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Opinion

A MUSIC INDUSTRY IN CRISIS

A Music Industry In Crisis Melanie Bainbridge

As the #metoo campaign illuminates the shadows of systemic inequalities that still exist in our culture and community, there’s a difficult conversation that the music industry needs to have.

We need to get serious about violence in our industry. We need to show it no mercy and offer it no excuses, nor exemptions – wherever it comes from. And we need to do it now.

As a female songwriter and music industry advocate in Perth I now have to ‘call out’ what I know to be true, still – that there is an undercurrent of violence in our industry that venues are deliberately turning a blind eye to, even when made aware.

I accept that there may be backlash to these words from our industry, but I can’t be silent any longer.

This is my humble request to our home grown venues and festivals. Please stop putting artists on your stages that you know to have a history of violence. As women, we need you to consider our safety over your need to pull a crowd.

This is not about venues who insist that their female staff wear revealing outfits, and threaten them with unemployment if they choose not to comply. Or about venues that stage inherently sexist events and then issue half-hearted apologies on social media. That’s bad enough.

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This is not about festivals, venues and booking agents who routinely showcase line-ups made almost entirely of men, and have to scramble to ‘fill quotas’ when it comes to putting women on stage. That too, is bad enough.

This is about venues who routinely support the artists in this town who think nothing of threatening women with violence, or enacting it.

It’s about venues who allow violent or abusive musicians or patrons to remain in their venues, even after they’re made aware of the threat they pose.

On the back of another week of violence, where a Perth musician was found unconscious outside of a Scarborough bar and personal friends have been threatened on Perth streets for simply being female and walking alone, I’m calling for this to stop. Now.

In the wake of accusations against Sticky Fingers and others, that seem to go largely unheeded and certainly unpunished, it’s time for our industry colleagues at all levels to stand up and speak out against violence in our industry.

It seems that the #meNOmore conversation has largely fallen on deaf ears. The signatures keep mounting, and yet the violence keeps happening.

Conversations about ‘call-out’ culture are instead the focus – whether trial by social media is, or is not, an appropriate way to have the debate. What remains is this; where selective deafness is being employed as a strategy to circumvent having to take appropriate action against the perpetrators of violence, people will find another way to be heard. If our venues, artists and managers would prefer this debate to be had in a different way – they need to start listening, and taking action.

I know of women in our community who won’t go into some venues, or even into Northbridge itself, in order to avoid certain musicians. This is fear. A fear we should not have to feel in our own community.

It is possible that some venues are unaware of the history and behaviours of these artists, and choose to support their artistry over rumours and side-eye observations. Pathetically however, many of these venues are aware, and deliberately turn a blind eye.

Here’s the bottom line. It’s never OK for a venue to disregard the physical and emotional safety of their patrons for the sake of having a popular artist in their venue. It’s certainly not OK that they pay the people making those spaces unsafe.

Even if there was some kind of skewed justification for allowing this behaviour, and by continuing to support these artists, implicitly condoning it; surely venues realise that women are paying patrons too. We go to shows, we buy beer, we meet friends; and if we have a safe space to do that in, that’s the venue in which we’ll be most likely to spend our money.

So I ask our live music venues to consider this. When you book an artist you know to have a history of violence and aggression, drug use or alcohol fuelled rage, is it worth the loss of patronage and support of your venue? If not, stop booking them. If so, stop trading – your social licence to operate is revoked.

I ask our talented music community to always stand up against violence, and not to tolerate it.

I ask women to speak up. If you are feeling unsafe in a venue, for any reason, let the venue know. When we neglect to make a venue aware of the threat, we allow the threat to persist.

I ask that no exemptions be given to the talented – we’ve seen how well that worked in Hollywood. Creativity is not an excuse for aggression, abuse or violence; neither is mental illness, nor alcohol.

There are venues in this town making real efforts to make women feel safe. There are venue owners and managers actively putting strategies in place to support women through the ‘Ask for Angela’ campaign and other means – but this must be an industry-wide, concerted effort, and not a gimmicky one. Safety from violence is not a PR strategy. It’s a basic human right.

We need to send a united, unqualified message of zero tolerance of violence against women – or indeed against anyone – in our live music venues; and reinforce that message at all levels of our music community. No more lip service. It’s time for venues to put their money where their mouths are.

This is an industry in crisis; an industry crying out for support. It will not recover without work, but if we commit to that work we can transform it from a disparate melange of resentful individuals screaming into the void, into a healthy, thriving, supportive ecosystem – and that will be worth the effort.

Melanie Bainbridge is a writer, songwriter, arts advocate, sustainability professional and Founder of music industry social enterprise, The Pack Australia.

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