After a struggling 12 months of flux, Sydney is set to have its live music scene resuscitated thanks to the “groundbreaking” action plan of Sydney City Council.

The Live Music And Performance Action Plan offers 57 key solutions to revive the city’s ailing live music scene, including “better ways to deal with complaints from neighbours,” through mediation, making approvals easier for live music venues, the use of council properties for performance, soundproofing for residential developments and more.

Since the reveal of the Council’s plan, spearheaded by Lord Mayor Clover Moore and her Live Music Taskforce, the blueprint has seen a number of high profile musicians throw their support behind the movement, in a push to overcome restrictive legislation and strangulation of red tape that has diminished the opportunities of live musicians in the NSW capital.

Bands such as The Whitlams, The Rubens, and Dappled Cities are among the chorus of supporters for the live music revival plan, with research showing that of the 2,200 licensed venues in Sydney with liquor licenses, just 143 – a measly 6% – have a live music licence.

“There have been huge steps in spreading small establishments around the city but not enough of them have live music,” says Tim Freedman, key singer-songwriter and frontman of The Whitlams tells Sydney’s Daily Telegraph.

“From my perspective, this is about the citizens feeling they are living in a vibrant space and that is what music does, and it will give more experience to artists because a gig is worth 20 rehearsals,” adds Freedman. “The taskforce allows more people to be practitioners and they have come up with some great ideas and it’s exactly what is needed … this group has got it right and I applaud their efforts.” “Pushing [live music] is really going to do the industry proud because it is the only way some of these groups are going to get gigs…”

Scott Baldwin, drummer for soul swaggering rock band The Rubens has also applauded the new plan, saying Sydney residents need to get behind the push.

“Live music is a good thing, you can’t deny that… I have been around and I think Sydney is probably lacking good live music right now in all the pubs,” says the skin-thumping quarter of The Rubens, who relocated from their regional New South Wales hometown of Menangle once their career started skyrocketing this time last year.

“Pushing the band thing is really going to do the industry proud because it is the only way some of these groups are going to get gigs and there are lot of people who are desperate to see a really good gig,” says Baldwin.

His sentiments echo those of Dappled Cities singer/guitarist Tim Derricourt, who told a packed council meeting held last Tuesday that young musicians were desperate to play music outside of the confines of their bedroom, but that they were struggling to find a fan base among the rooms and stages of Sydney’s venues.

“You don’t go from playing in a bedroom to [the big venues], its only through small and medium venues you can build a fan base,” Derricourt, whose band celebrated its 10th anniversary this year, tells The Daily Telegraph. The songwriter says that the tendency for councils to side with complaining neighbours and residential development was putting the future of the city’s live music scene at risk.

If you support the rights of a very vocal minority that the bustling city should more reflect the leafy north shore, you will lose that next generation of musicians,” he says. “It’s a great place to ride a bike but has a terrible live music scene.” “If you support the rights of a very vocal minority that the bustling city should more reflect the leafy north shore, you will lose that next generation of musicians.”

Derricourt, who was one of a number of vocal musicians, composers, and classical musicians at Tuesday’s council meeting, emphasised that the site of the first three gigs he played in Sydney had all disappeared, including The Excelsior, which is now a Mexican food chain.

The same council meeting was told that residents found noise from music to be “the enemy”, and that the next generation of musicians were not only struggling to find a place in venues, but even spaces to rehearse.

The young Vermeesch brothers were just one such example, telling council they had to travel far distances from their two bedroom apartment in Redfern just to find a place to practice.

“I play the drums in three bands, we dont’ have a drum kit at mum’s house, no one in our band has a garage,” 11-year-old Hugh Vermeesch explained to council. “We have to use the old school hall to practice but we can only have it for an hour on Monday. I don’t know what we are going to do when we go to high school.”

The call to offer council spaces for rehearsal is one of the 57 solutions offered in the Live Music And Performance Action Plan, along with looser zoning restrictions for the loading and unloading of equipment, financial assistance to emerging venues, addressing the needs of venue operators as well as policy makers, updating building codes, creating live music and performance ‘liaison officer’ roles.

Sydney Live Taskforce Chair and co-director of the National Live Music Office, John Wardle says the action plan is the most thorough attempt yet to resolve Sydney’s dwindling live music scene, calling it “the first serious attempt to actually fix the labyrinth of red tape affecting music and arts venues.”

Adding that: “A cultural planning policy that addresses both regulation and development of the live music and performance sector has never been undertaken on this level,” he tells Daily Telegraph

“There is a lack of awareness in terms of understanding the regulatory side of live music… The great thing about the live music action plan is everybody worked together to develop it, which is a fantastic way to write a policy,” he says.

“We are proposing big changes and you only get one shot at something­ like this.”

Get unlimited access to the coverage that shapes our culture.
to Rolling Stone magazine
to Rolling Stone magazine