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How has COVID-19 affected the Australian music industry?

Words by Annie-Mei Forster.

It’s a difficult time for everyone at the moment but the Australian music industry is rallying together again during the coronavirus crisis. Many in the industry are employed as independent contractors - tour managers, directors, accountants, instrument technicians, lighting technicians, and the list goes on. Their jobs don’t exist without live music concerts.


Those who caught New Order on Saturday night at Sidney Myer Music Bowl were attending one of the last, if not the last mass gathering in Australia for the foreseeable future. New Order frontman Bernard Sumner said: “This might be the last party we ever have” and he could be right.

What’s the damage been on the industry so far?

It feels like with every new day brings another announcement of a cancelled event. Bluesfest, Splendour in the Grass, Download festival, Dark Mofo and Vivid Sydney are just a few huge events that have been cancelled in the last few weeks and that list is only going to get longer as COVID-19 ramps up. It’s only going to get worse before it gets better.


New website I Lost My Gig Australia, launched on March 14 and reported two days later that it had received 2000 posts from artists and venues who had lost income due to cancellations totalling $47 million and growing.


For many musicians who rely on gigs to make a living, the coronavirus pandemic will seriously hurt some hip pockets, not to mention venues that host gigs. Cancellations will also hurt songwriters because they depend on performance royalties from the live performances of their songs. One venue owner who wrote to I Lost My Gig Australia said that if things continue the way they are he could be forced to sell his house. Two-thirds of people working in the arts industry are casually employed or freelancers.


It’s not all doom and gloom though. Musicians are a creative bunch and are sure to band together to help each other out in these tough times but they need support from their community.


How can I get my live music fix?

While only mass gatherings have been banned by the government, the speed at which things are happening means many gigs are being postponed or cancelled. If you haven’t been informed via email if an event you’ve booked tickets for is going ahead or not, it’s best to contact the venue beforehand. If all else fails you might have to coop yourself up in your room playing R.E.M.’s It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) on repeat until the apocalypse is over.

Is it safe to go to gigs?

You shouldn’t go to a gig if you’re feeling unwell or have been overseas in the last 14 days in case you’re carrying the virus and pass it onto another patron. If you’re unsure, check the Australian Government Department of Health website for updates on public gatherings.


What can people do to support the music industry?

The Metropolitan Opera in New York is streaming operas for free since the closure of opera theatres and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra will be doing the same. As things get worse, the music industry may see more gigs being streamed online while the virus is playing havoc on our lives. You can also support musicians by streaming their music on Spotify, Apple Music and other platforms.

Here are some ideas on how you can support local artists before virtual gigs become a thing:

Buy an album   

Yes, it’s a foreign idea in the age of streaming but albums used to make up a large portion of a music artist’s income. Before the days of Spotify and Apple Music, people used to hit up Sanity and (sometimes) queue up to buy their favourite band’s latest album. For those of you who are old enough, you probably have some old So Fresh CDs gathering dust somewhere in your room. Those were the days.

Buy some merch

There’s plenty of cool music merch available. Bands put out vinyl records, hoodies, bottle openers and even skateboards. If you were looking to buy some new threads, why not support a local artist who had their show cancelled. You’ll be making someone’s day while enjoying your newly purchased merch.

Show some love on social media

We may not know how long this COVID-19 is going to hang around for but when it finally goes away people will start going back to gigs and artists who’ve had a lot of exposure will be the first ones to get picked up again. So write a review on an album you recently listened to you really liked, keep streaming and liking music artists’ posts on social media so they get the attention they need.


Go to smaller gigs (while you can)

At the time of writing, smaller gigs were safe from the government restrictions on gatherings so it could be the best time to discover a new funky band in your neighbourhood.

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