There’s no doubt that the music industry has been slogging its way through a significant uphill battle of late. The impacts of COVID-19 have been immense — as has the toll of extreme weather events. But it’s also one of our most important industries: Australia prides itself on a rich, diverse and hugely successful music scene. So why isn’t the Federal Government pouring more energy and money into the sector?
In case you missed it, Labor dropped its first federal budget in more than a decade on Tuesday. It’s perhaps not a huge surprise that arts and entertainment were glossed over, given the budget’s focus on stuff like cost of living and families. There were a few winners; significantly, the ABC has scored $83.7 million which’ll help counteract the cuts it faced under Scott Morrison‘s government.
There are some really high expectations for the National Cultural Policy too, which is expected to be launched later this year. In a press release from Arts Minister Tony Burke‘s office, it said future funding decisions for the arts and entertainment sector would be set out in that policy — so there is definitely hope.
But there are critical issues facing the music industry right now which the federal budget failed to address.
One of the most high-profile of those is touring. This is a global issue. In recent months, artists like Santigold and Little Simz have cancelled US and European tours due to financial pressures.
Point Blank Group managing director Sian Van Der Muelen explained why artists on the tour circuit are struggling right now.
With prices on the rise, more costs are being handed over to artists. This leaves them in the sticky spot of evaluating whether tours are even financially viable, because there’s a limit to how much inflation can be handed over to customers.
She also flagged the historic lack of government support on federal, state or local levels, as well as changes to government fees affecting things like Visas and policy changes.
“It’s a lot for an artist to wear, or a promoter to wear, to the point where it just isn’t viable so it’s better to cancel the tour than to move forward with it,” Van Der Muelen told PEDESTRIAN.TV.
Over the pandemic, we saw a range of state-led initiatives to support the sector, like the NSW Government’s $43 million “event saver” fund to support festivals.
But a concerted, federal financial investment into the music industry as a whole is still lacking. The Morrison government was heavily called out by musicians for its failure to roadmap a way out of the pandemic.
A spokesperson for the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance union (MEAA) told PEDESTRIAN.TV that it wasn’t expecting to see any major funding announcements for the music sector in the federal budget, because of the government’s National Cultural Policy review.
“That’s when we’re going to see some real specific policy and then from that, funding [will start] flowing,” they said.
The MEAA’s stance is that this is “the first time in a decade that we’re actually going to have a comprehensive national approach to the arts and entertainment, particularly arts”.
“We had a government that was asleep at the wheel for 10 years [and] basically paid no attention to the arts.”
The spokesperson highlighted that the national review means the issues in the arts industries can be approached in a holistic, comprehensive way as opposed to a “patchwork”.
However, they pointed out that there are “some major entrenched issues in the cultural sector”, highlighting the underpaying of musicians.
“The fact that the music industry was fragile to start with and has had a slow recovery from COVID is among [those issues].”
So in short: there is hope. But the issues facing the entire arts and culture sector are significant.
Van Der Muelen pointed out that in comparison to other sectors, arts and culture are significantly underfunded. Over COVID-19, huge relief packages were granted to industries like sport and aviation.
She mentioned there was “some robust state action” done at the state and federal levels, but highlighted the difficulties in assessing the help given to the music industry.
“It was really tricky to handle, to monitor, to assess because [in] music and entertainment there isn’t much regulation,” she said.
“Who are the right people to be making those decisions?”
There are also barriers facing international acts looking to tour Down Under.
“In Australia, I think the issue has been, you know, we have a skills shortage, people are switching industries,” Van Der Muelen said.
“And then also so many people have left the industry, because at that point, [COVID] quickly illuminated the fact that we’re not a supported industry, we don’t have much regulation. And it’s just not sustainable.”
There are solutions to address the issues facing the industry. If you’re reading this Tony Burke, here are some handy hints.
For Van Der Muelen, one of the priorities is turning inwards and focusing community outreach on programs to help people develop skills and give performers new opportunities. Of course, funding plays a massive role too.
But one of the most crucial transformations will be who is making the calls.
“I think the Australian music industry really requires a big overhaul of who is at the top making the decisions… I think we need young people, we need fresh ideas, we need a fresh perspective,” she said.
It remains to be seen how willing the government will be to support that.