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THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED

Sound of Silence

Airlines are feeling the love.  So are banks.  Why not music?

The music industry is seen as a loveable ruffian that provides a good photo opportunity every now and then and steps up when there’s money to be raised for a good cause…

The Federal government’s recently announced measures to stave off the economic downturn resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic include a $715 million funding package for airlines and a $105 billion boost for the banking sector, designed to get cash flowing into businesses.

So far, no money has been announced for the creative sector.

A 2017 report from the Bureau of Communications and Arts Research showed that cultural and creative activity contributed $111.7 billion to Australia’s economy in 2016-17, 6.4 per-cent of the GDP.  Creative industries contribute enormously to the financial wellbeing of our country, as well as to our cultural and mental/emotional wellbeing.

In spite of this, overall government funding for creative industries in Australia fell by five per-cent between 2007-08 and 2017-18.

The music industry’s response to the shutdown of performance as part of the measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 is to ask people to contribute to charities supporting musicians and allied workers, buy music and merch, hold on to tickets for cancelled shows, keep streaming, send messages of support to local musos, contact your local radio station and write to your local MP.  All valid measures.

Clive Miller, CEO of Support Act, the national charity that supports musos who are doing it tough said, “Artist crew and music workers are facing a bleak and uncertain future and are also some of the most vulnerable with regards to mental wellbeing. Please help us to support our music workers through this difficult period and help them be in a position to bounce back louder and prouder than ever once the pandemic has passed.”

It is a dire circumstance our music industry finds itself in and we need to do everything we can to help people get through these times.

An article on The Conversation‘s website suggests that, “The Australian cultural sector has rarely lacked for innovation or creativity, but it has consistently failed to properly lobby for itself.” So, is this a circumstance the music industry and the broader creative industries sector has brought upon itself?

It’s no accident that big businesses like airlines and banks are receiving support during this unprecedented health and financial crisis.  Governments consider them ‘too big to fail’.  These industries also have political influence that helps them get to the front of the queue when rescue packages are being devised.  Whereas the creative industries, despite contributing enormously to Australia’s bottom line, seem to have close to zero political clout, so they’re always at the back of the line, if they’re in it at all.

Just a few weeks ago, Western Australia’s Premier and his colleagues donned black AC/DC t-shirts and got their mugs on the TV as part of Perth Festival’s Highway to Hell celebration of Bon Scott.  Hundreds of thousands of punters turned out to see bands on the back of trucks playing AC/DC songs and among them was the cream of the West Australian crop of WA artists and bands.

Since then, each and every one of those WA artists and bands has suffered loss of income as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.  So has every one of their peers in the WA music industry.

Where are the politicians in their black t-shirts now?

It would be easy to try to point the finger of blame at our political leaders, but it’s more complex than that.  Besides, right now, blame is the easiest and least productive reaction to the times we’re living in. 

What we need to do is get together and plan for the future.  If we take this as a moment of opportunity, perhaps we can resurrect and renew music in Australia.

The music industry’s Sound of Silence approach, announced today, is a worthy beginning, but it falls well short of being a strategy that will usher in a new dawn for the Australian music industry.

Up to now, music industry representative groups have failed to secure more than peppercorn support from governments.  The music industry is seen as a loveable ruffian that provides a good photo opportunity every now and then and steps up when there’s money to be raised for a good cause, for example in the wake of the recent bush fires.

It’s time for music industry associations to galvanise the industry’s best minds and most compelling individuals to get in the ear of governments and create a plan for the future.

Mike Harris, CEO of the WA Music Industry Association (WAM) advised Around The Sound via email that “the focus is on immediate relief and ongoing support….what we need to allow the sector to survive: maintain what business it can and be in a position to recover post COVID-19. This is pretty much the national position right now.”

On Wednesday 18 March, WAM released a statement on the impact of COVID-19 that called for a range of measures to support musicians.

“Why the government is not responding is unfathomable,” Harris said. “Neither state nor federal governments have done anything for music nor the arts more generally.

“We are continuing to press the Premier, and others, to make a statement with some real support package content.”

Speaking about strategy on the other side of the pandemic, Harris said, “The strategy for stimulus post COVID-19 will undoubtedly be centred around legislative reform, market (re)development, and, sector and industry (re)development. WAM was in the process of working with the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries and a strategic consultant to re-set our strategy around industry needs over the next decade, and how we position WAM to best support and grow the industry to that end. This was going to include significant industry consultation, which will still happen, but the practicalities will have changed. The process will move on but the inevitable strategy will have shifted from what it may have looked like six months ago.”

It seems that the future is unwritten, which is very rock and roll, but not, perhaps, very comforting for those struggling to survive right now and those who are looking ahead.

In Western Australia, that future should include the internationalisation of the WA music industry, bringing in tourists to see what’s happening in our venues, when they’re open again.  We should be taking WA music to the world, showcasing the best of our homegrown product in cities like New York and London, creating an international touring pipeline for WA artists.  We should be attracting international musicians and producers to work in WA and developing an annual, internationally focused music industry showcase in Perth that establishes WA as a southern hemisphere hub for contemporary music.

It’s time for the music industry to push its way to the front of the line.  Otherwise, we may as well shut up shop. 

Music is good for Australia, good for the economy, good for our wellbeing and good for our culture.  Our industry deserves government support and it’s time governments were persuaded to this point of view.

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