Is Australia’s live music scene dying, thriving, or the same as it’s ever been?

Everyone has their opinion on how well the music scene is faring in this digital age. With live venue attendances of roughly 26 million per year, you’d be mad to say that live music isn’t relevant. However, upcoming artists involved in the culture are struggling to fill seats, and consequently their stomachs.

We interviewed some musical veterans and friends of Parlor to get their take on the state of the industry, including Michael Spiby of The Badloves, Kim Salmon, and Steve Kilbey of The Church. First, we asked if they think live music is at risk, which was met with the following by Kilbey:

“It seems there are less opportunities for young players than back in my early days. There were millions of venues then, and there aren’t now. So where can they all play?”

Asides from the increasing availability of music at home and on-the-go, live music is also largely impacted by changing legislations and venue requirements. Australia just isn’t as accommodating for the culture as it used to be, and venues such as The Cherry Bar and The Tote, both crucial Melbourne rock staples, have been brought to their knees by noise complaints and mandatory renovations/cutbacks. Gig spots are finding it less and less profitable or secure to host live performances unless they can tone it down and avoid noise complaints.

Although gig spots are becoming scarce, more avenues are becoming available for live performances. Alternatives such as Parlour, that can bring musicians literally to your doorstep, would’ve been impossible fifteen years ago. Asking a band like The Church to play a show at your home could have likely been viewed as ridiculous, but the culture has shifted. Thanks to the internet, communications between the audience and the performer are clearer than ever before, and having your favourite band or musician perform at your location is not only possible but actually quite reasonable!

While there may be a shift in the availability of venues, the culture has shifted in a way that live music is no longer restricted to specific gig-spots. Spiby responded differently, however, attributing the changes of the music scene to technology rather than venue availability:

“Venues come and go but the scene is still as vital and productive now as it was in the early days. It’s the distribution of recorded music that has changed drastically and, through technology, anyone can release their music without a label… with varying success!”

Where engaging with live music used to be a large part of musical discovery, we now have a free (or dirt-cheap) personal curator in our pocket saturating us with literally thousands of immediately available musical options. If you aren’t a music-lover, a gig-goer, or a musician, looking for music can often be like trying a new restaurant and discovering that their menu is 62 pages long. More often than not, it’s overwhelming, and a lot of people stick to what they’re already familiar with rather than seeking new developing artists.

On the other hand, the listeners that do actually want those options and are trying to discover new musicians, have more avenues of discovery than ever before! Music blogs, Youtube channels, streaming services and social media platforms are but few of many ways to find new music,  allowing for artists to extend a further reach than ever before. Hell, my first Jessica Pratt gig was attended solely by luck; my Spotify app decided to inform me that she was performing live that very night in Northcote.

And from there I discovered Aussie musicians performing at the same venue, such as Leah Senior.

Businesses and venues can send out newsletters and notifications at a drastically smaller cost than what used to be available (physical media), events can be hosted with little to no physical advertising, and the word can spread like wildfire very easily.

“There’s loads going on all over the country.” - Kim Salmon

Whether or not technology is filling seats or killing interest, Kim Salmon boasts a strong confidence in the current generation. Citing interest in an array of punk-rockers of this generation ( Nun, Wet Lips, Aus Mutants), Kim Salmon went on to explain that as a music teacher himself, he only teaches the basics, and allows for his students to make their own sound and take their own artistic approach.

“If anything, I’ve learned a lot myself since teaching.” - Kim Salmon

Though there are new challenges in venue availability, and artists have a hard time standing out, the current generation is also equipped with so much in the way of distribution and creative freedom that the culture is now also adapting to the artist. The mainstream may not seem to have as passionate and engaged a following as when rock was at the forefront, but the niche and sidestream audiences are more viable than ever.

We’re in an age where fans of low-key folk artists or obscure genres like Vapourwave can be crowdfunded and directly endorsed by the fans. Hell, Chance the Rapper recently won a Grammy without even being signed to a record label.

The need for official venues is no longer as constricting as it always has been, artists are able to sell themselves independently, and fans can engage at a more direct and personal level.

Oddly enough, in an age of digital communications, music is often more intimate and real than ever.

Playing festivals and concert halls is great fun but is slightly isolating due to the scale of the events, where intimate settings like Parlour shows are … real!  Music is meant to be shared between humans, that’s when it’s most fun. - Michael Spiby

by Leonard Bernardone