“It’s hard to have hope”: Will the Australian music industry really recover? | Music
AAmid the stress and vagueness of the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic – which continues to wreak daily havoc and decimate the arts industries around the world – there was a point where some Australian musicians stepped in. really felt lucky.
“A lot of my friends overseas were not getting any kind of stimulus or funding from [their] governments, and we were, ”recalls Harriette Pilbeam, who records as Hatchie. After months of lobbying, state and federal governments had started fueling the drip industry with bailout programs, and some musicians found themselves eligible for fortnightly job maintenance supplements (well that many working behind the scenes were not).
“We were so grateful to be here – for [nearly] one year, we thought “God, we are so lucky,” she said. “I had the impression that it would be silly [to complain] when everyone was so much worse.
Fast forward to June 2021, and that moment is over. Where Australian musicians may have once felt protected from the worst of the global crisis, they now feel left behind by a government that botched the vaccine rollout, suppressed the jobkeeper and allowed sports matches to continue while the musical equivalents – stadium shows and festivals – have been repeatedly canceled, often without insurance.
Those who would normally earn their money by touring internationally or locally face the worst of both worlds. As the United States and Europe eagerly await the return of live music later this year, some Australian artists feel left out of world tours and festivals. Meanwhile, the local touring circuit has become unsustainable due to instant locks, capacity cuts, and poor ability to move the plan forward.
Australia was already a pretty tough market to break into – and for a career musician like Pilbeam, whose fan base is largely overseas, the future looks bleak. “I really feel [our luck has] overturned, ”she said. “Now we are the ones who have been left behind, and I have no idea when we will return overseas.”
When the pandemic hit, Hatchie had just completed a two-year touring and promotion cycle for his debut album, and Pilbeam was set to record a follow-up. That record has now been put on ice, as she and her team reject tour offers until she is allowed to leave the country. “I think if we knew a specific date when things could happen that might help, but we’re so in the dark.”
Others were even worse off: they had to deal with a rescheduled or canceled work year in the blink of an eye.
Holy Holy, a duo based between Melbourne and Launceston, saw two 2020 tours canceled – one in April, another scheduled for October-November. After waiting for much of the year, the group decided to try a short three-weekend East Coast tour in January and February 2021, booking multiple shows per night in venues with significantly reduced capacity. The shows did take place, but in “pandemic fashion” – meaning all but two had to be rescheduled. The tour was scheduled to end on February 27; it finally ended in May.
The logistical nightmare is hard to underestimate. Filming in Australia is difficult at the best of times: in Europe you can drive from town to town, playing one show every night, but it is almost impossible to do the same on such a vast island continent whose centers are so distant from each other. For Holy Holy manager Jess Beston, booking a tour involves dozens of moving parts – and became even more laborious after the pandemic. “When you postpone a gig, it affects the band, the manager, the agent and the whole team – depending on the band, it could be one person, or it could be 12. And when they suddenly lose work, it doesn’t. is not the case. like they could replace that job this weekend, especially if people are locked out, ”she said.
A series of Holy Holy shows were slated for the night Melbourne entered its first lockdown of 2021, requiring a mad – and expensive – race to get the band and team out of Victoria before the borders closed. Then a handful of shows in Brisbane had to be postponed as the Queensland government could not confirm whether any of the members of Holy Holy’s group would be allowed into the state from Melbourne. The day after the performances were postponed, border restrictions were lifted.
Beston lost about $ 80,000 in income last year; she was successful thanks to Jobkeeper and other projects she chose. Others were not so lucky. “A lot of people have lost a whole year’s salary, [while] still working all the time, ”she says. “[We were] book shows, chase shows, do various things, but not get paid for that work.
That Holy Holy was able to perform shows is a small miracle. Melbourne musician Kira Puru was due to perform her first show in a year in February, after what was supposed to be a year of touring. But just days before the show date, Melbourne was back on lockdown.
“It devastated me in a way I don’t think I could have foreseen,” she says. A lack of income stability, along with the general anxiety associated with working in the arts now, hampered Puru’s creativity and added new pressures. Pouring salt on the wound, Puru was one of many Australian musicians whose last shows were all fundraisers for the bushfires that broke out across the country just before the pandemic. “Emotionally, it’s really mind-blowing – you never know when things are going to fall apart. It’s hard to hope for things to come to fruition.
Puru points out that the damage done goes far deeper than just musicians. “I just feel like the government in general does not support the arts enough. “
Beston, Pilbeam and Puru all point out that the industry needs an effective rollout of vaccination to help them get back on their feet. But all three also criticize what they see as hypocrisy in the allowances given to the sporting public compared to live music. As the Holy Holy team booked quarter-capacity shows at the 2,100-seat Melbourne Forum theater in February, she said, thousands of people attended sports matches – with more than 7,000 allowed. to gather under closed roofs for the Australian Open, whose venues were at 50% capacity. “The disparity [is] very painful for all of us to be a witness, ”says Beston.
Pilbeam agrees: “[Sports fans] they all arrive at the same time, they all go to the bathroom at the same time, they are all in the hallways at the same time – so how is it different to have a few hundred people in a hall for a show? … People at sports games are just as likely to jump and scream as people at shows are likely to move and sing – don’t know what the difference is.
In the scheme of things, Australia has been immune from many of the horrors of the pandemic. But Beston fears Covid will impact the music industry for years to come – especially now that job retention has ended, leaving the largely insecure workforce particularly vulnerable. “I am worried about the impacts on the mental health of young artists and young managers – I think  would be an incredibly difficult thing to recover. I can certainly understand if they chose to pursue other careers that offered more stability and security and a secure income, ”she says.
Streaming platforms are not a viable source of income for the 99% of the industry, and for early-career musicians the last 18 months may have been a breaking point. “I think the industry may have lost some really great future artists,” Beston said.