.

At present, live music alone is operating at under 4 per cent of pre-COVID levels as a result of continual border closures and social distancing regulations. Since March last year there has not been a single national tour undertaken by an Australian artist and there has not been a single festival run at full capacity. The music and live entertainment industry remains in lockdown.

The ability for musicians to generate meaningful income was shut down overnight in March last year. Every live music venue and festival in a city, town centre or regional area is part of an intricate network that supports our industry. Sitting behind these venues and events is an army of musicians, DJs, managers, agents, promoters, crew, technicians, music teachers and many other industry professionals.

It’s all completely understandable. But for music and live entertainment the last twelve months has devastated our industry. Bureau of Statistics data shows that arts and entertainment related industries have seen some of the largest pandemic business shutdowns.

We acknowledge the Australian Government’s response package for arts and entertainment announced last year – $10 million in critical funding to Support Act for crisis relief and mental health & wellbeing support and $250 million in grants and loans to stimulate the restart of the arts and entertainment sector. But a restart can’t happen while borders remain closed and audience capacity limits are in place.

Looming at the end of March is the end of the JobKeeper program, the single most important policy intervention by the government. It has provided some certainty and helped keep a large number of individuals, sole-traders and businesses in the music and live entertainment industry alive so they are ready to restart.

As Prime Minister Scott Morrison said last year: “[It] has been important for us to really get a full appreciation of the serious business of entertainment and the hundreds of thousands of jobs that are here and we want to keep that capability together. Those jobs will come back into those businesses when the show starts again and we need to keep them, we need to keep the show together when it comes to the people who make that up.”

Extending JobKeeper, or providing an industry specific wage subsidy package, will keep the show on the road. This doesn’t just make cultural sense, it makes economic sense. The arts and entertainment sector contributes around $15 billion per year in GDP, employing close to 200,000 highly-skilled Australians. Australia Institute research has found that for every million dollars in turnover, arts and entertainment produce 9 jobs while the construction industry only produces around 1 job.

We can’t afford to lose the skills and businesses of our industry. The result for Australian music and live entertainment would be catastrophic.

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