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WA MUSIC INDUSTRY IN CRISIS

Around The Sound can reveal for the first time the full extent the crisis facing the Western Australian music industry, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause event cancellations and create uncertainty.

We surveyed WA musicians and music industry workers (N = 128) and the results reveal that:

  • for those who responded to our question about loss of revenue (n = 85), there was a total loss of income of almost $2.5 million
  • nearly 70% of respondents (n = 82) said that they were suffering mental health issues as a direct result of losing work, lack of government support and uncertainty about when they would be able to return to work.

A 2019 Senate inquiry into the Australian music industry reported that live music generates 65,000 full and part-time jobs, 10% of which are estimated to be based in WA. Using this figure to extrapolate, albeit crudely, from our survey data, the overall financial loss to the WA music industry as a result of COVID-19 is estimated to be almost $200 million.

This massive loss of revenue is a stark reminder that musicians and allied workers are doing it very tough during the pandemic. This, coupled with a mental health crisis of unprecedented proportions, paints a picture of an industry that contributes so much to the cultural and economic life of our state, but which has been left out in the cold by both the Australian and WA governments.

Almost 40% of respondents (n = 93) to our survey indicated that they have not received any financial support during the pandemic. Another 10% received payments from Support Act, the charity set up to support musicians that received funding from the Australian government during the pandemic.

A combined 50% of WA musicians and allied workers were either overlooked for financial support or were made into charity cases by governments that appear to have no understanding of the value of the music industry.

Meanwhile, sport continued unabated, with players living in ‘bubbles’ and travelling across the country to continue working without having to follow quarantine rules. Is it any wonder music industry professionals are feeling like second- and third-class citizens right now?

Replying to our question about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their health, respondents (n = 82) revealed the full extent of the toll the shutdown of the music industry has taken on them.

“Financial stress of wondering how to pay mortgage, equipment loans, rent, staff etc. Suicidal thoughts,” said one respondent.

“Very low sometimes.  Difficult to know where my future lies,” said another.

While yet another said that, “Stress levels are higher than I’ve known in 40 years of business.”

This comment points to something that governments don’t seem to be able comprehend.  The music industry is a business in which many West Australians make their living. Based on their lack of support for the music industry, it would be easy to believe that governments see it as a discretionary activity, something that people do as a hobby.

With losses of almost $200 million, music in WA is far more than just a hobby. It represents the livelihoods of hard-working West Australians and food, clothing and a roof over their heads for them and their families. The ability to provide these basic human needs has been taken from many music industry professionals by the COVID-19 pandemic and by governments’ lack of willingness to support them.

Meanwhile Qantas, a private company, is on track to collect $2 billion in funding from the Australian government to help it stay afloat, they have turned many musicians into charity cases and turned their backs completely on many more.

On 6 August 2020 the WA government announced funding of $350,000 to contribute to events delivered by the Western Australian Music Industry Association (WAM). This was the biggest allocation of funding made to the WA music industry during the pandemic, so we asked the WAM CEO some questions, as follows:

  • What has the funding been spent on and when was it spent?
  • To whom were payments made using this funding?
  • How were decisions  made on use of the funding and who was involved in making these decisions?
  • What bands/artists, if any, were involved in events delivered using this funding and where were these events held? 
  • Were bands/artist paid using this funding and, if so, how much?
  • Does any of the funding remains unspent? If so, what is the plan for use of any remaining funds?

We would like to say that we received answers that provided full transparency on WAM’s use of this government funding, but the belated response we received from the WAM CEO was as follows:

“We have compiled an infographic and showreel for government which summarises the outcomes of their investment. We will be releasing this to the public shortly, together with an announcement relating to the next event.”

As an association of members, we would have expected a greater willingness on WAM’s part to be accountable to its members and the WA taxpayers, whose funds they were gifted. It appears that this is not the case.

Approximately 80% of WAM members who responded to our survey (n = 16) rated the support and advice they received from WAM positively. Opinion about WAM’s leadership during the CIVID-19 pandemic was split fairly evenly, with approximately 25% of respondents (n = 62) agreeing or strongly agreeing that the organisation’s leadership has been excellent and approximately 25% disagreeing or strongly disagreeing.

Nearly 50% or respondents were undecided, which possibly reflects WAM’s almost complete lack of communication about their support for the industry or lobbying of government during the pandemic. This conclusion does rather seem to be supported by WAM’s lack of willingness to answer Around The Sound’s questions about what they’ve done with $350,000 of taxpayers’ money and how they made their decisions on this expenditure.

Many of those who provided general comments about their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic (n = 57) focused on the lack of government and industry support for music industry professionals. The following comment sums up the general sentiment:

“It’s clear that no one represents the events and entertainment industry that has any clout with government depts.  There is no understanding of the complexity of the business.”

Responses to Around The Sound’s survey indicate that WA’s music industry is in crisis, with massive financial losses still piling up and unprecedented levels of mental ill health. The survey also shows a lack of government support and a lack of communication and advocacy on the part of industry leaders.

People in the WA music industry are still doing it very tough, yet they add so much value to our state’s bottom line and to our social and cultural wellbeing.

It’s time we did better. It’s time for change. The current industry leadership seems only to be capable of producing memes asking local businesses to play Aussie music.

Surely we can do better than that?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Around The Sound would like to thank the 128 music industry professionals who took the time to respond to our survey.

You can view the statistical data here.

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