News Live music in crisis: Vast majority of Australia’s venues will close forever without more help

Live music in crisis: Vast majority of Australia’s venues will close forever without more help

Sydney's Enmore Theatre is one of the venues at risk. Photo: Getty
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Australia’s live music industry is in crisis talks with government and pleading for urgent assistance, with a time bomb of looming debts and deadlines predicted to see countless venues simply close down in coming months.

“We are almost out of time for a solution for these businesses,” said  Australian Live Music Business Council chairman Stephen Wade.

Two stunning surveys of the sector found 85 per cent of venues in NSW, and 70 per cent nationwide, reported facing imminent shutdown and closure without immediate funding help.

The NSW survey said 47 of the state’s most popular venues had missed out on $70 million in lost revenue since March.

Sobering findings from the first ALMBC member survey released today…😕 – 70% of Live music businesses won’t last more…

Posted by Australian Live Music Business Council on Wednesday, 23 September 2020

“We’re in a pretty dire situation,” admitted Sam Nardo, who runs Sydney’s iconic Enmore and Metro theatres.

“Many venues will shut their doors for good. They will not be able to come back.”

COVID rules hit hard

The live music industry, with tightly-packed crowds, dancefloors and alcohol service, was among the first to close due to COVID lockdowns and restrictions, and is predicted to be among the last to open up fully.

Despite rules easing, many venues remain closed. Even smaller ones, which are slowly opening with seated crowds, are running at a loss.

Mr Nardo is chief operating officer of Century Venues, running some of Sydney’s most beloved concert halls. He said the largest theatres in his portfolio remain closed, and even those opening are only taking around 15 per cent of normal patrons. Combined with extra COVID-related cleaning, staff and security costs, and looming cuts to JobKeeper and rental assistance, he fears many venues will not be able to afford to reopen.

“It’s now more than double the cost to open,” he told The New Daily.

“If not for JobKeeper, it wouldn’t be viable.”

Century Venues says its spaces are under pressure. Photo: Getty

One of his venues, the Factory Theatre, is being kept at only 15 per cent of its normal 800-patron capacity. Staff are rostered on for cleaning, crowd control and marshalling duties.

“We’re running at a loss in these shows, but it’s important we do it,” Mr Nardo said.

“Spaces need revenue.”

A MusicNSW survey of 50 Sydney venues, released this week, revealed 85 per cent expected to close for good in coming months without an urgent injection of government funding. A separate nationwide survey from the Australian Live Music Business Council found 70 per cent of venues feared closure within six months, with 30 per cent saying they’d shut by Christmas.

A NSW campaign called Save Our Stages has launched, calling on the state government to pour stimulus money into the sector. The campaign complains the NSW government has not stumped up music-specific funding like the Victorian and Queensland governments.

Help Save Our Venues! Live music in NSW is under threat. Unless there is immediate government intervention, we risk…

Posted by Save Our Stages NSW on Monday, 21 September 2020

“Live music in NSW is under threat [and] on the verge of collapse,” Save Our Venues said.

“We call on the NSW Government to work with MusicNSW and industry representatives to devise a stimulus package that will ensure the ongoing survival of our venues.”

Parliamentary pressure

More than 20,000 people signed the campaign’s petition on the state parliament’s website in just its first 48 hours. Under petition rules, the issue must now be debated by the NSW parliament.

Federal Arts Minister Paul Fletcher said creative industries “are doing it tough at the moment” and pointed to Commonwealth support such as the $75 million RISE fund and $35 million in sustainability funding.

He also said $336 million in JobKeeper payments had gone to creative and performing arts industries, with decisions on funding applications to be made in coming weeks.

“[The programs] are the outcome of widespread consultation with the industry – conversations that will continue as we enter the recovery phase from COVID-19,” he promised.

But the ALMBC survey found just 17 per cent of venues expected to get any benefit from RISE, and only 4 per cent planned to take out a government-backed loan under the ShowStarter program.

“Live music is an integral part of Australian culture. But unless the government does more we could lose so much of it,” said Labor arts spokesperson Tony Burke.

“It’s been three months since Scott Morrison announced his arts and entertainment support package – but not a dollar has actually been delivered to the people who need support.”

Arts minister Paul Fletcher backed the government’s response. Photo: AAP

Kerri Glasscock, of performance space Venue 505, said the sector could use access to cash grants, subsidies for opening venues with decreased capacity, and investment for programming. Her venue is struggling, and she is considering her options.

“Under our reduced capacity, we need to sell all our tickets each night, and every person needs to buy two drinks, just for us to break even,” Ms Glasscock told The New Daily.

“And that’s while we have a rent reduction from our landlord, and getting JobKeeper. We’re only just breaking even, paying radically reduced rent, and having staff costs covered. As soon as we lose one of those buffers, it won’t be viable for us to open at all.”

Mr Nardo said pending changes to JobKeeper, and ends to rent moratoriums, were “a real factor” that would further punish venues. He suggested the state government provide assistance with rents and stimulus, as well as regulatory amendments – like noise restrictions – which could help cut red tape to get businesses moving faster.

“It’s inevitable businesses like ours will have to close,” Mr Nardo said.

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