The last 12 months have not been kind to Sydney’s live music scene.

Through the year, live music venue operators have faced tough struggles – including the battle for the Annandale Hotel, the political clash over noise levels at Playbar, and ongoing venue closures.

It was enough to spark action form Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore, who has been working with her touted Live Performance Task Force to come up with solutions to the city’s live music issues, drafting a new cultural policy in March, while seeking ongoing submissions since May.

Now after much consultation, Moore and her constituents have come up with a viable solution to revive Sydney’s ailing live music scene: inner city residents should shut up and put up with the noise.

Though it’s delivered in less cursive words, the plan to protect live music venues from complaining neighbours over volume levels is one of the prime recommendations in the City Of Sydney’s Live Music And Performance Action Plan, launched today (Monday 4th November), as Sydney Morning Herald reports.

Developed by the 11-person strong Taskforce that was set up in December last year and presented by Mayor Moore and live music activist John Wardle (also co-director of the National Live Music Office) in a launch at Sydney’s GoodGod Small Club, the 74 page Live Music Matters report (available to read in full here) offers 57 key recommendations to help foster the city’s live music scene, with stemming the complaints of inner city residents being chief among them. Addresses the need to “create a receptive environment for live music and performance venues” by managing noise expectations of inner city residents…

“Of all of these regulatory challenges, community concern about the impact of noise generated by live music and performance events, the disparate ways in which it is regulated and the catastrophic impact neighbour complaints can have on the business viability of a live music venue has been one of the sector’s most serious concerns,” the Live Music Matters report reads.

Adding that the need to “create a receptive environment for live music and performance venues” by managing noise expectations of inner city residents is essential, by promoting dispute resolution before the grievances of ticked-off neighbours spiral into costly court battles between operators and red tape-toting councils.

Noise complaints were the catalyst for the nasty eight year long legal battle between local council and the Annadale’s former owners (and now reinstated bookers), the Rule brothers, with spiralling legal costs “in excess of 200K” according to Matt Rule in a fiery tirade eventually seeing them handing the keys over to receivers amongst enormous debts earlier this year.

The plight of the Annandale is specifically used in the City of Sydney report as a case study of how even established venues that “make genuine attempts to develop relationships with neighbours and have the support of the majority of the community cannot trade with the certainty that they can be protected from enforcement measures arising from amenity complaints.”

Another high profile case this year saw NSW Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon issuing noise complaints to local council over the live music venue, Playbar, beneath her office, leading to a Surry Hills clash between live music supporters, the Greens, and former Labour minister and Midnight Oil frontman, Peter Garrett.

Lord Mayor Clover Moore acknowledges that noise complaints and volume controls are one of the major factors stifling Sydney’s live music scene, which has been on a steady decline since the 1990s, with a drop of 61% in live music listings – from 540 in 2004 to 213 this year – the new report demonstrates.

“Venues started facing pressure for a variety of reasons and several venues replaced band rooms with poker machines, while others simply closed down,” Moore says.

Research in the Live Music Matters report shows that while the majority of Sydney residents wanted more live music, it was not healthily represented in its venues; of the city’s 2,200 registered liquor licensed venues, just 143 of them – a measly 6% – have a live music license. “It’s the first serious attempt to actually fix the labyrinth of red tape affecting music and arts venues.”

To rectify this, the Live Music Matters plan offers 57 ways to address the problem. These include the cutting back of regulation red tape, financial assistance to emerging venues, offering council venues as rehearsal spaces, addressing the needs of policy makers as well as venue operators, updating building codes, creating live music and performance ‘liaison officer’ roles, new sound proofing standards, as well as models that work with the Office of Liquor Gaming and Racing as well as Department of Immigration.

Dr Ianto Ware, another key member of the City of Sydney Taskforce, who has long pushed for the loosening of red tape in his role as the National Live Music Advisor, calls the Live Music Matters report “one of the first honest attempts to clear the bureaucratic minefield that’s held us back for so long.”

The co-director of the National Live Music Office (alongside John Wardle) emphasises that it is live music, and the small businesses and venues that promote it, which are the lifeblood of the city’s culture, calling the City Of Sydney’s action plan “the first serious attempt to actually fix the labyrinth of red tape affecting music and arts venues.”

The Live Music Matters also has the tick of approval from Leichhardt Mayor Darcy Byrne, who has spent the better part of the year developing the idea of a live music precinct that runs along Parramatta Road, from Petersham to Sydney University, with the Annandale Hotel forming the crux of the cultural hub.

The ‘Annandale Mayor‘ congratulated the City of Sydney and Taskforce members on their “ground-breaking report on how to revitalise the live music industry,” as The Music reports. Speaking of his conjoined plans for a ‘rock n roll precinct’, Byrne says: “we are determined to rezone sections of Parramatta road as Sydney’s first live music and cultural precinct. The City’s taskforce recommendations provide a blueprint for how this vision can be brought to life.”

View the full Live Music Matters report here or view some key recommendations from the 74 page report below:

  • Simplifying the approval process for low impact live music and performances;
  • Providing financial help for infrastructure and capital costs to encourage new and existing venues to present live music and performance;
  • Using indoor and outdoor City properties as live music and performance venues by improving sound, lighting and seating;
  • Making City-owned community properties available as rehearsal space;
  • Working with neighbouring councils and the NSW Government to establish a new major outdoor event space for the Sydney area;
  • Creating a City of Sydney live music and performance liaison officer;
  • Exploring changes to the liquor freeze for venues that have live music and entertainment as their primary purpose;
  • Setting new sound proofing standards for new residential developments;
  • Amending parking rules so musicians and performers can unload equipment regardless of vehicle type;
  • Meeting the increased demand from young people for live music by increasing the frequency of all ages events;
  • Finding better ways to deal with complaints from neighbours including mediation.

(Photo: Karl Braasch. Source: Violent Soho @ Oxford Art Factory)

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