By Laura Neill
The State Labor government has released a detailed plan to revive the live music scene and support venue owners by reversing years of stifling legislation, removing the red tape that prevents existing venues from hosting live entertainment, and simplifying the process for starting a venue.
The plan, launched last week by Shadow Minister for Music and the Night Life Economy John Graham, comes after the Parliamentary Inquiry into the Music and Arts Economy found the causes of the venue crisis include the burden placed on venues by regulations such Planning laws, liquor licences, and noise regulations. When launching the plan, Mr Graham said that the live music industry was now at a “crisis point”.
Centred on “a Right to Play”, the plan will amend the Liquor Act to remove arbitrary restrictions on live music at existing venues. Currently, there are 669 restrictions that include bans on hard rock and amplified drums, and limits to the number of performers allowed onstage.
Labor candidate for Balmain and Glebe Elly Howse said the revisions are “a long time coming”, and that policy changes over the last eight years have “clearly affected live music and our thriving bar scene”.
One-stop shop for live music
“Suburbs like Balmain and Glebe are known for their great pub culture and live music venues. We want more music and more musicians in our community. State government needs to support not hinder live music,” said Ms Howse.
To support both venues and the local community, the plan will establish a one-stop shop for both residents and venues to objectively deal with noise complaints.
According to Ms Howse, many noise complaints are often generated not by live music, but by smoking, littering or unruly behaviour outside venues after they close.
“It can be frustrating to local residents,” said Ms Howse. “I am on the side of small businesses and local bars, and I do think that residents have a right to work with those venues about issues like noise or anti-social behaviour.”
The plan also includes the removal of unnecessary regulations discouraging venues from holding live performances, and a $1.2 million investment in helping venues to install soundproofing.
In a big win for small businesses, the “Right to Play” also aims to streamline the process for development applications and liquor licensing, significantly reducing waiting times for new small venues. It will also introduce a new class of liquor license specifically for venues that are dedicated to live music. The process of obtaining approvals and licensing is currently a major barrier to opening a live music venue.
“Small business owners find that applying for a liquor license is very challenging and difficult,” said Ms Howse. “Restaurants and cafes will open without the liquor license first. It will take weeks or months to get it.”
Alison Avron, singer-songwriter and owner of the Camperdown live music venue the Newsagency, experienced first-hand the “frustrating” process of gaining licensing and approval when she moved from her 40-cap BYO venue to a 100-cap licensed venue in Camperdown. She described the process as something she “wouldn’t wish on her worst enemy”.
“I felt held back as a business owner and as an artist. I was just someone trying to make a go of starting a small business and I wasn’t recognized,” Ms Avron said. “The council approval process – everyone’s burned out by it. If it was a lot easier, a lot of people would try and we’d probably have more venues.”
Currently, the license she holds for her 100-cap venue on Pyrmont Bridge Road only allows 108 ticketed events per year.
Towards a sustainable music sector
Caroline Buckingham, owner of the recently-opened live music bar Butcher’s Brew, agreed that the process was arduous. “It should be more straightforward and streamlined,” said Ms Buckingham, who described the process as “having to go backwards and forwards between the same people”. Buckingham’s 40-cap bar opened last month, fourteen months after she signed the lease.
The NSW Government released its own plan last week, promising a three-month blitz on arbitrary licensing restrictions and including a one-off $1 million Music Now fund to support the live music industry across the state.
Arts Minister Don Harwin said to the Music Network; “Helping stage gigs, festivals and other music events in NSW will not only support a sustainable music sector but also contribute to a vibrant night-time economy”.
Patricia Forsythe, Executive Director of the Sydney Business Chamber, Commerce, has welcomed the pre-election focus from both sides on enhancing Sydney’s night-time economy.
“Sydney has an outstanding live music, entertainment and events history and it is pleasing to see plans coming together to make it easier for business to run more events that will boost the economy,” she said.
According to Forsythe, more than $3.6 billion is generated every year in the City of Sydney alone.