Yes, I know we’re all sick of hearing it, but … 2020 has been insane for the music industry. Closed venues. Cancelled gigs. Who would’ve guessed we’d be watching our favourite artists live streaming new songs in their PJ’s. Nevertheless, here we are. We’ve made it this far and things are starting to look up (thank god), with more and more COVID-safe gigs popping up around the country. As this tumultuous year comes to a close, let’s recap what 2020 has meant for the music industry and most importantly – where the hell do we go from here? Let’s remember why we adore live music so much as we anxiously wait for it to come back with a vengeance. Although the industry has adapted to the years challenges with innovative new strategies, I think we can all agree nothing compares to a good old-fashioned mosh pit. As the country shows promising signs of reopening, music lovers need to get ready to show up and support the local industry like never before.
March marked the beginning of a long struggle for the music industry when non-essential social gatherings were banned nation wide. This led to the closing of music venues and cancellation of countless gigs, bringing the industry to a standstill. Losses in the Australian music industry from COVID shutdowns were initially estimated in May at $350 million, but that figure has since grown. Musicians, sound engineers, roadies, promoters and the many others who make up this beloved community had their livelihoods compromised. Reports indicate two out of every three jobs in the live entertainment sector have been lost this year, forcing many to rely on government assistance. With streaming services offering considerably low royalty rates, live shows are an essential source of income for independent Australian artists. 2020 has made us step back for a harsh look at the music industry, shining a spotlight on overlooked issues such as government funding, equal representation and Spotify royalty rates. In its constant battle for recognition as an integral part of Australian culture, the music industry has been hit with its biggest challenge yet.
Despite these hurdles, Australia’s music community has persevered with resilience and tenacity. Creativity has not slowed down, with many artists using isolation to write new music for us to enjoy. For many of us, music has been our saving grace to cope with isolation. With its incredible ability to defy borders and connect us, new releases have been welcomed with open arms (even if they couldn’t be supported with a live tour). Determined to deliver their music to us in a way that still feels unrefined and intimate, artists have turned to the power of social media. Live streaming has allowed artists to host private concerts from their bedrooms, collaborate with other artists and fundraise for the music community. With the easing of restrictions came the introduction of COVID-safe gigs, allowing for seated shows with social distancing and reduced venue capacity. Deprived of live music for months, sitting down for table service and intimate gigs has been a welcomed change. With dancing, moshing and head-banging made essentially illegal, it’s safe to say these gigs are the ultimate test of self-control. Ball Park Music’s frontman Sam Cromack put it best when he said “I never thought a big historical event would come along and prove how good some people are at dancing in a chair.”
I never knew I’d miss being crammed up with hundreds of drunk strangers quite this much. We’re all fantasising about the day we can return to the mosh for the indescribable experience live music delivers. Sweaty people, the total lack of personal space, getting soaked with other people’s drinks, paying $12 for a beer. It’s all worth it the second you see your favourite musicians step on stage, metres away from you. That feeling when your favourite band announces a concert in your city- the frantic excited rush to gather friends together, scrape up some money and pray your boss gives you the weekend off. The power of concerts to bring communities together should never be underestimated. Hundreds, even thousands of strangers from different walks of life gather to the same place to share a memory together and escape the daily grind for an hour or two. Nobody knows who the person next to them voted for in the last election and quite frankly, nobody cares. You’re all here to have the songs you belt out in the car everyday performed in front of your eyes. With 2020 being a year of political, social and cultural division, this notion is more important than ever. If these past few months have taught us anything, it’s that irreplaceable experiences and memories are far more valuable than possessions. We need to carry this energy into 2021 as we prepare for the highly anticipated comeback of live music (we hope).
So, what does the future of live music look like as we head into 2021? Well, Queenslanders received some exciting news recently with the announcement of indoor gigs increasing to 100% capacity and outdoor gigs capped at 1500 with dancing allowed (hell yeah!) as of November 17. The Valley Fiesta saw a four day-line up jam-packed with homegrown acts play across 14 Brisbane venues in November. November has been a huge month for live music in NSW, with the Great Southern Nights initiative bringing 1,000 COVID-safe gigs to Sydney and regional NSW. As of October 27, Victoria is allowed outdoor COVID-safe gigs with significant restrictions. Although things are moving slowly, progress is progress! Government funding has been provided across the country to provide relief and kick-start the return of live music. Support Act has been working exceptionally hard to fundraise, spread awareness and provide resources for the community. #AusmusicTShirtDay saw thousands of Aussies rally together on November 20 to support local artists by showing off their favourite merch. With this support, next years event calendar is already filling up with rescheduled events from 2020 and exciting new festivals and gigs across the country. Given we stay on track, 2021 is shaping up to be pretty bloody good.
In the meantime, what can musos do to support the music industry? Keep an eye out for local gigs and if you have tickets for postponed gigs, try and resist the urge to get a refund! Be prepared to pay a little bit more for future gigs to help the industry recover from this whirlwind of a year. Maybe the most important thing to take away from this is: support small artists! You’d be shocked by the incredible talent on your front door step waiting to be discovered. Put the old faithful playlist aside, expand your horizons and check out some new tracks. And why not treat yourself to that merch you’ve been eyeing as a cheeky Christmas present. There’s something brewing in the Aussie music scene- fans are returning with a hunger for connection like never before. Before we know it, we’ll be screaming at the top of our lungs again in a sea of people, unable to hear or talk the next day. We say: bring back the mosh and bring on 2021! (touch wood)
For music industry workers needing mental health assistance, call the Support Act Wellbeing Helpline on #1800 959 500 or the First Nations Dedicated Support Line on #1800 861 085.