Following on from the creation of the role of National Live Music Coordinator by Sounds Australia and Federal Arts Minister Simon Crean in early January, the appointed role went to Dr Ianto Ware, who then set his agenda later the same month as an ongoing advocated to the government’s soon to be introduced National Cultural Policy, using his expertise to advise and consult on the state of Australia’s live music industry.
The National Live Music Coordinator’s agenda focused on easing the problematic state and national regulations that restrict the development of Australia’s live music scene, dealing with the number of venues closing their doors, and putting the interests of musicians first.
Dr Ware, the former Renew Adelaide CEO and founding director of Format Adelaide, stating in January that, over the next three years, he aims to identify ways of untangling the complex web of ‘party-killing laws’ – such as noise complaints, liquor licensing woes, and environmental concerns – that are damaging live music at a local level.
Now, following on from the controversy surrounding the Annandale Hotel entering into receivership, triggering a wave of political action in NSW that saw Leichhardt Mayor Darcy Byrne proposing to transform a stretch of Sydney “urban wasteland” into “rock n roll central”, Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore formed a Live Music Taskforce to help find solutions to the live music turmoil.
Dr Ianto Ware is part of that same Live Music Taskforce, and in an interview with The Music Network has revealed more about his plans as National Live Music Coordinator in helping to formalise legislation between states, as well as making it easier on live music venues to operate their businesses, to keep open and stay open.“[A venue is] hosting live music, but they start to decrease it and stop it. And it’s usually to do with noise complaints or planning issues.” – Dr Ianto Ware
Speaking about the need for creating the new national role, Dr Ware notes, “whilst live music is one of the most popular forms of cultural activity in the country, something like 70% of venues said regulation had a serious impact on their capacity to host it.”
“There’s an increased sense of communities having problems finding stages to perform on and maybe not getting the opportunities they deserve. So they hired somebody to work across states, look at what the problems are and what the possible solutions are,” he continues.
Dr Ware, himself a performing musician in the 90s, said that a big part of solving legislative problems was “looking at the Building Code of Australia (BCA) regulations, which make it incredibly difficult to set-up live music venues,” he says.
“Some local government approaches to handling the planning issues are really negative. So we’re seeing fewer opportunities for people to get involved in live music: fewer opportunities to work on stages, for people to learn how to book and manage venues, or be publicists or band managers, because there’s not that entry level left anymore.”
When asked about the perceived success of Australia’s touring scene on an international level, using Pink’s huge 44-date upcoming tour backed by Live Nation as an example, Ware responds:
“And yet there’s this problem at the grassroots level. There’s a real growth. If anything, people are even more passionate about live music than they have been in the past, because of the shifts in the media environment. But at that entry level, the regulations are pretty tight. And it’s very hard to reach a point where you start to get paid for your work. Every pub used to do bands and there were a lot more music venues. Noise restrictions and BCA problems have had a big impact on that. And that was the bread-and-butter for the music industry.”
The National Live Music Coordinator also spoke about the problems of noise complaints by “vexatious residents,” saying “noise complaints are handled differently from state to state. Often they’re not handled with the welfare of small business in mind.” Later noting, “one of the common things we see is that a venue was hosting live music, but they start to decrease it and stop it. And it’s usually to do with noise complaints or planning issues.”
The noise complaint issue is one that remains to be nationwide as it continues to threaten local live music and established sites – from Perth’s Town of Claremont backing noise complaints to bully touring festivals like Soundwave and Big Day Out into a 10pm curfew, to Melbourne record store Pure Pop still attempting to raise funds for soundproofing costs, and of course, the Annandale Hotel’s former owners being sent bankrupt from court costs of nearly $25,000 from going in and out of courts with local council over noise complaint issues.
Something former owner Matt Rule was furious over when he labelled local council a “bunch of c#nts” for backing a campaign by “three vexatious, lying residents,” that cost him and his brother in “excess of 200K in legal fees, years of lost revenue, hundreds of hours writing counter claim submissions to the liquor board,” that saw the Annandale entering into receivership and handing the keys back to the bank.“Noise complaints are handled differently from state to state. Often they’re not handled with the welfare of small business in mind.” – Dr Ianto Ware
Speaking in reference to the iconic pub’s financial troubles, Dr Ware noted, “my understanding of their situation is that it came down to a very small number of noise complaints, mainly from vexatious residents, having a very big impact on their business. It’s estimated that legal fees came to $250,000, which is a story I hear from small venues all over the country.”
The Adelaide-bred Ware also brought attention to the issues the City of Churches has faced in the last twelve months. “Suzie Wong’s Room in Adelaide lost $10,000-$15,000 in legal fees, just because she wanted to have live music and the local council decided she couldn’t.”
“The Jade Monkey, a 120-capacity venue in Adelaide, was shut-down four months ago and it still hasn’t reopened,” he continues. “Even with pretty high-levels of support, it hasn’t been able to get through the regulatory system. It isn’t a good time to run a live music venue.”
There is hope that the forthcoming National Cultural Policy, which Dr Ware was helping advise on, will help introduce measures to reinvigorate grassroots live music communities – whether through funding, legislation, or a combination of both to ease the problems faced by venues Australia-wide.
But Dr Ware was unable to offer any insider information on the delay of the forthcoming National Policy, “all I know is the final consultations have been going through before the initial release, so hopefully (it’ll arrive) sometime soon,” says Dr Ware.
The Policy’s delay is something that has already come under fire, with Shadow Arts Minister George Brandis openly criticising the hold-up, saying “the government has been in power for two terms and they announced even before they were elected that a national cultural policy would be the foundational document of their arts policy — the road map if you like — so the delay just goes to show how seriously they take their arts policy,” he claims.
Minister Brandis also talked down Federal Minister For the Arts Simon Crean, saying “he’s tried his best, but he’s been hamstring by a very indifferent cabinet,” saying “[Minister Crean] has had many difficulties doing that (getting funding) with [current treasurer] Wayne Swan and the philistines in the cabinet.”
The impact of Dr Ianto Ware’s expertise on the National Cultural Policy will become clear when it is unveiled next Wednesday 13th March.