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Sydney Music Scene Study

August 12, 2011

Sydney Music Scene Study

In response to the purchase of the Excelsior by Merivale and the perceived decline of viable music venues in Sydney, myself (Rebekah Lambert) and veteran indie rocker about town Rich Berndt devised and conducted a survey about the state of live music in Sydney.

The responses were collected via Survey Monkey through publicity on online channels- notably this website and interested social media groups- February 2011 until July 2011. We collected 137 responses during that period.

Our aim was to establish a baseline of habits and key demographic markers in order to begin with extraction of data that could prove useful to three key groups:

a)      Musicians in Sydney

b)      Venue owners in Sydney

c)       Patrons of live music

This is the overview of what we found through the study. We chose ten questions so as not to overwhelm people. The entire report is also available if you email Rebekah directly via rebekah@unashamedlycreative.com.au

Key Points of the Sydney Music Scene Study

We’re all old pricks…

29% of respondents were 25 to 29- however the second highest group was 23.9% in the 30 to 34 year old group. In fact, over 50% of the survey was over the age of 30.

So why have tripleJ and FBi changed their positioning, marketing and mandate to “youth culture”? And where are the bursaries, grants, competitions and funding programmes for the more mature artists? We might not look as good on a poster, but we’re more active in the industry!

The boys have it…

Whether punter or performer, the Sydney music scene is a bit of a sausage fest with 65% of respondents being male.

You’re all scattered to the four winds…

People as far away as Wynnum in Queensland, Melbourne in Victoria or Magill in South Australia give a crap about the Sydney music scene. Darlinghurst/Surry Hills did beat out with the highest count of individual postcodes… of 12 counts. Seriously, it’s that fragmented. You f*ckers are all over the joint.

Local music, schmocal music. I’m off to Newtown!

Whilst you’re more scattered than Ozzy Osborne after a very playful Saturday night, you concentrate your musical appreciation on Newtown – by a whopping 74%. You don’t mind having a totter down the road to Surry Hills either at almost 63%. Oh, yes, that is more than 100% in total. Did I mention Ozzy also did the counting?

Not really… we allowed multiple answers doofus.

I’m there like once or twice a week, man!

43% of you claim to be so enamoured with music you are either working it or listening to it once or twice a week. Just goes to show no matter how much crappy reality TV they try to lure you home with, you musical cats are hardcore and loyal to the live scene.

I rock out with my…<bleeeeeeep>

93% of you do it for the rock man! The next most popular was acoustic music with 46%.

Oh, and to the “acoustics not a musical genre” person in the survey- careful or I’ll share your IP address with 63 people who love their strum who are probably really miffed right now that the Excelsior has become a glorified Taco Bell for the stiletto and mangina set. Don’t be vulgar man- we’re trying to share the love!

Apologies to the hip-hop and prog/post/shoe gaze movements. Next time we send out a homework assignment, we will categorise you as your own response because you have a whole lotta love out there. Not enough to cock block the rock, but you’re looking mighty healthy!

Hey baby, I’m in a band

No surprise that 51% of you are actually musicians playing in a band or as a solo artist. So yes, people could argue that you have a vested interest in the scene thriving. But, 49% patron only is a pretty awesome number which shows people come to watch you in numbers…either that or most of you aren’t single and your significant other did the survey. Ahem…Jokes aside, that’s a healthy and strong participation rate. Question is- can we build on it?

Screw quantity, I want quality!

It really does appear that most of you do not want a scene for scenes sake- you want something that is quality, strong and vital. 62% of you cite not knowing if a venue or act is good as the main reason you don’t see more live music. Cost doesn’t bother you, travel doesn’t either and peer pressure rated higher than the lack of venues. So kids, what you’re really saying is you don’t want to go to all the hassle of tracking down a venue, travelling there, talking your friends into it and spending money of cover charge, drinks and so on to be served the musical equivalent of a sh*t sandwich. So who is the problem? The booker or venue management? The bands that aren’t ready for the stage? Or do we have too high an expectation of what the music scene should supply?

Music is my life dude!

59% of you have gigging as your mainstay entertainment, which isn’t surprising considering you claim you go once or twice a week! Next highest group was 29% gettin’ pished with ya mates. Oh bless ya little evil livers.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Wow, some of you pulled out the soap box for those responses- and some of you will be contacted by my Nana because she wants to wash your mouths out with soap…!

Oh, and to the “that survey was terrible” guy and the “you should have put question X on page Y and question L on page C…”- shut up! No honestly, its people like you who criticise other people trying to at least do something concrete who wait for other people to fall off the perch with their new ideas like a life sucking buzzard that screw it up for those of us who still have passion. Didn’t your mother ever tell you if you don’t have anything nice to say, put a sock in it before your Dad thumps you with the rolling pin?! Ahh, now where was I?

The main things to take from open response question were:

  • There is passion about the Sydney music scene- people want someone to step in and save it, or they are doing things for themselves. Either way, this passion is creating some positive action.
  • The loss of the Excelsior and the appearance of Justin Hemmes in rock venues are not popular.
  • Cost creates prohibitive conditions, as does the bookers in Sydney or the way venues are run.
  • Some people prefer to focus on complaining about someone doing a survey than using their voice to present an idea- which is symptomatic of some people’s response to the Sydney Music Scene and the issues it faces (quick to criticise and complain, not so quick to think of a solution).
  • Some people are striking out for themselves in groups, warehouses or ignoring the so called “decline” completely.

What can we do? (The serious bit)

In summation, the scene, whilst dented, still realistically has enough “on paper” investment from people who wish to participate in an active and vibrant scene. We should support those who produce independently, and also those venues who maintain a live music culture, even as they diversify their portfolio to offset apparent income losses. Clever management, working together and choosing to think creatively to maintain the scene will help.

On a level of music promotion or investment, it is truly interesting to see that the bulk of the Sydney live music scene comes from age groups who are not actively sought by community radio. They are also more willing to put time and money into music, yet are usually beyond the age limits of grants, bursaries and funding for their participation. It does beg the question why, when a considerable amount of musical production, patronage and overall enthusiasm comes from a more mature group of people, do emerging musicians receive more funding, more coverage and generally more promotional and financial opportunity overall?

For those who do continue to provide live music to the Sydney scene, working to maintain quality and build representation and programmes people can trust to provide a worthwhile evening’s entertainment should be paramount. By far the biggest impediment to success in building a regular audience on a personal choice level is quality assurance and the biggest threat to the scene is non attendance making it non-commercially viable for venues and operators. If we can solve the quality equation, there may be some hope for us yet.

For a copy of the entire report, please email rebekah@unashamedlycreative.com.au

To debate the results or offer solutions, please write a comment below!

About the Researchers

Richard Berndt is a veteran of the Sydney music scene and has played solidly for 17 years in rock, blues, pop, acoustic, prog and post rock bands as guitarist and bassist. He is currently seen performing with prog rockers ‘Cities of the Red Night’, pop/indie band ‘Found at Sea’, blues rock band ‘Tom Stone and the Soldiers of Fortune’ and post rock group ‘Marosi di Buriana’. He also jams with two other bands and is lead composer for the upcoming indie film serial “The Crackheads” and dark comic’s collective motion comic “The Dream Stalker”.

Rebekah Lambert is a marketing and events professional with a strong research and consumer analysis background. She has worked within the music industry working for the likes of FBi radio, Pistol Digital and Petrol Records with INXS manager and industry icon CM Murphy. She is a passionate supporter of arts marketing and has worked with the Darlinghurst Theatre, crowd funding legends Pozible and indie theatre company the Earthcrosser Company. She has also offered free advice and marketing to countless bands in the last ten years. Rebekah will be releasing her first motion comic writer/producer/director credit “Varity the Vampire” in 2011 and is writer/director/producer/puppeteer for upcoming serial “The Crackheads”.

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