Coronavirus capacity restrictions for live music venues must be raised, industry says

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Nearly half of music industry businesses will not survive the next three months if governments around Australia do not ease capacity restrictions in venues and make it easier for artists to tour nationally, according to a new survey.

The limit on the number of people allowed in venues is the main factor holding back the struggling sector, said the Australian Live Music Business Council, which represents 600 small businesses and sole traders.

Almost 70 per cent of businesses the ALMBC polled in early March said their revenue was down by as much as 100 per cent since coronavirus lockdowns were first introduced this time last year.

About three-quarters of businesses will not be around in six months’ time if trading conditions don’t improve, the survey results reveal.

“I am an optimistic person by nature but it is pretty grim,” ALMBC executive general manager Craig Spann told ABC Brisbane on Monday.

He said that with the JobKeeper wage subsidy set to end this week, 2021 was shaping up to be extremely challenging unless there was greater certainty around border closures.

The industry wants state and territory governments to devise a national permit scheme to allow crews and artists to travel safely even if borders are shut.

“Most acts earn 80 per cent of their income outside their home state,” he said, adding that live music employed not just artists but lighting technicians, publicists, merch stand workers and others.

“We have had tours booked, hotspots declared and tours cancelled, time and time again.”

‘It is hard for people to see a way forward’

It is just the latest dire prediction for the music industry, and it comes the week the JobKeeper wage subsidy is set to finish.

Last month, more than 3,000 people signed an open letter calling on the federal government to extend that program or replace it with a targeted wage subsidy for the industry.

In the latest I Lost My Gig survey, more than half of business owners said they would need to close if JobKeeper was not extended. Fifty-five per cent of respondents said they were considering leaving the industry.

Courtney Barnett playing guitar and singing on stage at Byron Falls Festival
The JobKeeper wage subsidy is keeping many music industry businesses afloat.(

ABC North Coast: Samantha Turnbull

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Music rights group APRA AMCOS said the live music industry was operating at 4 per cent capacity and no artist had completed a national tour for a year.

More than 90 per cent of people surveyed by the ALMBC said the uncertainty had impacted their mental health, with many, Mr Spann said, feeling “ignored and forgotten”.

“It is hard for people to see a way forward … A lot of people have left the business.

“We are seeing an enormous brain drain which we are going to have to contend with when we get back to touring.”

Call to lift restrictions on venue capacity

Restrictions on capacity differ from state to state. In most places, for unseated shows, the two-square-metre rule applies.

That’s the case at The Old Bar in Melbourne, which is currently running at about 50 per cent capacity.

Co-owner Liam Matthews said the restrictions in Victoria were confusing and would undoubtedly be unsustainable for some venues.

“While there is only one active case in Victoria, and everyone else is moving forward, I think we should be slowly moving our way up to 100 per cent capacity,” he said.

“It’s the only way we are going to make it to the end of this year.”

Dick Diver performing at the Tote Hotel
The impact of the pandemic on the arts, from literature to music, has been severe.(

ABC RN: Jeremy Story Carter

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He said it was particularly important to do it now.

Half of his staff receive JobKeeper and the business is now paying back the rent that was stalled last year.

“The well is dry and we have to pay all these bills,” he said.

“We need them [the government] to listen now and hopefully act on it sooner rather than later. There are venues that are closing, and it is only going to get harder now.”

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