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Victoria's live venue industry continues its battle to stay afloat

It’s no secret that Australia’s highly celebrated music industry has recently been hit with obstacles. Festival-goers have been forced to pack away their camping gear as a string of festivals have been cancelled. Last year's Falls Festival was scrapped, and the trend continued into 2024 with this year's Groovin the Moo and Splendour in the Grass calling it quits.


Photo: Danil Nikonov/Adobe Stock - (Education Licence)

However, the cancellations of Australian music festivals are not the only threat to this industry. In recent years, local music venues have been slammed with the consequences of COVID-19, causing rapid increases in costs.


Melbournians take pride in their live music scene, as a multitude of venues across the city regularly host gigs to celebrate our small artists. So, why is this industry under threat?


The owner of Fitzroy’s The Old Bar, Liam Matthews, voiced the damaging expenses and the lack of changes in the taxation and insurance system which is harming his venue.


Although the long lockdowns now feel like a fever dream for most, a trail of uneasiness has been left behind for Victoria’s venues. 


“Insurance went up from $10,000 a year to $60,000,” said Mr Matthews. He continued, stating that after COVID, “expenses started going up rapidly.”


Mr Matthews disclosed that similar venues, including Whole Lotta Love Bar and The Bendigo Hotel, have closed due to a “massive spike in public liability insurance”, which he also struggles with. 


“Live music is an ecosystem in Melbourne,” the owner said. Mr Matthews argued that venues have a “role to play in the success of any band that is starting from zero, and trying to work their way up.”


Mr Matthews stated that the government does respond, “but it’s always in the form of grants.” Although this sounds beneficial, being given ‘$10,000’ is money that owners like Liam Matthews spend “in an hour paying down a debt.”

 

To help local venues, Mr Matthews is calling for a “policy change” by the government. “We need changes in the taxation system, we need changes in the insurance system.” 


Having support from the government is crucial. But, are venues like The Old Bar getting help?


In agreement with The Old Bar owner, Yarra City Councillor, Stephen Jolly, emphasised the lack of assistance the government is providing. 


“It’s a really tough industry,” said Cr Jolly. He held the authority accountable, stating that “only the government has the power to tell insurance companies to stop ripping their customers off.”


The industry is on “death’s door,” according to Cr Jolly. 


Venues heavily rely on their audience, much of which is a younger crowd. Students are crucial to keeping the industry alive, as their attendance can help ease the struggles that burden small artists and venue operators. 


Charlotte Markowitsch, an RMIT PhD candidate, believes that “there would have to be a loss of participants in live music”, due to funding by the government not being accurately directed towards “smaller grassroots venues.”


“It’s young people who are kinda pushing the live music industry,” said Miss Markowitsch. She continued, stating that young people are more interested in “participating in local scenes.” 


Another RMIT PhD candidate, Adrienne Arnot-Bradshaw, voiced that the “government can step in at some capacity.” However, she argued that “when audiences really wanna keep something, they do step up.” 


Instead of solely relying on those in government positions to provide help, Arnot-Bradshaw strongly believes that we should “look to each other and what power we have in our communities to support our live music sector.”


Most importantly, students' efforts to assist the live music industry are essential for it to continue flourishing. Liam Matthews stated that “the best thing anyone can do is go and see a show.”


The Old Bar owner wants spaces like his to be used “for what they are intended”, meaning that it’s also up to the public to help keep Victoria’s beloved music sector alive.



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