It’s 8:00 pm on a Thursday at the Sideway bar in Civic and more than a dozen people are waiting outside to see three Canberra bands for free. Inside, the venue is at capacity before the first band strikes a chord.
Other musicians have been putting on gigs in their backyards.
Sideway owner Tim Brown took a punt on live music two years ago when The Phoenix still existed, and such has been the success that he no longer needs JobKeeper to keep afloat – that’s even while operating his small venue at 75 per cent capacity (about 80 people).
On the flip side, the situation for professional musician and bassist with Canberra’s Hands Like Houses, Joel Tyrell, couldn’t be more dire. He has been playing sold-out shows in Australia and around the world for 10 years but has no idea what the future will look like without JobKeeper, which will end on 28 March.
Joel is urging the ACT Government to consider wider measures brought in by state governments in South Australia, Queensland and NSW to support live music.
“The ACT Government had the HomeFront grants of $500,000 for all of the arts sector, but we clearly need more,” Joel says. “The South Australian Government has announced $820,000 in funding to keep its live music scene afloat and without that kind of support here, I’m worried that Canberra will lose its live music scene.
“We’ll keep making music and finding ways to perform, but as a business, the situation is definitely at breaking point for us.”
He also urges anyone in the Canberra music scene to sign an open letter that calls on the Australian Government to extend JobKeeper.
Organised by the Australasian Performing Right Association and Australasian Mechanical Copyright Owners Society, the open letter says live music alone is operating at less than 4 per cent of the level compared to this time last year.
“Every live music venue and festival in a city, town centre or regional area is part of an intricate network that supports our industry,” the open letter says. “Sitting behind these venues and events is an army of musicians, managers, agents, promoters, crew, technicians, music teachers and many other industry professionals.”
Tim Brown says while JobKeeper has helped the sector and the thirst for live music is strong, perennial issues like noise restrictions in Civic continue to dampen the enthusiasm of venues.
“We’re getting at least three or four bands or DJs a week asking if they can perform here,” says Tim.
“We’ve got good sound-proofing, and while we’re putting on the shows for free and paying the artists, we’d love to be able to pay them more because they bring so much diversity, not just here, but to the whole scene here in Canberra.
“I just want to see live music continue. It’s not always up to governments to do things, and while they could do more, it really relies on venue owners to have the capital to make it work.”
ACT Minister for the Arts Tara Cheyne said the ACT Government has invested to support live music and the arts in Canberra, including through Arts Activities funding and the Celebrate Gungahlin festival.
“I am working with artsACT, the Ministerial Creative Council and several creative organisations to identify and remove barriers to empower musicians and artists to work and thrive in ACT,” Ms Cheyne said.