Words by Muso.
Artists don’t just hit the stage with fifteen million fans overnight. They find their way there by cutting their teeth at the local. It’s time to truly protect and reinvigorate the section of the industry that underpins the success of the very existence of the industry as we know it - the local.
COVID-19… You came, you saw, but you will not conquer.
When many of us think of live music, we’re deep in the mosh or side stage bouncing along to [insert your favourite commercial artist here] in a packed-out stadium or shoulder-to-shoulder belting out our lungs to an otherwise soothing masterpiece by Matt Corby at Beyond the Valley, or Pyramid Rock and Woodstock for the vets and brave souls out there.
Whilst these large events and famed artists are deemed the pinnacle of live music, and are without doubt a significant contributor to the scene, our economy and the industry at large, there is an entire section of the industry that underpins the success of the very existence of the industry as we know it. Artists don’t just hit the stage with fifteen million fans overnight. They find their way there by cutting their teeth at the local.
Don’t get me wrong, I too cannot wait to see a guilty pleasure of mine perform live (still hanging for that One Direction reunion tour); but this part of the scene is not as important as the part that we need to protect. The big events will come back, and I can guarantee you that Harry and Taylor will still have hundreds of thousands of people attending their concerts - so let’s not worry about that… something tells me they’ll be just fine in the meantime.
With our borders closed, there has never been a better opportunity to truly look within our own industry, to its origins, and take care of the local scene that has cultivated the household names we know and love today. An opportunity like this will likely never occur again, and ironically - fingers crossed it doesn’t.
So let’s pay attention to it while we can, because it’s traditionally been hard to enact proper and meaningful action at this level in the past, and we need to give it the best possible chance to blossom, and really, it requires everyone’s involvement, because whilst it seems like it wasn’t that long ago that you got annoyed for someone spilling a drink on you at your last concert, you’ll be waiting a while for the privilege again (...if only we knew what was around the corner).
So here’s what we expect to see in the meantime, and luckily for those of us that call the local industry home, the odds seem to finally be stacked in our favour:
The rise of the pub gig
Mark these words, the rise of the pub gig will not be a small rise. Pub gigs will be the lifeblood of the industry for some time and quickly be seen for the pivotal role they play in the ecosystem of our industry. The great news is that many states have already seen these return at quite a rapid pace.
For starters, concert halls, traditional live music venues, festivals and large clubs are no-go-zone until the abolishment of all major distancing rules, meaning punters will turn to their local for their fix.
Add hyperlocality to the mix which has become an unfortunate reality for us all, and regardless of the easing of restrictions, many people won’t be leaving their homes for their offices, which equates to less congregation in the centre of major cities, meaning that the Friday knock-off drinks will happen at… you guessed it, the local.
This will naturally drive attendance rates at local gigs, and especially in the near term when people are out to experience something real again, rather than the pseudo-experience they’ve been getting through a live stream.
All of a sudden, pub gigs will be taken more seriously by industry for their contribution to the consistent cultivation of and opportunities provided to its artists.
Artists alike, will ditch any stigma associated with the local and be thrilled to have the opportunity to play in front of people rather than the muted squares on a Zoom call. Seeing this as an opportunity not only to survive and make a buck, but as a new pathway to thrive again, we’ll see an overall elevated appreciation for live music from all walks, and of the pub gig as a part of the fabric of the industry.
Without knowing exactly how long it will be before borders open again for international artists to grace us with their presence, or when we can congregate at large events, these trends have a real shot at becoming the modern-day preference even after the floodgates are opened.
A variety of music offerings
It’d be hard to imagine that every venue will be doing the same sort of thing though isn’t it? That’s why we’ll likely see quite a distinguishable change in music offerings around the country. Many venues will take this as an opportunity to rebrand; trying new menus, new offerings, and with that, a change in their taste for music and entertainment to match their new identity. We’re praying for the resurrection of some great music styles. If anyone is bringing back New Orleans-inspired Jazz or Blues, hit us up!
Gigs in new places
Things will change beyond the venue. We will see gigs in places we haven’t seen before. Where that will be remains to be seen, but one thing we know is that you can count on creatives to be creative, so you can hold your breath on this one. You can also expect to see more intimate experiences in people’s houses and backyards, bringing the experience of live entertainment home once we can have people at our places again.
An increased level of professionalism in artists
Playing live paid gigs again will come with an element of excitement from the artist community, one which will naturally see an elevated level of advertisement of the gig from the artists themselves, as well as an increased awareness to the other key elements that make up a great gigging experience for both the venue and the artist, including communication, sound-checking and song requests.
Artists and venues will band together to do their best to increase patronage at the venue; artists will go the extra mile and you’ll notice this predominantly via the increased frequency of posts to socials prior to and even after the gig.
For the sake of our industry, this needs to become the new norm; artists and venues need to keep working together on continually finding ways to better maximise the outcome of the gig.
Technology will continue to play an important role
As technology in music begins to resume its secondary position in the industry, it will still play a pivotal role in the post-CV19 landscape, especially during revival and for the health of the ticketed gig. Whilst rooms have capped attendance well below capacity, a combination of live and streaming tickets are a highly probable model for many shows. Whilst those listening at home will have to get mum to tip a drink on their shoulder during the final hook to experience the real deal, those at the venue will likely still be restricted to a seat and require a meal or drinks pack add-on to secure their ticket.
We tip to see this trend spillover to other amazing events that don’t necessarily sell ‘tickets’ per se, but have found a loyal replica following online through streams, such as the famous Gospel Brunch at The Smith Prahran.
A suite of new payment forms for artists
With this kind of work-around at ticketed shows, we can expect to see artists getting paid in a variety of new ways at the local level too. Don’t be surprised to see a ‘service charge’ on the bill next time you’re at the restaurant as a way to cover or add to the payment for an artist as venues and artists alike crawl back to some level of pre-CV19 equilibrium. We’re also tipping (pardon the pun), that crowds will throw a few notes to artists during their performances as a new norm having empathy for the lack of work during the pandemic, and for having the opportunity to rediscover how it makes them feel; a trend we’re already beginning to see and one we hope grows so artists can take home more than their guarantee on the night.
As an aside, we can expect to see trusted music bodies stepping in to shine a much-needed guiding light to hirers of musicians on fair rates for guarantees and payment methods, especially once the specifics around venue-based grants are announced in the next month.
Events will survive
In the wider sense, events aren’t going anywhere, and if they do, I’m going with them.
Looking to the true-to-form leaders in the space for assurance, they’re giving us the hope we need to focus on the bright silver lining, rather than the dark ominous cloud.
BIGSOUND is still powering ahead this year, Falls Festival has committed to an all-Australian line-up this summer and Untitled Group is forging a new path into the unseen with a series of new concepts including the drive-in gig. (Many others will likely take the hibernation route and resurface when the sun appears.) These outfits have shown us that events, like everything else, simply have to adapt to the environment in order to survive, it’s all part of the current phase of evolution and if we adapt, we’ll survive (thank you Charles Darwin).
Work to be done
There’s no doubt we’re in a different world now - we’re sanitising our hands as we walk into a restaurant before pulling out our phones to order from the menu on Mr. Yum whilst restricted to our table. But as hospitality operators look towards technology to streamline as many parts of the business they can in order to focus on the the offering and ensuring that on-ground customer experience is at its best, you’re likely to enjoy your next night out a bit more, and not only for the fact that you’ve been deprived of it, but because it’ll actually be an even better overall experience. So perhaps it’s not all grim!
If you ask me, I’ll tell you I see the return of live music, entertainment and hospitality as an elastic band; the further you pull it back, the quicker, harder, stronger and more excitedly we will come back; with interest. We’ve just got to make sure we don’t pull it so far back that it snaps, because if it does, we can always tie those sad bits of elastic back together and it’ll ‘work’, but we’re left with something that’s smaller and never works quite as well as it did prior injury.
Thankful for the efforts of some of our industry’s custodians including Dan Rosen, Dean Ormston, Guy Sebastian, (and everyone else involved in the background) in lobbying government for the $250M arts and culture rescue package, I’m confident that we’ve been spared the sorry exercise of tying it back together, but there is an enormous amount of work to be done. Work that I’m hopeful post survival and revival, births the age of ‘thrival’.
It’s definitely the darkest before the dawn in some cases, this is one of those. But thankfully, it’s not going to get worse. And if you’re not sure, you can hope, or you can act by getting involved and supporting where you can.
In summary - there is light at the end of the tunnel, and no smartass, it’s not that of an oncoming train. Our industry is important and we’re not going anywhere. Get down to your local and support those who have given us so much - tip your bartender and tip your Muso. Let’s get to work.
Jeremiah Siemianow (Co-Founder of Muso)