NSW, we have a problem. Fixing it will require more new venues in all shapes and sizes, a government-led rescue package for older sites and, just maybe, the creation of a competitive fund for venues and rising artists.

These are just some of the solutions put forward in a new report into the feeble state of the live market in Sydney and across the state.

The 28-page study, The Show Must Go On: Supporting the Growth of Live Performance in NSW, commissioned and published by the Western Sydney Business Chamber with support from Live Nation, ticks off a five-point plan for rebuilding the circuit of live performance venues in NSW which, its authors state, is in a “perilous state” and getting worse.

“A city without music and live performance is a city without soul – it’s time for government to focus its attention on how we can bring the beat back to our CBDs and main streets,” comments David Borger, Executive Director of the Western Sydney Business Chamber.

“We have a problem in NSW with a lack of appropriate venues for life performance. We lack theatres, both big and small, and what venues we do have, are not adequately distributed across the State.”

Noting that the life has been drained from Sydney’s night economy and elsewhere, the chamber calls for a rethink of the underlying economics of providing live performance infrastructure, and recommends government at all levels consider fresh ideas.

One of those would be a competitive fund allowing private venue operators to apply for grants for capital and programming.

“A city without music and live performance is a city without soul”: David Borger

Sydney Nightlife has received a $1 million boost

The proposed fund, according to the chamber, could include a number of sources including a ticket tax based on similar schemes in London and Paris, financial support from state and local government and philanthropic donations.

Right now, notes Borger and his colleagues, the live circuit in NSW is in “chronic decline,” while the state’s northern neighbour Queensland is experiencing double-digit annual growth and Victoria has raced ahead in the live game.

Those claims are backed up by Live Performance Australia’s most recent Ticket Attendance and Revenue Report, which found Victoria ($639.9 million revenue from ticket sales, up 45.3%) had ousted New South Wales ($615.8 million, up 16.2%) from the top of the ticket-sales leaderboard for the first time in 2017.

The same study revealed ticket sales in the Sunshine State boomed to $263.9 million during the period, an annual growth rate of 46.4%, the largest among all states.

Halsey performs in Sydney
Halsey performs in Sydney

Quoting a Simon & Garfunkel classic, Borger implied the sound of silence was the worrying theme of the night economy in the main streets and CBDs.

“In a growing city like Parramatta, we are now twice the size but only half the fun because we’ve failed to hold the line of protecting and nurturing music and performance,” Borger warns. “Many of our existing venues are closed, or threatened with closure.”

A ticket tax, co-contributions or even philanthropic donations are all options to help fund performance venues and grow the market,” he says.

The report’s recommendations include:

— State and Local Governments should prioritise live performance infrastructure in their planning and development controls.

— State and Local regulators should adopt measures that foster a safe and vibrant live performance industry.

— Establish a fund to allow private venue operators and emerging artists to apply for grants for capital and programming.

— State and Local Councils to undertake a census of live performance venues across NSW to provide a clear snapshot of the state of the industry and to identify gaps in infrastructure provision.

— Encourage and incentivise Universities to provide theatres and venues in their campus expansion and investment programmes.

“It is time for us to change the underlying economics of providing live performance infrastructure if we are going to rebuild the once vibrant live performance industry we had in NSW,” notes Borger.

As previously reported, almost 800 submissions were delivered to the NSW Government’s Sydney’s Night Time Economy inquiry, with a report from these expected to be issued to parliament on Sept. 30.

Read the The Show Must Go On here.