When the Hopetoun Hotel boarded up its doors in September, Sydney’s music community wasted no time laying blame on the likes of the Lord Mayor of Sydney, Clover Moore, and residents of the newly-gentrified inner suburbia – renowned for making complaints about established venues in areas they’ve only recently moved into. While increasingly strict enforcement of licensing laws and noise disturbance undeniably played a part in the closure of the Hopetoun, it is becoming increasingly apparent that live music – in and of itself – is not a profitable business in Sydney.
Dan Rule, along with his brother Matt, has owned and run the iconic live music venue the Annandale Hotel for the past decade. The Rule brothers reinstated live music at the venue after its previous owners kicked out the bands in favour of poker machines. While Dan acknowledges the need for Sydneysiders to actively support the live music venues they want to see survive, he also recognises the role the venues themselves must play in encouraging this to happen.
“As much as it’s Council’s fault, the scene has to take a bit of a hit around the head… [but] by the same token, the venues have got to take a step up too,” he said. “You’ve got to put on better acts – I’ve got two months of sold-out shows – but they’re big-name acts, and it’s the smaller bands that struggle. When you’re only getting 20, 30, 50, 100 people a night, and you’ve got two staff and security on, and you’re only taking $1000 behind the bar, that doesn’t even cover the wages. It’s been happening for a while I think – you keep trying to survive, but it gets to a point where the hotel or the venue … will eventually fall over because it’s not profitable.”
The Rule brothers realise that pubs need to rely on more than income from live music if they are to survive.
“Even if you’re not seeing a band you can come down to the Annandale and watch the footy out the back, and go and sit in a nice beer garden, or come down with buddies, so it becomes more a community hotel that has live music instead of just being a live music venue that people go to for 3 hours on a Saturday night once a month to see a band – you can’t rely on that.”
While pub venues rely on more traditional means to prop up an oftentimes-unprofitable live music scene, some of Sydney’s more modern venues are approaching the problem from outside the square.
Over the past few years, Mark Gerber – owner of the Oxford Art Factory – has created a unique space on the Sydney landscape. Centred at the bustling heart of Oxford Street, the venue – more reminiscent of an art gallery than a pub – combines live music with performance and installation art. Like Dan Rule, Mark realises that in order to support the live music scene, venues need to supplement their income above and beyond the money that they make by putting on live bands.
“If I don’t start making enough money out of live bands, then I’d look other ways,” he said. “I’ve purpose-built this place to accommodate functions, corporate people, bankers, lawyers and doctors just as much as musos – ’cos we’re all in the same bloody world all together anyway. They need a venue to do their thing as well, and they need to show off their product and they need to have their Christmas parties. So why on earth would I just call myself a live venue?”
While falling profits from live music have seen venue closures become quite commonplace across Sydney these past few months, a number of venue owners are thinking outside the square to ensure the survival of the mid-sized venues that are so essential to the development of our city’s up-and-coming artists.
by Joel Werner