Will Sydney lose another venue?
It all began with a fairly innocuous occurrence- the SMH writing a paragraph on Justin Hemmes’ recent purchase of the Excelsior Hotel and his big plans for the venue, and others in Surry Hills like it. Soon Facebook started popping up links to the article everywhere as musicians and punters alike started to feel the first cold dreadful feelings about what this could mean for a scene that can still feel the loss of its beloved Hopetoun. Would Surry Hills get another “pretty person” polished palace? Will Sydney lose another live music venue?
Those of us who frequent live music venues are pretty worried. We understand our choices are getting more and more limited, especially in the rock arena. Friends of mine who play music are even more worried still. After all, being able to gig is usually the only way they can build an audience base, considering the still prohibitive cost of album recording and self distribution, and the focus of those in the industry on only a handful of local bands making it to the popular market compared to what is out there. And at the end of the day, you also have to ask the question of whether Sydney really needs yet another high priced, over styled bar for stiletto wearing wannabes and their hair product he-men- especially when the cost of living is so high and the market already so over saturated?
Unfortunately, the reality is I can understand why, when a group like Merivale trots past a venue like the Excelsior with a big bag of cash, the owners are tempted. I have been to gigs for great quality local bands that barely hit an audience of 30 people. I’ve been to nights when awesome bands have been sharing the bill with bloody ordinary bands all because “how many friends can you bring?” is more important in a bookers eyes than quality control. I’ve lived in Sydney through the decimation of live entertainment at the hands of the dreaded pokies and currently live in a time where talk of lock outs, residential noise and the impact of foot traffic dominant the news and council agendas. If I were a business with those sorts of issues to contend with, I would probably consider taking the cash too.
Things seem pretty bleak- I mean, the Merivale portfolio hardly shrieks “live entertainment is our love” and “Yes, we love you in your non designer jeans and op shop tee shirt”. So if we lose the Excelsior as a venue, what do we do? Well, for starters, make sure the Annandale doesn’t close by going to more of their events. Start taking a punt on other venues and help beef up their numbers too- I am sure the Sando, Bald Faced Stag, 505, Oxford Arts Factory, the Mac, Notes and others like them wouldn’t say no to a few more bodies through the door on a regular basis. We can also think of ways to do things smarter as opposed to being at the mercy of venues, bookers and residents like what the Bird’s Robe Collective or High Tea have done. And we can look on brave people like the lovely ladies who banded together to bring us the Red Rattler as not only beacons of what can be done if you are passionate about using people power, but also as something we should include into our entertainment diet on a regular basis for both artist and venue alike. We need to support our scene and use our noggins kids lest more of Sydney’s character be lost to chrome, glass and Dolce & Gubana.
More than anything, in order to talk to politicians and businesses in terms they understand, we first need to understand the audience available to music venues and where they are going. It’s all good and well for everyone to form internet groups and bemoan changes such as the Excelsior sale as a potential blow to our beloved music scene, but if the 18,000 strong “Save the Hopetoun” group taught us anything, it’s that reminiscing and good intentions alone don’t create change without some substance behind it. So, in order to work out how people respond to live music in this city, and to use that information to think of ways to help strengthen and boost our ailing scene, myself and a working musician have decided to do a survey so we have data to back up some of our assumptions and give evidence to the policy influencers. From here we hope to understand the landscape, bring out the results for further community feedback, and if all goes according to plan, formulate a plan of action that will help the live music scene become healthy and sustainable and an attractive proposition to those who have the capital to invest in venues.
Are you passionate about the Australian music scene? Take our survey and have your voice heard! http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/K6G9LKJ
Like my style? Enjoy the content? Contact me if you need custom content created or marketing help!