Sydney’s booming music scene is turning out a grassroots music revival and major global stars, but key infrastructure, investment and training gaps are holding the industry back.
Matt Levinson, author of the Gig Economy report for urban policy think tank Committee for Sydney: “The music scene in our city is far stronger than a lot of Sydneysiders would assume, it’s as good or even better than it’s ever been.
“Right across Sydney, we see incredibly fertile grassroots music scenes turning out artists that are making a splash globally.
“But for those about to rock live stages, unfortunately there aren’t anywhere near enough live music venues – particularly in Sydney’s west and southwest where so much of the hottest new talent is blossoming.
“There’s so much goodwill for live music, from the most senior figures in government through to crowds turning out for shows, we want to see that translate to strong and coordinated support for the sector.”
While live music in parts of the city appears to be thriving, especially with the big touring acts, foundational problems are creating serious risks for the sector:
- Sydney experienced the nation’s largest fall in revenue and ticket sales for live performance during Covid-19
- Revenue per attendee for live music remains stubbornly flat compared to other Australian cities, highlighting the slim margins in staging live music in our city
- Our city is benchmarked well behind global leaders on culture, ranking 27 out of 48 global peers (Mori Global Power City Index 2023)
- Major success stories such as The Kid Laroi, Flume, DMA’s and H3rizon are the exception, with grassroots talent and skilled workers struggling to make the transition to mid-long term viable careers.
The release of ‘Gig Economy: Making Sydney a great city for live music’ follows consultation across Sydney’s live music industry – with managers and bookers, venue owners, music makers and DJs, publicists and media, government policymakers, lawyers, police, planning and acoustic consultants, and analysis from Scyne Advisory.
While the ambition of the past five years’ regulatory reform and initiatives is very welcome, as is the great wave of vibrancy reforms currently before parliament, we need to maintain momentum to capitalise on the creative, community and commercial potential of live music.
Key gaps in infrastructure, investment and training are part of the problem, alongside profound disruption to the sector. The Gig Economy report makes six recommendations to turn it around:
- Prioritise and promote domestic talent – taking a government as first user approach with procurement budgets, and mandating government-supported events and music streamers support local acts
- Deliver industry-led training – with special streams for music workers, emerging entrepreneurs and venue operators, matched with a review of conditions
- Better target funding mechanisms – tax offsets for venues and touring acts, as well as a revamped Dine & Discover for local music, with a Venues Future Fund to drive programming in cultural institutions and public assets
- Make it easier to work with government – an expanded Hospitality Concierge for venues of all kinds, and a live music liaison in police commands
- Get planning and regulation working in concert with live music – getting live venues into precinct and region planning, development incentives for cultural infrastructure, sensible sound controls, music hubs and a new approach to safety in precincts
- Bring the reforms to life – with live music toolkits for local councils, and a targeted campaign to raise awareness of the reforms and drive uptake.
Bertie Blackman, singer, songwriter and music policy consultant: “All the heart and soul that goes into making a song and recording it and getting it out has changed, the huge studios have closed, it’s cheaper and you can just do it yourself – but that means you’re swimming in this huge pool of music.
“There’s not a network or support system for artists – you can have a great gig and then be back at square one, we need to create a culture of support.
“There’s lots of larger venues of course, but a massive lack of mid tier venues and a huge lack in the west.”
Janice Lee, Partner – Strategy & Economics, Scyne Advisory:
“Vibrant cities make great music – from Handel to Harry Styles to Hilltop Hoods – and Sydney has held strong through the last few years as a live music city.
“There are close to 500 venues in Greater Sydney that host live music – with so much untapped potential for them to provide more opportunities for local and emerging talent – and they define the city’s cultural character.
“We think the Committee’s paper will spark a discussion on how to make Sydney a major global destination and launchpad for live music performers – but affordability in the city is a major issue for artists, as are quality performance spaces for the industry.”