6 November 2021

Stunted return of live music in the ACT impacting venue viability

| Max O'Driscoll
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Crowd watching live band at University of Canberra

UC Live hopes to be operating at normal capacity for touring artists The Wombats and Bliss n Eso in 2022. Photo: Matt Sandford.

The COVID-19 lockdown may be over, but Canberra’s live music scene isn’t out of danger yet, with a number of important issues currently impacting the industry and affecting its ability to effectively plan for the future.

Director of MusicACT Daniel Ballantyne says “significant public health order constraints” is seeing venues operating “nowhere near viable capacity”.

He says there is currently a process underway with the ACT Government to provide some exemptions to ease the constraints on live music venues, one of which is allowing capacity to increase to three people per four square metres, which in most venues equates to 75 per cent capacity.

“It’s certainly difficult at the moment because the ACT doesn’t fit in necessarily to what’s going on elsewhere in Australia, and because of the different states and all their different levels of restrictions,” says Daniel.

He says that while the lack of touring acts has benefitted some of the region’s local artists, the reality is for the industry to be healthy, it requires the bigger acts coming through town.

An ongoing noise complaint dispute between two venues in Civic reportedly escalated during the weekend of 30-31 October. Daniel says that it was most unfortunate that, “two important live entertainment businesses have clashed and at an important night time economy destination at the Melbourne Building.”

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He believes the reform of “long understood structural issues” could help the ACT’s live music scene flourish.
“Hospitality and live entertainment businesses will then share in the growth that comes from their proximity as a destination, and most importantly that artists have opportunities to perform, earn an income and their audiences enjoy themselves at their favourite venues.”
“There are definitely issues that arise when it comes to different businesses, not just venues when it comes to sound management in this town.”
“Broadly we do not have the planning, land use and regulatory management between street sound, venue sound and operational sound appropriate to a growing nighttime economy,” said Daniel.
Daniel believes that it is in no business’ best interest to see Canberra become a “silent city” and the ACT Government has become far more understanding of these issues, after over a decade of inquiries and reports.
“Fortunately the ACT government understands the issues, over a decade of inquiries and reports have accumulated on how the current planning and regulatory direction impacts our city and town centre’s activities and how urban consolidation and the concept of mixed-use has set the scene for complaints and clashes.”
“Canberra has lost numerous live music venues, and this can be turned around with the government’s undertaking to legislate the creation of entertainment areas with appropriate sound levels and where realistic regulatory action can resolve what music venues can do, that people are out enjoying themselves in our great public spaces and those with property and leases know what to expect and enjoy.”
To be updated on live music and other Canberra happenings head to What’s on in Canberra.

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