24 May From stages to statistics: A Melbourne perspective on music industry initiatives
Melbourne, repeatedly voted as one of the ‘most liveable’ cities on Earth, has also been quoted over time as the music capital of Australia. Our city has produced such great talent, sending countless acts to perform on stages both national and international, and has earned a reputation for our artists’ outstanding abilities in writing, production, and performance
Throughout Melbourne’s history, music has been a prominent part of the city’s culture and economy, and over time this powerhouse industry has steadily grown. At present, there is a large movement from our local and state governments to support all facets of this constantly-evolving way of Melbourne life, and it makes for an interesting comparison when held up against the creative policies and funding being delivered by other states, and also on a national level – especially now.
In recent years, many initiatives have been implemented with the specific goal of improving and sustaining Melbourne’s strong music scene. The Victorian Live Music Census conducted in 2012 reported over 120 venues putting on live shows in Melbourne, resulting in “an average turnover of around $5.4 million per weekend in ticket sales, door entry, food, drink and merchandising.”
Meanwhile, the City of Melbourne’s 2014 – 2017 Melbourne Music Strategy and the formation of Creative Victoria’s task force in 2015 have both helped to ensure Melbourne continues to remain the top creative hub in Australia.
The Andrews Labor Government’s Victorian Budget for 2016/17 is targeting the creative and cultural economy to help develop and grow the industry. The Budget provides $152 million to the creative sector, with funding going to many different areas – talent development, the ability to attract more opportunities for Victoria, boosting infrastructure of major arts venues and spaces, building international engagement – all in the hope of securing Victoria’s position as ‘the Creative State’ for the long-term.
Whether it’s support for the live music sector with the creation of events like Melbourne Music Week (via the Melbourne Music Strategy), or funding grants awarded by the Music Works program (via Creative Victoria), it’s not hard to see why this city has become our national music leader.
However, these facts, figures, numbers and statistics only reveal so much about how much all of these large-scale initiatives have tangibly aided the industry. Undeniably, Melbourne is taking huge positive steps to bring about longevity and success, but just how helpful are these new programs to people and organisations at all levels of the industry, and are the quoted results indicative of success?
Sarah Taylor, a student researcher and PhD candidate at RMIT University, has been examining the contrast between Sydney’s and Melbourne’s live music scenes from the 1980s to the mid-2000s. In an interview with ABC Melbourne in 2015, she discussed how her research had reflected a steady increase in the number of gigs in each city during the late ’80s and early ’90s, despite it being a period of instability for many.
She determined that Sydney’s situation became “quite unstable”, her research finding that venue closures and other factors lead to “the perception that there was no live music scene there – even though the number of gigs did not actually decrease.”
“You have more people leaving Sydney at that time – or, if you’re The Whitlams, you start singing about how much your city is not meeting your expectations.” It’s a situation that seems very familiar to many of us now.
On the other hand, her research found that the number of live music venues in Melbourne, in particular around Fitzroy, had become quite pronounced: “Most people who were in Melbourne in the ’90s remembered it very fondly because there were a lot of things happening in a small area.”
After asking Ms Taylor about her current opinion on Melbourne’s music scene, and in particular her thoughts on the current Melbourne Music Strategy and Music Works program, she commented “Music has never been an easy road – it’s always been a long way to the shop for a sausage roll.”
This unequivocally Australian idea of the hardships of ‘making it’ couldn’t be more accurate. She noted that some specific funding opportunities had helped some artists in terms of geographical reach and impact, and education such as NMIT’s “popular music program” seem to have had a positive and practical effect. However, as a musician herself, she does believe there is still room for improvement.
“When the music scene really thrives, musicians have time, friends and space. My data has shown an increase in the number of bands, a decrease in the number of gigs per band, and a geographical shrinkage in the areas in which bands play [up until the mid 2000s]. Live music is still really important, and who would begrudge some extra funding to musicians? But the overall impact of grants does seem to be minimal. Energy put into writing grant applications could – in my humble opinion – be much better spent rehearsing, writing and going to other people’s gigs.”
In 2015, over 40 grants were awarded to different “Victorian musicians, bands, music festivals, venues and industry events” by the Music Works program.
Good Manners Music, a Melbourne-based record label, music management and publicity company run by Huw Nolan and Hugh McClure, was one of the many applicants that received a grant. It assisted the duo directly with their plans to “travel to the USA to make connections and represent our artists ahead of planned tours in 2016.”
Huw Nolan has found in retrospect that “the grant from Creative Victoria has certainly opened up a number of doors, and given us inspiration on how to run our business moving forward. The music industry is always changing, and being able to travel to the leading music market and experience new trends and tactics to sell music is imperative.”
He also mentioned that, moving forward, “the City of Melbourne should look abroad. We need to begin networking as much as we can with people overseas and, considering the government doesn’t have enough money to send us all there – why don’t we bring them here?”
Hugh McClure moved down from Sydney in the past year to Melbourne in order to pursue his music management career, and has noticed “a clear divide between other Australian cities and Melbourne in terms of culture. It is driven by funding and clever planning from Melbourne itself.”
“I would recommend this industry whole-heartedly to enthusiasts, but with a warning that financially it’s a difficult industry to navigate.”
“The differences are astronomical [between Sydney and Melbourne]. From the high number of differently-sized venues, to the financial support, to also making sure everyone gets home okay after going to a show, Melbourne is a completely different situation.”
Good Manners’ roster of artists were also lucky enough to collaborate with the City of Melbourne in 2015’s MMW – a huge, sold out show for the two young label owners. They also received extra funding from the council in order to take their artists overseas in an effort to develop their networks and play international tours and festivals.
Although these positive steps and funding have been a sensational opportunity for both the company and its artists, they still agree this area requires more continued investment in order to “promote our music internationally and not be restricted by the limitations of only working in Australia”.
Another important aspect, mentioned by the MMS, is ‘Education’. Along with six major themes laid out by the initiative (“Visibility, Promotion and Positioning, Spaces and Collaboration, Funding and Support, Policy Reform and Advocacy, Research and Information”) “Melbourne will also be known as a great destination for music education, making music and artistic collaboration.”
Catherine Haridy, an artist manager who has worked in the industry for over a decade, was filmed by the City of Melbourne discussing education: “We’re very lucky in Melbourne to have an incredible infrastructure when it comes to educating – we’ve got 15 tertiary courses which support music business, which is unparalleled nationally.“
On the student and education level, Alex Gleeson, who is currently studying a Bachelor of Arts (Music Industry) at RMIT and already working in the field, feels that his degree is “young and still finding its feet.”
“That being said, I’ve met a host of great people within the industry, and certainly furthered my knowledge of the way it operates. The way that music is taught in high school is disappointing at best, allowing little room to be creative and offering barely any contemporary study. So, in comparison, my university experience has been absolutely fantastic.”
Overall, Victoria and Melbourne’s large-scale planning and funding seems to be pushing our city in the right direction. The city has gone to great lengths to ensure the industry is nothing short of amazing, and even though we still have to suffer through events like the destruction of The Palace Theatre, there have been many other beneficial steps taken to preserve and bolster our music scene.
The love our population has for music and discovery is unparalleled, and in particular the breadth of live performances available here is something sorely sought after by our interstate peers. Whether it’s assistance with live shows, production costs, overseas reach or education, it cannot be denied that the music industry is being provided with many opportunities to explore and create, but it’s also vital that we see continuous research and refinement in these areas.
In the long run, the continued application of new ideas and assistance will only add more vibrance and depth to this part of our culture, and in the foreseeable future there are so many great things to come for the informally-dubbed ‘capital city of Australian music’.