The live music industry is one that is often intrinsically linked with hospitality, and one that has been hit exceptionally hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sharlene Harris, ALH Group National Entertainment Manager, said the impact of lockdown was wide reaching, from venues, to acts, to behind the scenes workers that make the industry possible. Once restrictions began to be implemented, live performances were some of the first to be impacted.
“At that time, and for the first month I think everyone was dealing with the immediate problems caused by this, like what to do with stock, how to look after our people, turning off or decommissioning as much equipment as possible to minimise loss and a hundred other actions,” Harris said.
“Everyone had to cease regular entertainment and in the case of ticketed and touring entertainment, shows needed to be rescheduled or postponed to later in the year. This meant that agents, acts, production suppliers, sound technicians, roadies, ticketing companies, digital marketing companies, publicists and a host of other companies that support live performance instantly lost all scheduled work and income. For three or so weeks I think we were all busier than ever despite having no gigs and it’s a pretty hectic space to be in most of the time!”
As the lockdowns stretched on, and strict operating restrictions followed them, Harris and a wide realm of music industry members began to realise how incredibly dire the situation was. Multiple people fell through the cracks of government packages, and while a range of organisations were trying to garner support for different elements of the industry, there seemed to be no united voice for the businesses that support live entertainment.
“We have some great peak bodies within the music industry in this country, the Live Music Office, Live Performance Australia, ARIA, APRA and the Australian Music Industry Network for the states, to name just a few, but it was soon really obvious that there was no united voice representing the coal face of the businesses that support the Australian music scene. The pubs, clubs, bars and nightclubs, the agents, acts, managers, production, lighting and staging crews and so many others that together build acts from infancy through to headlining international festival stages needed a united voice,” Harris said.
Just as the Live Entertainment Industry Forum (LEIF) announced their formation for the macro end of the business, including arenas, sporting stadiums, major promoters and huge theatre productions, the Australian Live Music Business Council (ALMBC) was formed to represent the micro end of the music business.
Harris, part of the founding ALMBC group, said: “It’s particularly important right now because there are venues around the country that are totally geared to a live performance model and their very existence post pandemic is under threat.”
Pubs “the backbone of live music”
“Often, these are the venues many of us have visited to see our favourite Aussie act, danced to the wee hours, and have contributed to creating the stagecraft and music adored globally by simply having their stages available to such a wide variety of acts.”
Harris described pubs as “the backbone of live music in Australia,” and said they’re one of the focuses of the council. She also told Australian Hotelier how music and pubs go together hand in hand, noting the importance to not only ALH venues, but to the wider industry.
“In regional and remote areas the pub is often the central hub of the community it sits in. When a great act comes to town… it brings people far and wide, creating a flow-on effect to other businesses in those regions. In the suburbs in metropolitan areas it provides an opportunity to socialise and let your hair down without being too far from home, creating a rounded night out for patrons, a meal and a dance, a sing along, or just great ambience,” Harris said.
“Music makes memories. The songs you grew up with, got married to, love right now. The great moments you had with friends, family, work colleagues around a live music event are often the good times you remember for a lifetime, creating a fond association with the pub you experienced that in.
“For the ALH Group it adds another stream to our revenue base and has a flow-on effect to other parts of our business, with bistros, bars and accommodation seeing significant spikes in trade. It also exposes our pubs to people who may have not otherwise attended the venue before thereby creating opportunities for return visitation. I don’t think ALH pubs are alone in seeing these benefits.”
With the support-local trend experiencing a marked increase in popularity, getting local musicians back into gigs has the potential to breathe some much needed life back into not only the music industry, but also live music venues. Harris said the ALMBC hopes to bring the buzz back into communities and pubs across Australia, while supporting the live music sector’s workforce of 65,000 people.
“It’s been said a lot of times, but we truly do need to be in this together. We are in danger of losing hundreds of experienced people that make these shows happen, as they look to other industries to find a way to make a living,” Harris said.
“For a lot of Aussie pubs, entertainment is part of their offering, and at the moment, this looks like the very last piece of the jigsaw to be put back into place. We need to work closely with Government to be able to bring it back into the mix across the board in a step-by-step, COVID-safe manner.”
“When done well, live music is the cream on top of your core business model. It’s important that we represent all facets of live performance, and to do that properly we need a wide variety of businesses that support live performance to sign up and communicate their particular situation, have a voice, contribute to outcomes. Only then will we be able to shine a light on how intrinsic music is to the Aussie lifestyle and how severe the impact to the sector has been.”
You can join the ALMBC for free until January 2021, or find more information, by heading to almbc.org.au