Former Hoodoo Gurus frontman, Dave Faulkner

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Restrictive regulation and poker machines have been crippling small and medium music venues in NSW for the past 30 years, according to Founder of the annual Dig It Up! Festival, Dave Faulkner.

The City of Sydney Council convened a panel of music industry experts last week to discuss the struggling live music industry, which Mr Faulkner attended. A former frontman of the Hoodoo Gurus, Mr Faulkner said small venues were vital for establishing unknown artists.

“After two solid years of gigging we’d build a market for ourselves and all we needed was a place to play, and people to play to. Without the stepping stones that those earlier smaller gigs gave us, we would never have made it to first base,” he said.

The continuing success of the scene in Melbourne and the rejuvenation of the Fortitude Valley entertainment precinct in Brisbane proved the downward trend of live music venues can be reversed, according to Mr Faulkner. “A strong music scene puts money in the pockets of many support staff,” he said.

Lord Mayor Clover Moore opened the discussion at Town Hall as part of the City Conversation series, lauding that for the last 60 years, live music has been vital to Sydney’s cultural life.

Ms Moore said that there was still huge demand for live music. Quoting a 2011 Ernst and Young report into the live music industry, she said live music remains Australia’s single most popular live performance activity.

“But there is a wealth of research showing that the live music scene has in fact come under immense pressure in the last 20-plus years,” said Ms Moore.

There were 44 million attendances to live music events in 2009/10 – four times greater than the attendances at the major performing arts companies and large arts festivals. The report said that the contribution to the economy was over $1.2 billion.

69 per cent of the venues surveyed for the report nominated the regulatory regime as the chief barrier for owning and operating a live music venue.

“The reasons are multifaceted,” said Ms Moore. “There are certainly a raft of regulations that venues must conform to and there are the impacts of the environmental protection laws. There’s changing demographic in some areas and densification in others.”

The forum lamented that there was a strong sense of loss – amid thousands of suggestions, tweets and Facebook comments calling for more support live music in Sydney.

Mark Gerber, founder of Oxford Art Factory, said it is vital to be a salesperson in order to run a venue.

“You can’t just rest on your laurels – it’s not a matter of just allowing a band to fulfil their obligations. You as a venue should fulfil yours,” he said.

“It’s an ecosystem where everyone plays an equally important part and, more than ever, because of the advent of the Internet. It’s so important that the venue utilises all those aspects of it – it’s not just about putting a bill poster on the sides of streets and poles. You have to virally infect people on their computer at home.”

The value of having live music venues nearby neighbourhoods and dealing with noise complaints was broadly discussed.