Live music venues in Canberra’s suburbs need greater protection from noise complaints if they are to remain viable supporters of musicians in the ACT, according to at least two venues and the ACT’s peak music body, MusicACT.
The RUC at Turner was forced to tell an acoustic jazz duo to stop playing outside on a Sunday afternoon, while Magoo’s Cafe and Bar at Kingston must adhere to a 50-decibel limit on live music – less noise than an average vacuum cleaner.
Both venues say they are also competing with white noise via complaints from nearby residents.
MusicACT director Daniel Ballantyne said the ACT Government’s proposed easing of regulations for entertainment areas in Civic needs to provide more protection for venues in the suburbs, where just one complaint can cause a bum note to be amplified into shutting down the venue’s live music program.
This comes as 35 small-to-medium size live music venues applied for grants from the ACT Government’s much-needed $750,000 Amp It Up funding package to offset the costs of paying performers and promoting gigs between June and November this year.
While Daniel welcomes the grants as a significant measure to grow the number of live music venues in the ACT, he said the government needs to listen to venues such as The RUC and Magoo’s which have supported local musicians despite either having to cancel much of their live music program or operate at a heavily reduced capacity.
“All of these venues which support and promote live music in clubs, pubs, cafes, restaurants and bars really do need protection so they can enable our music scene to thrive,” he tells Region Media.
“These venues also need meaningful planning and sound regulations that protect their business, not just in the city because these venues are spread all across Canberra.”
The RUC manager, Jeremy Wilcox, says having to ask two jazz musicians to stop playing on a Sunday afternoon two years ago highlights the battle the venue has faced in supporting live music.
“We’ve since put double-glazing on our windows and put in other noise reduction measures just so we can continue to have live music on Friday nights,” he says. “We’re extending that to Thursday nights with the Amp It Up grants, but we have to be really careful with the noise restrictions.”
Jeremy says established entertainment zones in suburban areas such as Turner and O’Connor are what is needed.
“We’re not trying to drive anyone out of the suburbs, but we do think there are occasions when you should be allowed to have some live entertainment to support the local music industry,” he says.
Rod ‘Magoo’ Melmoth, owner of Magoo’s Cafe and Bar on the Kingston Foreshore, says his venue had to adhere to a 50-decibel noise limit, and musicians must finish performing at 10:00 pm.
“Your vacuum cleaner is louder than that,” he says. “We’ve been putting on live music on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, and Sunday arvos can be full of punters, but the muso can’t do an encore if it’s past 10:00 pm, even though we’re licensed until midnight.
“Yet the people screaming for an encore are louder than the music.”
Jeremy and Rod say the Amp It Up funding package is a great initiative to support live music, however they are being constrained by the complaints of a minority of residents.
Other established venues such as The Basement in Belconnen, and Smith’s Alternative and Sideway Bar in Civic, have also taken advantage of grants between $5000 and $60,000. Applications closed on 17 May.
ACT Minister for the Arts Tara Cheyne said interest in the grants had been very strong, and the ACT Government would take into consideration issues from 22 venue owners at an information session hosted by the ACT Government and MusicACT last month.
Daniel says he hopes the “highly constrained” nature of live music in Canberra can be addressed.
“MusicACT’s focus has been on supporting the professional development of artists while also representing live music venues as the engine rooms of live music,” he says. “But we need these constraints lifted and better regulations so these venues are not under threat.”