These here are crazy times.
As the global health emergency spreads, nothing feels quite the same as it did yesterday.
Stock markets are taking a beating, supermarket shelves are stripped bare, industries are spooked and your favourite celebrities are now certified Coronavirus carriers.
Our inboxes are flooded with information, but answers are few and far between.
With the introduction this week of enforceable rules on public gatherings and entry at our borders, the COVID-19 threat is very much an Australian story.
As Bluesfest cancels its 2020 edition and Splendour pushes back by three months, Australia’s $4 billion live performance industry is “on the brink of collapse” without immediate funds from the federal government’s bail-out fund, says Live Performance Australia’s CEO Evelyn Richardson.
Realistically, Richardson says, “we’re looking at a 3-6 month closure period at least before any recovery phase.”
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Music, the lifeforce of so many thousands of Australians, is at the risk of being turned off.
It’s an extraordinary mess out there, but the music industry of today has weathered the toughest of storms. Lean, fit. Old enough to remember the worst of the post-Napster era, young enough to spot opportunities in a tech-connected world.
TIO caught up with several key players in the independent music space to learn how their companies are coping in these strange days.
Have you actioned any new initiatives or policies, such as work-from-home and travel bans?
Linda Bosidis, Mushroom Music Publishing Managing Director: We are mindful of taking all precautionary measures to ensure the safety of our staff, our artists and those we conduct business with. These measures include; working remotely, company-wide travel ban, re-scheduling any external meetings or moving them to video or conference calls, fully ceasing use of our Sydney writing room sessions until further notice.
Basically, listening and taking all the advice and precautions out there relevant to our community.
We are supporting and encouraging our writers/artists to continue their creative work during this period of uncertainty, even if that means taking a different approach. We’re encouraging our collaborators to consider trying video sessions, or working remotely by exchanging ideas online. It is also an opportunity to do some solo work and really dig in to the personal point of view as a writer.
Our sync department are initiating creative ideas. Overall, we want to ensure that our artists can keep busy and have access to a support network they may need and that we are available to speak with them. We hope to initiate other creative work for them, that they can do in isolation.
Jaddan Comerford, UNIFIED MUSIC GROUP CEO & Founder: We’ve asked all our staff around the world to work from home. The only exception is our screen printing and fulfilment factory in Melbourne. We are running a lean staff under strict health and safety guidelines. We feel this is a very valuable resource at this time as we work hard to get merchandise on line for artists that need revenue during this tough period. And we have casual staff that need work also. So as long as its safe to open, we are open for business. Further to this we’ve banned all travel. I was meant to be travelling to L.A. next week but instead I’ll be sitting at home in Fitzroy with my beautiful wife and our cat.
Rina Ferris, Ferris Davies PRM Director: Other than cancelling the meetings I had in my diary and moving to conference calls, I haven’t had to do anything so far.
Johann Ponniah: I OH YOU Founder: We are all working from home and are lucky to be able to do so. Domestic and international travel will be looked at case by case but would need to be quite essential.
Stephen Green, SGC Group Managing Director: Our office is taking a common sense approach. Travel bans are in place. We currently have half the office working from home — those who use public transport or have any health complaints — and this is an individual choice. We are monitoring the health advice daily and have set up remote work practices for all staff and fully expect that our office will be closed in the next 24 to 48 hours.
What’s the vibe you’re getting from the wider music industry right now?
LB: It’s hard to process everything that’s unfolding these past few days and weeks. It’s all so consuming. Our thoughts are with everyone struggling during this time.
JC: It’s tough out there. As an independent company with over 60 full-time salaries around the world we are right up against it. We are lucky we have a diversified business but some revenue streams will stop for the moment. But it’s a short-term problem, once we’re through this, the business will be stronger than ever. But it’s important we are all very aware of the short-term challenges ahead and are there to support those that need help.
RF: It’s dire out there, particularly for crew and casuals who live paycheck to paycheck. There’s thousands of hard-working men and women who’ve suddenly found themselves with no work and, more often than not, no buffer to help pay their rent and put food on the table for their families.
JP: This is a tough time for everyone – we’re all being impacted, some parts of the industry more than others. People in the industry are very aware and respectful of the magnitude of the crises but also understandably concerned about what this means for their income and projects. I will say that in the last five days I’ve probably had more phone calls and conversations about collaborative and creative ideas than I’ve had all year.
It’s a wonderful thing to feel everyone banding together with the aim of creating new avenues, not just for individuals but the whole industry. It’s reminded me how brilliant, resourceful, resilient and supporting the Australian music industry is.
SG: There’s no other way to put it than utter devastation. The only companies that will survive without external help will be those with cash reserves and in this industry that’s built on small business, that’s a scary thought. We can pussyfoot around things as much as we like, but in simple terms, businesses that rely on the live music economy have gone from revenue to no revenue overnight.
No business can or should be expected to withstand that. We have a very healthy industry and a sector that is going to roar back to life come the fourth quarter of the year. How we actually get to that point and how many of us make it there is going to be messy as fuck. There’s no sugar-coating that.
Do you have any advice or comments you’d like to share with others?
LB: Stream, download or purchase Australian music. Purchase Australian merch. Support their social media. Make donations, big or small, if you can. Angie McMahon and her manager Charlotte Abroms have started a fundraiser through Support Act to help the most vulnerable music industry workers. Remember that Australian artists immediately acted, and raised significant funds for the bush fires. Now it’s time for us to help them.
I fully support the message to Australian ratio stations to play mostly/exclusively Aussie artists to increase their royalties while they wait for gigs to pick up again. How good would that be!
Be community and socially aware. Show love, support and compassion to one another. Each one of us has to change our behaviour to protect the community as a whole.
JC: We need to stick together. We need to pick up the phone and call each other. I remember living in New York when Trump got elected. It was a dark mood and people needed to talk. And that’s what we need to do. One of my friends who manages one of Australia’s biggest acts said to me “usually I have some experience to fall back on or know the right person to call, but this time neither of them are working”. There’s no one to call, so just call everyone.
Be vulnerable, share your experiences and together as an industry we will do everything we can to get through it.
RF: It’s going to get harder and harder as we become more isolated from work and friends so we need to remember to reach out and stay connected to each other.
The work of Support Act and CrewCare is even more important now than ever and any help we can give them will go a long way towards helping our mates through this.
JP: I feel like this situation is so unprecedented and rapidly changing that I find my own opinions on what is appropriate or right or wrong seem to be changing every hour as news spreads.
SG: We need to keep our businesses running as best we can, but right now the key needs to be looking after people. That means our teams but it also means each other. Things are not going to be great, but they are going to be even worse if we put up the walls and all run for the lifeboats rather than looking after people’s families, their health and their wellbeing and that means bosses to employees, but also the other direction.
The last thing we need as an industry is a stoic “all’s well at my joint” while going home and crying into our beers. Everyone needs to know that they are not alone in this. We are all in the same boat and our community has never been more important.