Live Music ! – Where Does The Future Lay ? (by Tom McLeod)

Over the year’s in Sydney I have seen the Live Music Scene dwindle. It has moved from the Inner City Area’s to its outer lying Region’s. The CBD has been taken over almost completely by Poker Machines, Disco Dance Club’s and Karaoke Nights. Most of the Live Music Venues Legendary for their support of the Music Industry have been forced to close their doors as they loose revenue that might have helped in them maintaining the (Historical, in some cases) venues in which Musician’s earn their living.

This has been going on since the mid 80’s. To combat this very visible demise (to those in the Industry) Music Festival’s begun to gradually appear in support of Live Music in Australia. Until the crisis came about there were Festivals, however mostly Folk and Blues Festivals. The other Festival’s that presented up and coming Band’s were almost non existent. The major Festival’s ran by Radio Station’s only featured Top 40 Australian Artists, yet by today’s comparison that is still good. To have a Festival with Australian Artists that actually made the Top 40 !

Currently air play of Australian Artists on Commercial Radio is only 25%, Overseas Artists receive 75% of Australian air play. Australian Commercial Radio doesn’t want to play any Australian Artist’s at all. Which isn’t surprising really as since the demise of most Australian Record Label’s Sony, EMI and the like stepped in, bought them out and liquidated them.  This point in fact is akin to the current Mining Resources conundrum. The overseas Mining Companies take our Resources and 80% of their profit’s are taken overseas. When are we going to realise that Australia is being bled dry by Overseas intervention in our Society. Which culturally is not a good thing as other Sociological influences permeate and destroy our unique Australian Identity.

So this is where we are at  … what can we do about it ? Musician’s are Musician’s and perform for the love of it, those that dream of the big time haven’t got their heart in the right place. Although it would be nice to be recognised for your talent, particularly within your own Country. It is sad that Australian Artists can’t afford to feed their family whilst Overseas Artists feed their family from Australian bread. I know many Australian Musician’s and most are struggling. The only way to make any money from their Music currently is through merchandise. To make money from merchandise though is not an easy task. You can put up a Web page, download to iTunes, have neat thing’s like Tee-Shirts, Cap’s, Stubbie Holders etc … but none of it will sell if they don’t know who you are ! So how do you become known in your own Country when Radio won’t let your own Country know that you are an incredible talent and out there ? Touring !

Touring is not an easy job either and, it is a great expense. You have Petrol, accommodation, ongoing Advertising, Lighting and Sound (if the Venue doesn’t provide it) and if you do a Festival you might have to get Public Liability Insurance, Pay for a Merchandise Table, an Application Fee and so many more costs. You will have to be on the road for month’s at a time to sell your Merchandise as well. Because in reality what the venues pay you never cover’s the cost of you being there. It is a hard slog too … most Tour’s are Coastal or Australia wide. Sleep becomes a luxury. Just ask the guy’s from “The Transvaal Diamond Syndicate”, Guthrie or Dallas Frasca !

I just caught up with Dallas in Queensland recently and she Jeff and Pete where on their 30th gig of their Tour to Promote their Album “Sound Painter”. A couple of month’s ago I caught up with TDS and Guthrie in their 34th gig …. and Christian told me at that time they had another 30 to go. (if I remember correctly) So selling merchandise is the sole reason you Tour ! Tour hard as well, because you won’t get too much air play. So go to the people and make Fan’s ! As Marshall O’Kell put it in one of his Gig’s recently … “Thank’s for being here everyone, please stop at the Merchandise Table on your way out. Every $10 spent is $10 worth of Diesel in the Tank to get back to you !”

Recently I went to Brisbane to catch up with some fellow friend’s and Musician’s there. It was great to see so much Talent in a relatively healthy Live Music Scene. They actually had Live Music Playing in the CBD ! However, hardly any of these Musician’s ever get out of Queensland. With the exception of the odd Music Festival or the very occasional Tour. I was thinking, “This is such a waste … especially when there are musician’s in other States that hibernate in the same way.” It crossed my mind that because Corporate entities and Radio Station’s control the talent we see, they make it harder to reveal the real Talent within.

Show’s like “Australia’s Got Talent”, “The Voice”, “Australian Idol” and the like are Run by Sony, EMI, etc … and only directing Australia’s possible emerging Artist’s toward’s an Overseas formula of what they think is successful. At the same time damaging our Cultural musical identity. They also sign each Artist to an airtight contract and ensure them against the failure of their first release. This mean’s that kid’s like Jack Vidgen who win will be forwarded the money to record, Promote, Publicise, pay themselves, the Technician’s, and all other associate members in team Jack.

But where can Jack Tour ? He can’t do a Pub or a Club, he won’t fill an Entertainment Centre, a Cafe’ is not on the card’s … so it’s the occasional Westfield gig for Jack ! Because he can’t Tour he won’t sell his Merchandise, he won’t get another Album released, but the Record Company makes money back on his failure. Yet he is still tied in to this airtight contract and perhap’s when he doe’s reach an age when he can succesfully tour they will release something new from him. But in the meantime Jack has gone from an ultimate high … to an ultimate low !!! He is only young and such a thing is bound to be Psychologically damaging. You can expect to be reading Jack’s story in “The Women’s Weekly” over the next few year’s about issues he has developed from this experience. Afterall how many people from these Show’s can you name ? Very few !

What we as Artist’s need to do is to unite and control each musical genre ourselves. In the process making it cheaper for Australian Artist’s to Tour. At the moment the only 3 genre’s that I can see that have a foundation to do this are Country, Blues and Folk. This isn’t because of my own personal preference in any way. This is because they already have a foundation laid. Each of them has a supportive Association, Federation or Organisation in each State. Something that Rock, and other genres sadly don’t.

Unfortunately the predicament these Fan based entities all have in common though is that they all have their own idea of how thing’s should be run. They never come together to look at the middle ground. It can get very Political at times. Genrally there are some Musician’s on the Committee’s of these bodies, but very few as a rule. Primarily because most musician’s have project’s of their own to do. They have very little time to devote to a Committee, especially if they are Touring. Therefore these Committee’s are run by a Fan Base that really has no idea what it is like to be a Musician, to live their life and the commitment and poverty that ensue’s with their choice to persue their art and their love.

Some of these bodies have been taken over by Promoter’s seeking new act’s for their own stable. Some of them are very disreputable and are only there to feather their own pocket. A handy thing to remember is that Promoter’s don’t get paid a wage. They only get paid their percentage after all cost’s have been deducted and all Band members have been paid. They do not take their percentage out 1st … the promoter is the last person to be paid ! Do not fall for that trick as what you get paid for your event is genrally a larger amount than what it is after everyone involved is paid. If a promoter is doing this to you … get rid of them and find someone reputable ! That is another reason why Promoter’s are infiltrating these Bodies. Because most up and coming Artist’s are unaware of their right’s and are easily manipulated.

I believe that the Committee’s of these bodies should be 60% retired or ex – Musician’s and 40% Fan’s. Get rid of the people with personal Agenda’s that they hope to be able to take advantage off by being in such a Committee.Musician’s should alway’s have a controlling interest in bodies such as these, only they know what is really fair. They can do this by asking themselves if they would do it.

It should also Foster and Mentor new talent. So don’t cut your tie’s with all promoter’s, just the disreputable one’s. The Musician’s in the Committee will know who is reputable and who is not. Foster new talent through Jam night’s, make it open to all. New member’s and a stronger foundation body will be the result. You will also be assured of the future of your genre as young musician’s step up and learn from the more experienced and professional members. Jam’s should not be made to be exclusively for professional’s, it doesn’t make sense. It will initially make you money, but it will be the demise of your genre as no up and coming Band’s / Musician’s will be gracing your stage anymore and your membership will dwindle.

So why am I writing such a long winded article ? I have an idea to take back what we have lost. At this stage I am only interested in hearing from The Blues Societies / Associations from the East Coast of Australia. All Blues Societies / Association’s look at your Committee’s fine tune them. Get rid of member’s that are causing you problem’s through their own personal agenda’s. Reach out to each other State to State. Find sponsor’s preferably from Airline’s, Hotel’s / Motel’s, Music Publication’s, Radio Station’s, and find at least 2 or 3 Live Music Venues in each State that has a cappacity of at least 300 – 400 people. (If we have to start lower it might be precarious)

Then start a “Blues Exchange” program ! This program will fly 2 artist’s from each State to another to appear as either the Support (or headline … depending) at a Pre-sale event promoted widely for 2 month’s Prior. Who you send could be through an event in itself. A competition in which the winner get’s to do one of these gig’s. They would have to be pre-planned 6 month’s in advance and constant communication must be maintained with all Associations and Societies.

It would culminate at the end of each year with an Award’s night and the winner’s of those Award’s if agreeable would be off on an East Coast Tour. The Award’s should bring the Sponor’s in. The initiative might even get some form of Government Funding. It will keep a high number of Artist’s working up and down the coast all year, Artist’s that other State’s haven’t seen before. Which is good from the point of view of Publicity for the Artist’s, Sale of their Merchandise as well as Networking opportunities that might well bring them back.

But remember to take back what we have lost we must think Nation-wide not just locally. If the East-Coast trial succeed’s I am sure all the other Blues Association’s / Societies will follow … and they will be readily recieved. But to make this happen successfully all bodies must clean house and remove political wrangling from their door. Get rid of those who have personal agenda’s and seek the advice of a Musician not a Promoter in your Committee. This is all to be done for the common good of the Australian Music Industry. President’s of each Association / Society reach out and contact each other. I have talked to some of you … the question is how far are you really prepared to go for the greater good ? Music and your Association / Society will prosper from this. Once it is fine tuned it can then be utilised on other genre’s.

If you want to discuss this with me further … re; Sponsorship, Contact’s, Brainstorming, …. anything at all just email me and I will be more than happy to discuss it with you further and listen to your idea’s !

or facebook inbox me;

Don’t let Australian Music Be Another Resource That Has Become Just Another Victim Of Overseas Interest’s !

Tom McLeod.