Last weekend, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd revealed plans for the Federal Government to spend $560,000 over three years towards the creation of a new National Live Music Office, charged with coming up with solutions to support and stimulate live music across the country.
But while many music industry are saying that the funding is a long overdue boon to the live performance sector, some have criticised the expenditure as simply a political gesture from the Prime Minister in his bid to be re-elected in the upcoming Federal Election.
Some have voiced grumbles that the funds, which breaks down to around $186,000 a year, isn’t enough to achieve the New Live Office’s aims, while others have voiced concerns that the formation of yet another committee to find solutions to live music’s ailments is further delaying legitimate action.
So what is the Live Music Office – which will be run out of the Sydney offices of APRA – actually aiming to achieve? In a statement issued by Arts Minister Tony Burke, he states the Office charged with the job to “lift barriers to ensure more acts can perform at venues around the country,” and will focus on identifying key policies, and legislative and process reforms to “better support a robust local live music scene.”
The man tasked with managing the Live Music Office is Dr Ianto Ware, who tells Arts Hub that the industry has been pushing for a national policy to aid live music “for a long time – years… I feel very good about it.” “If we don’t have these reforms put through in the next few years, it’s not just the music industry that will suffer.” – Dr Ianto Ware
The aims of the Live Music Office to cut through the stranglehold of red tape suffocating live music venues echoes Ware’s agenda he’d already established when he was appointed by Sounds Australia and former Arts Minister Simon Crean as the National Live Music Coordinator in January. With the $560K boost aimed at enabling him to focus on “music advocacy full time.”
Part of that Commonwealth money will be used to enable travel to regional centres to investigate what’s stopping regional music touring from flourishing. “Re-establishing a regional touring plans is essential,” notes Dr Ware, emphasising that international competitiveness is another crucial goal. “When you start to compare our systems with some of the stuff overseas, if you want a creative economy, a knowledge economy, if we don’t have these reforms put through in the next few years, it’s not just the music industry that will suffer,” he says.
Joining Ware at the National Live Music Office is another prominent live music activist John Wardle, who is already a music consultant to the City of Sydney and helped spearhead small bar liquor license reforms in the state. Wardle calls the new appointment “a bit of rare good news” after frustrations with arts policy implementation; “but rather than complaining too much about it we just got on with the job. And now that we have it (live music) recognised in the policy scheme, we’ve got some work to do.”
One of the first tasks on the Live Music Office’s agenda, as Dr Ware pointed out, was looking at Building Code reforms that could save live music venues millions in unnecessary costs, reforms put forward by Music Victoria, whose CEO Patrick Donovan believes that Wardle and Ware are the right men for the mighty job at hand.
“Those two guys are the equivalent of ten staff, they’ve been doing it pro bono for so long,” Donovan tells Arts Hub, saying that the Building Code reforms was “a priority for all of us.”
Joining Ware and Wardle in helping push the needs of live music are the newly appointed live music ambassadors, high-profile musicians who represent the interests of the National Live Music Office in each state. Namely, Dave Faulkner of Hoodoo Gurus and Stavros Yiannoukas of Bluejuice for NSW, Kevin Mitchell (Bob Evans/Jebediah, VIC), Matt Lambert aka MC Suffa (Hilltop Hoods, SA), Kav Temperley (Eskimo Joe, WA), Leah Flanagan (NT), Katie Noonan (George/Elixir, QLD), and Dewayne Everettsmith (TAS). “Almost-famous musicians… tell(ing) us what a hero Rudd was to care.” – Andrew Bolt, Columnist
But the crack team of musicians was just one of many issues that journalist Andrew Bolt had with Rudd’s Live Music funding initiative in a Herald Sun column where he openly declared the expenditure as a “waste” as the “Government hands another $560,000 to lounge lizards for some live music;” concluding “if we want to spend it (taxpayer’s money) on a band, we’ll do it ourselves, thanks.”
The outspoken scribe took the Prime Minister to task for seeming “to have merely paid an activist to rock up to protest meetings to say the government supports ragers fighting sleepless local residents,” while belittling the appointed ambassadors as little more than soapbox cheerleaders, “almost-famous musicians… tell(ing) us what a hero Rudd was to care.”
Bolt even namechecked Hoodooo Guru Dave Faulkner as being unaware of his new appointment as a live music ambassador on Facebook as an example of “how casually Rudd splashed our cash.”
Faulkner, an avid supporter of live music who’s battles include joining Leichhardt Mayor Darcy Byrne in the rescue effort to protect Sydney’s iconic Annandale Hotel, swiftly responded to Bolt’s editorial piece, as TheMusic reports, saying Bolt’s piece “pissed him off” and misappropriated a casual comment on his own social media page as an attack against him.
In a follow-up Facebook post, Faulkner says that government support for live music is “long overdue.” Writing: “this vital vital part of the Australian cultural landscape has been virtually ignored by government or, even worse, it has been actively opposed by hostile government legislation and council regulation.”
“Congratulations to THIS federal government for finally doing something for the live music industry,” he says in Rudd’s defence while emphasising that Australians “support live music to the tune of a billion dollars a year,” just as the booming Melbourne live music scene does; raking in $1.04 billion annually to the state economy, according to Music Victoria’s report that showed live music was bigger than AFL.
The $560,000 pledge by Prime Minister Rudd doesn’t seem like such a bad investment in those terms and if even if proves be one that comes to naught – as Andrew Bolt suggests – it’s still a fraction of the cost that the government typically allocates in its Federal Budget to other sectors, handing millions to sport, mining, and even more ‘high-brow’ arts like theatre, ballet, and performance arts.
More crucially than concerns about pulling at the pursestrings of taxpayers, is the notion that the National Live Music Office is merely an election stunt by Prime Minister Rudd to swing much-needed votes in the crucial pre-Election lead-up. But even if the $560K is part of some grand political gesture, it doesn’t take away from the fact that it validates and rallies the efforts of those that have fought hard and long for live music to be recognised nationally.
“The truth of the matter is that many people have been lobbying the government over many years to achieve just this outcome and it really should be seen as a starting point for even more engagement by government with the live music industry, hopefully at every level: federal, state and local,” Dave Faulkner tells theMusic. “There are very few overnight success stories in music and this certainly wasn’t one.”