It is not uncommon for the people behind the scenes of the music industry to be despised, or worse, forgotten. However, in Canberra’s live music scene, few organisations have done more to bring out the best of this city than Burntout Bookings.
The events company is marking its second anniversary in the capital and has established itself as one of the city’s primary arteries of culture and entertainment. Region sat down with Sarah O’Malley, its founder and director, to find out when they began, what they have seen here, and where they hope to go in the near future.
Originally from Western Sydney, O’Malley moved to Canberra in January 2021 to expand Burntout Bookings to a market she saw as ripe for promotion. The organisation had only existed for a short time, beginning during the 2020 lockdown.
“Basically, I was a little bored and restless during COVID when gigs were up in the air, the music industry in a drought, and no one really knowing what was going on.
“The original plan was to start my own venue, but I realised that it would take up much more than all my time. So I decided to make it a little easier for myself and started Burntout Bookings as an events company.
“A week after I started my good friend Aaron, who’s from Port Macquarie, shot me a message and said, ‘I want in’. From there it’s been really fun working together building up the company and I’m very keen to see what we come up with in the future.”
Upon arrival to the capital, O’Malley admits she didn’t have a really good understanding of the scene. However, after a month or two when offers started coming in and they overcame a few learning curves, she says “we started getting the hang of it”.
What struck O’Malley as distinct about Canberra’s live music scene from other cities like Sydney, was how DIY driven it is.
“There’s some really cool bands here that just go to a field or park, bring a PA system, and start playing a show. I really like that about Canberra, I don’t think that’s done as well in other cities.”
She also notes the difference in the audiences here. “They really support each other a lot more and want to come out to a lot more local shows,” she says.
“Whereas in Western Sydney, people are a bit more wary of local gigs and tend to go to bands with bigger names more.”
O’Malley has also noticed that there are excellent public school music programs, especially for instrumental music.
“Programs like ‘Girls Rock! Canberra’ really help build the foundation for the scene in the years to come. Kids have a lot of accessibility to learn an instrument here and relatively cost effectively, if not for free.
“When I first moved here and went to one of the free gigs, I was blown away by how well trained they were. Everyone obviously knew their instruments inside out and could quite clearly play with the best of them.
“I remember saying to myself, ‘Canberra has skills man!’.”
Over the next few years O’Malley intends to expand the number of artists, venues, and the social media outreach through Burntout Bookings. However, she sees the lack of venues and especially music industry professionals as a hindrance that needs changing.
“Hopefully we can start attracting more people into town like myself, who are band managers or club promoters, in order to give Canberra the credit it deserves.
“I love my job. I’m very lucky to be doing what I am. It’s unbelievable that I’m able to work on Burtnout full time, which I never expected to be able to do within a year of starting.”
O’Malley recommends the public check out the local house, grunge and hip-hop scene, but be on alert for gigs as they sell out very quickly. As for bands, she says that Spouse, Rental Snake, Archie, and Muesli are killing it at the moment.
“If Muesli aren’t playing Splendour [in the Grass] in five years, I’ll eat my hat.”