When the majority of our futures remain largely out of our control for an extended period of time, it can be extremely anxiety-inducing. It’s no surprise the Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant and widespread impact on public mental health.
For those in the music and hospitality industries, the situation has become a crisis. Since the beginning of lockdown in 2020 there has been growing fear regarding when the live music scene will return to an altered version of normal.
The lack of guidance and empathy from the NSW Government has made it impossible for artists to take their lives off hold. Music got so many of us through the better part of last year – something more has to be done.
Over the weekend, live music events all over Sydney were cancelled. Artists were forced to postpone shows their teams had been planning for weeks due to further restrictions. Hundreds of industry professionals continue to question their careers while doing what they can to remain positive. But the messaging from the NSW Government remains inconsistent.
While driving past Jubilee station over the weekend, Sydney artist Mickey Kojak witnessed thousands of unmasked football fans pouring into the stalls after just having had his weekend gig cancelled. On the same weekend, venues were not allowed to have dance floors, venue staff lost their shifts, and patrons were disappointed to hear they had to cancel plans yet again.
Mickey Kojak says: “A significant portion of my friends working in hospitality and music either had their shifts cut or gigs cancelled completely because of the ‘no dance-floor’ rule put in place by the snap NSW Government lockdown.
“Most workers and patrons understand that these rules are put in place to help curb the spread of the virus and if that’s what has to be done, so be it,” he adds. “However, seeing crowds allowed to come together for sporting events was a real kick in the teeth. Doesn’t seem like much of a lockdown to me!
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“With the ban on dance-floors being extended another full week due to the NSW Government’s inability to track the two most recent cases of Covid in Sydney, some hospitality workers will have had half their monthly income taken away from them,” Kojak continues. “It would be nice to see the NSW Government support the music/arts/hospitality industries in the same way they have with sports. A boy can dream.”
Given the government’s reasonable justification to stop super-spreading events, the lack of fairness to music and hospitality staff is incredibly disheartening.
People’s livelihoods are at risk and the lack of support is leaving artists and their teams tired and unsure of where to turn for support.
There has been nothing but compliance across our industries since Day One, but now musicians just want to get back to playing music for people and doing their part to help decrease the anxiety and depression that are building across the country. The NSW Government needs to change the way it values the impact of music on our society, and provide equal guidance and support as they do for those who work in sport.
Sydney artist Chase Zera is trying to feel hopeful before a series of shows are meant to kick off this weekend.
“Time and time again, the music industry has banded together to organise benefit concerts, relief festivals and fundraisers for natural disasters and in times when the community really needed a lifeline,” says Chase Zera.
“I’ve witnessed musicians, crew and staff donate an incredible amount of their time and resources to be completely selfless in fighting a cause. But as soon as the tables turned and our industry became the ones pleading for help, it felt as though our Government just turned their back on us. That’s what is really hurtful.”
We conducted a random survey last week across Sydney CBD asking people how music has continued to lift their spirit over the last year and across their life. An answer from Brad Stocks, a personal trainer, summed it up perfectly:
“The pandemic taught me just how much I need live music in my life,” he says. “From seeing hundreds of bands over the years, being in one in my twenties, working in live venues, I need musical expression to balance me out. Health and fitness is a wonderful pursuit for the mind and body, but music is the nutrients for my soul.”
We spoke to Artist Manager and producer Craig Willson who says, “It’s a challenging time. With all music benefits coming to a very sudden end, I see a lot of artists forced into the market to book compromised shows at reduced capacities and narrow margins, only to see the dates on these shows slide and slide later in the year with snap lockdowns across the nation.
“One tour I’m working on has been rescheduled three times and counting,” Willson adds.” It’s reaching a point where the market is so crowded on mid sized venues that there is nowhere to slide the rescheduled dates to. The pressure on artists continues to build. Looking at your show dates and crossing your fingers that they happen isn’t a great foundation to run a business.”
The challenge for Australia’s live music industry isn’t getting any better and for all our sakes, more has to be done.