Live & Local: Welcome to the Live Music Office!

Tuesday, 01 Oct 2013

Over recent years much has been reported about the decline of live music venues and the impact of bad government regulation on venues and artists alike. In Melbourne and Adelaide people marched in the streets at the prospect of losing their live music venues, Brisbane created an entertainment precinct and NSW threw out the PoPE (see below!).

After many years of lobbying federal and state governments by the wider contemporary music industry, including APRA|AMCOS, formal recognition and support of the venue-based live music sector has finally arrived with the establishment of the National Live Music Office.

The National Live Music Office is co-funded by the Federal Government, The Australia Council and APRA|AMCOS.

What is the mission of the Live Music Office?

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Ianto: Our main goal is to increase opportunities for people to engage with live music by removing the regulatory barriers confronted by venues. Over the past twenty years, the regulatory environment in Australia has got pretty convoluted and its impact on music venues and related business, including performing artists, has been pretty bad.

For example, I once worked with a small bar who were told they could have bands, but they couldn’t advertise them or charge a door fee to pay them.  There was no real logic to that decision. It was purely the result of a disjointed regulatory system with a non-evidence based perception of risk. For some reason, the regulators thought musicians being paid created a higher level of danger than musicians who weren’t being paid. So our long term mission is to prevent things like that from happening, and look at alternate systems that provide a fairer playing field.

John: The National Live Music Office was established to centralise efforts across national, state and territory stakeholders on behalf of the Australian live music sector.

We have two key areas to focus on – to increase opportunities for the presentation of live music through policy reform, as well as to identify directions to support audience and sector development for the benefit of live music in Australia.

There’s a great deal that can be achieved through cutting red tape and developing processes to better support venues that host live music, and we are also aware that musicians and venues need strong audiences and community support. It’s important for us that we support live music across all genres for all ages, and in regional Australia just as well as the main population centres.

Explain your role as ‘co-director’?

Ianto: Both John and I work in unravelling regulation and looking at policy specific to the music sector. Whilst we might take charge of different projects, we work together to set the direction of the Office and there’s a lot of overlap as we apply our different skill sets to the work that comes up. It’s just the two of us wading through regulation and talking to a lot of people in the live music sector about the impact it’s having on them.

John: We are getting about the complex task of identifying the issues and understanding the challenges facing the live music sector across the country.

As the office gets underway there’s a range of things going on – scoping out the strategic plan and building resources. We’ve both been involved in contemporary music policy across various parts of the country as well as performing live and running campaigns. I’ve known Ianto for a few years now in policy circles, and we’ve worked on a couple of projects in the past.

What is your background before coming to the Live Music Office? How have you been involved in the music industry previously to your appointment?

Ianto: I’ve been playing in bands since I was fifteen, so from about 1995 onwards. When the venues all started closing in my home town of Adelaide around the turn of the century, I tried to open a not-for-profit space, Format, so there was a place supportive of local musicians. We provided rehearsal and recording space, and hosted regular shows. In doing so, I came to understand that the regulatory environment was structured so that smaller enterprises basically couldn’t succeed. I then set up Renew Adelaide, and started working with Renew Newcastle and Renew Australia, to help other people working on creative enterprises to wade through the regulatory system. That included people opening new venues, but also established venues who faced disincentives to hosting live performance. I’d also worked in research around urban studies, so I had a reasonable idea how policy worked.

Gradually, that led to me taking up the National Live Music Coordinator position –  which was immediately swamped with enquiries. The Federal Government recognised the need for regulatory reform in the creative sector, and we subsequently received support to grow into the National Live Music Office.

john.jpgJohn: Firstly I’m a working musician and play guitar with a bunch of different people in Sydney. Looking back, 10 years ago I was program coordinator at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music community jazz program. It was from there that I took an active interest in the contemporary music policy environment and worked pretty hard on law reform to support jobs for NSW musicians through the reviews at that time of NSW liquor laws as well as running a campaign to remove the old Place of Public Entertainment (PoPE) process in our planning laws. Both of those reforms got across the line and have done great things for musicians – it’s nice to do gigs in new venues that we helped get established.

I also worked as a policy adviser to the NSW Parliament and working with APRA and Victorian musicians on liquor licensing and planning policy – which led to working with Ianto and South Australian musicians and venues to frame a case for liquor licensing reform and this year a new small venues liquor licence was introduced in Adelaide.

The call for policy advice is pretty constant, and that has taken up more and more time with a growing awareness of the importance of these issues to the contemporary music sector and independent small to medium sector arts generally.

What are your goals for the next year within the Live Music Office? What do you see as the major problems that need addressing in the Live Music scene in Australia?

Ianto: There are two issues I think are really pressing. The first is we need to establish a bench mark of ‘best practice’ for regulation that supports cultural activity, rather than the current situation which actively discourages it.

Secondly, there’s very little solid data on the music sector. I’d like to see better data gathering and mapping so we can support more informed, evidence based policy. You’d be surprised how much policy related to regulating creative enterprise is based on the perceptions of regulators, and not on anything solid.

John: The next year will also involve getting the office established and undertaking some important research and resource initiatives.

I see the Building Code of Australia (BCA) as being a really important area for live music, where building compliance specifications for small to medium independent performance spaces can be made less complex and more affordable – closing the gap between compliance and affordability.

Having more research and a better sector wide understanding of common issues and best practice in live music policy nationally over the next 12 months or so will definitely get the ball rolling.

What have you been working on with the Live Music Office so far?

Ianto: The big things have been the City of Sydney and the City of Wollongong’s Live Music Taskforces, and I’ve also been lucky enough to work with Music Victoria and the State Government of Victoria on their Live Music Roundtable, which has just put through a Building Code variation. In the first half of the year I was travelling around talking to people in each state trying to get my head around how similar the issues are across state lines. I’m also wading through a lot of reports from the UK and the EU on data gathering and mapping for the cultural sector. There’s been some great preliminary work done in data gathering through Music Victoria by Dobe Newton, and I’d love to see that formalized and extended across state lines.

John: As we have been getting established there’s been dialogue of course with our funding partners, The Federal Government and The Australia Council. We have worked closely with APRA|AMCOS and Sounds Australia and it was great to spend time at the QMusic BIGSOUND conference in Brisbane two weeks ago with all the state based contemporary music associations and we appreciate their support for the live music policy functions the office has been established to undertake.

I’m preparing for live music forums with Music Victoria next week in both Ballarat and Geelong before heading on to stakeholder meetings in Melbourne.

Back in NSW I’m Chair of the City of Sydney Live Music and Live Performance taskforce that has worked with a who’s who of live music regulation experts and is preparing to deliver an Action Plan for policy recommendations  to Council. I’m also working with Wollongong Council on their Live Music Taskforce which is well underway and this team is doing really great work as well. These taskforces are a mighty vehicle to develop local solutions to local live music issues through getting Council cultural staff, planners, musicians, venues and building compliance officers all together to understand each other’s situation, and work up a collective plan for a more nurturing cultural environment. Hopefully we can encourage more of these across the cities and regional centres throughout Australia.

Who have you been working with?

Ianto: It’s been great working with the State music organizations through AMIN, and the City of Sydney’s staff have been fantastic. We also spend a lot of time talking to venues, and I get a lot of calls from musicians as well.

What is the best way for everyone to support your work and keep updated with what you are doing?

Ianto: The best way for people to support our work is to take an active interest in their local music scene and make sure their local elected members know they care about it.  We can present best practice policy directives, but unless elected members feel there’s a mandate from their electorate they and their staff tend to maintain the status quo. We’re still setting up our website, but people can keep in touch with what we’re doing by Twitter at @livemusicoffice and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/livemusicoffice

John: Reading the City of Sydney Live Music and Performance Taskforce report as it becomes available later in the year will be a really good way to understand the universal issues for the live music sector. We are participating in the major music industry forums across the states, and as the website comes online, we will be posting more details about the various initiatives underway. Send us an email if there’s an issue affecting you that is getting in the road of musicians going out to play.


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