The Government Has Completely Abandoned The Music Industry

An entire industry is being allowed to die, thanks to a government that flatly refuses to even acknowledge its existence.

government arts covid help photo

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Last week, moments before they were set to return to the stage and perform their encore, Hockey Dad were whisked away into quarantine as a snap lockdown suddenly came into effect. The band, as they later explained in an Instagram post, were “gutted”, describing the swift end to the gig as the “heaviest thing” they had ever experienced.

Their feelings of despair are not unwarranted. The sudden end to the show serves as a microcosm of life as a musician in 2021 — the unpredictability, the fragility. Local tours are still getting booked, but whether they will actually go ahead is far from assured. Lockdowns and their severity change every single day; COVID-19 numbers can ebb and flow in ways that make predicting whether a show actually happen a week from now, let alone a number of months, practically impossible.

International tours are a surer thing, but only insofar as they are a near impossibility. As anyone who has tried to book a trip to a country with which Australia has established a travel bubble, let alone the United States, will know, return flights are not assured. There is simply no way of lining up the necessary logistics; no way of getting the certainty which international tours rely upon.

As Shaad D’Souza notes in The Guardian, Australian artists simply cannot count on international tours as a source of revenue. The old tried and true means of making a living — playing festival sets, going on long tours throughout the States, amassing fans show by show — is dead.

So musicians are stuck, cut off from one of their most important revenue streams, leaving the industry in crisis. And, notably, it is a crisis that the Australian government refuses to acknowledge.

Tours Are More Important Than The Government Acknowledges

The problem lies in the fact that touring has become, over the last few years, the primary means of making money as an artist. This was not always the case. Before the ubiquity of streaming, album sales mattered — tours were a form of promotion, often loss-leaders. Bands would hit the road in order to spread word-of-mouth, and that word-of-mouth would be transformed into album sales.

Tours are still attempts to spread word-of-mouth, but the album sales are simply not there in the way they once were. Streaming is the dominant way in which listeners consume music, and only the biggest artists in the world can rely on the cents that Spotify pays out per stream. Indeed, a matter of days ago, a former executive at Spotify admitted that the platform was designed to spread music, not to ensure that artists can rely on it as a revenue stream. “The problem was [how] to distribute music,” Jim Anderson, Spotify’s “inventor” said. “Not to give you money, okay?”

Tours have thus become more important in the modern climate than ever before; artists rely on money paid at the door. But the Australian government fails to recognise this. There has been no attempt to replace this lost revenue. Jobkeeper has dried up, and there is a gaping maw where an entire way of making a living once was.

Indeed, the government has repeatedly applied a double-standard when it comes to what kind of entertainment they will allow, demonstrating a clear bias against live music. Last week, in Brisbane, the live entertainment portion of an NRL game was cancelled, even as the game itself was allowed to continue with 100 percent audience capacity.

Lockdowns Are Effective, But They Need Financial Counter-Measures

This is not an anti-lockdown article. COVID spread is clearly dangerous, and gigs are ripe sites of transmission. Lockdowns have been proven as the most effective way of containing the illness — that is not in dispute.

What is in dispute is how lockdowns can be handled. There is no reason why the government cannot provide financial counter-measures to make up for the lost revenue for musicians. The question is not about whether or not we should have lockdowns. The question is how these lockdowns are conducted. Simply put, there is a way that the financial security of artists and the health of the general population can be juggled — these two problems need not be pulled apart, or their solutions seen as incompatible with each other.

But not only is the problem not being solved, it’s not even being acknowledged as a problem. When the government talks about coronavirus measures, there is simply no discussion of the impact on musicians; no suggestions of alternative sources of revenue. An entire industry is being allowed to die, thanks to a government that flatly refuses to even acknowledge its existence.

Joseph Earp is a staff writer at Music Junkee. He tweets @JosephOEarp.

Photo Credit: Oscar Keys/Unsplash