Dear Queensland Government,
I know I’m beginning to come off sounding like a broken record, but I am desperate to obtain your attention so you can see how your slow and steady race back to post-COVID normal is affecting the live music industry in our own backyard.
For the past 20 months, COVID hit Australia (and the world) hard, and we’ve all been adapting to the new rules and regulations as they have been introduced. We’ve seen industries pause and come back to almost full effect (e.g. the thriving sports industry) and others, like the music/arts/creative industries, just left to their own devices with minimal support from local governments to stay afloat and how your ongoing (and at times, unfair) restrictions have halted the live music scene’s return to form.
My investigation into this letter began around the time the Play Fair Petition first appeared online back in April 2021. This online petition (with over 27,130 signatures) called for the Queensland Premier/Government to rethink their strategies when it came to capacity rulings for events. Specifically, the double standards that came from allowing 52,000 football fans to enter Suncorp Stadium for sporting events, while live music venues were attempting to open with ridiculously reduced capacity and 1 per 4 square meter rules. For clarification, yes, live gigs and sporting events are different in terms of seating and standing arrangements; however, with Suncorp Stadium as the basis for this statement, their entry and exit points, and general stadium traffic moving throughout are no different to that of a live music venue, i.e. Riverstage, which only has a capacity of 9,500. Both can be comparable with that fact; however, with 52,000 attendees at Suncorp, the propensity of community transmission is significantly higher.
An example of a massive blow to the local live music industry happened the morning after the State of Origin Game II was allowed to be held at Suncorp Stadium on June 27, 2021. 52,000 punters attended, and the following day restrictions were put in place again, prior to local Brisbane band The Amity Affliction being able to host their outdoor concert at Eatons Hill Hotel (which had previously been postponed, then had two shows combined in order for this new show to take place). Subsequently, this concert was pushed back to October 9th and then last month, pushed back again for a fourth time to February 5, 2022. What may seem like the “right thing to do for safety” doesn’t take into consideration the planning that goes into putting together a concert like this which not only helps stimulate the local economy, but gives bands and us, live music fans, something to look forward to when the world around us is falling apart.
From my perspective, it seemed like no matter what the Music industry did to try and comply with your rules and regulations, they were set back time and time again without any compassion for the dying industry. And my thoughts were echoed by countless music fans who felt the same way.
Priorities on show 🙄
(Meanwhile, State of Origin in Brisbane is going ahead with a near full crowd, just put on a mask when you enter & leave, while Brisbane #LiveMusic venues are still restricted, & bands who were already here have had to cancel gigs.) https://t.co/XhLBbOPye3 https://t.co/Zu6ykXSDMG
— Andrew Bartlett (@AndrewBartlett) June 27, 2021
For those wondering how much the arts industry contributed to Australia’s economy each year, to my surprise as well, it pulled in over $111.7 billion dollars as indicated by the 2016-2017 graph below. So, for those on the bandwagon of the arts not being considered a viable industry, you may need to rethink your mentality. The industry has been told to suck it up and “get a real job”, when in reality, what they are doing is considered real work that not only helps the local economy, but countless fans who have turned to music as an escape from the harrowing reality that COVID bestowed on us back in 2020.
"gEt A rEaL jOb" – The Arts in Australia contributes BILLIONS to Australia's economy, so why is it not being treated with the same respect and dignity as Sport or Mining? @AnnastaciaMP @StevenJMiles @LeeanneEnoch! Still awaiting reply on my follow up email too! https://t.co/E2G20RmURI
— Paul 'Browny' Brown (@brownypaul) July 21, 2021
How much has the QLD Government invested into supporting the arts industry?
During my investigation and accumulation of information to present here today, it should be noted I did reach out to various members of the local Queensland Government (dating back to July 2021), including Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk (who I commend for the way she and her team have handled outbreaks throughout the state), Deputy Premier Steven Miles, Minister for the Arts Leeanne Enoch and Minister for Tourism, Innovation and Sport Stirling Hinchliffe. At first, my questions and emails were handballed to various departments with the same information being delivered to me, without any revelations to the questions I had put forth, specifically surrounding how much the QLD Government had invested in the sporting industry compared to the arts industry.
On October 11, 2021, I received a correspondence from Stirling Hinchliffe which detailed the following:
As noted in correspondence to you of 14 July 2021 from the Office of the Honourable Leeanne Enoch MP, Minister for Communities and Housing, Minister for Digital Economy and Minister for the Arts, the Palaszczuk Government has committed more than $79 million worth of initiatives to support the arts sector to address the impacts of COVID-19
This includes $22.5 million in critical support through a dedicated Arts and Cultural Recovery Package, and funding a range of programs supporting the music industry, including 30 live music venues across the state, with $1.8 million through the Live Music Support Program and Live Music Venue Support. In addition, as part of the Government’s budget announcements, a further $7 million is available to support Queensland’s live music industry through COVID-19.
So, a total of about $31.3 million dollars invested across the entire Arts Industry according to the above statement.
However, according to local Greens MP Jonathan Sri, Councillor for The Gabba, he explained to attendees of the Ditch The Double Standards Rally (more on that soon) that a local traffic light intersection re-design cost the government $11 million dollars. Furthermore, he explained to me personally that $126 million was invested to redesign a roundabout in Indooroopilly and $650 million was spent on the widening of Kingsford Smith Drive.
When put into perspective, that last amount of $7 million dollars for the support of QLD’s live music industry throughout COVID really goes to show just how far down the list the arts industry is when it comes to government funding.
“These numbers are just so huge and they really highlight how much money is wasted on road infrastructure compared to how little funding goes into the arts.” – Jonathan Sri, Councillor for The Gabba
I’ve reached out to various bands from Brisbane/QLD and asked what this meant for them and how much they were able to apply for and obtain through these grants and packages. I still haven’t been able to narrow down a specific amount for each band or musician, but considering we’ve seen the likes of prominent acts such as Violent Soho and The Amity Affliction having to sell off personal belongings or find work outside of the music industry, it hasn’t been enough to sustain their lives, much like they were able to do prior to COVID hitting.
For the ill-infomed, bands don’t make much money from album sales/streams – most of their income is generated from touring around the country and world – but with that cash flow cut off due to constant show postponements, cancellations and venue restrictions – it makes it hard to receive any kind of financial income from the careers which they worked their arses off to achieve the stature they had prior to March 2020.
The heavy music industry (which we mostly cover) does this without the support of mainstream avenues, and their popularity and support is gathered over decades of playing shows both in capital cities and regional venues—all of which have not been an option over the past 20 months.
Stirling Hinchliffe also spoke about the government supporting the arts with their Olympics Live event which was held at South Bank in association with the announcement that Brisbane will hold the 2032 Olympic Games:
“The Queensland Government has supported local talent through Olympics Live, which was an initiative of the Australian Olympic Committee to establish free live sites for the public to experience the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. In Brisbane, the Olympics Live program included the announcement on 21 July 2021 of the election of Brisbane as the host of the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games.”
In case you forgot all about that, that’s when they crammed in hundreds of punters to South Bank for the televised announcement – which spawned the below kick-to-the-guts reaction for local promoters who have been trying to put on their own shows with a similar set up:
The end result of the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games announcement saw the formation of the Ditch the Double Standards peaceful protest rally, coordinated by the Qld Arts, Hospitality & Tourism Association and held on Sunday July 25th, 2021 (revisit our pre-march article here). The event was attended by a small group of individuals, with invitations sent to the Arts Minister who, for whatever reason, couldn’t attend.
Protesters followed COVID regulations, wore masks and socially distanced themselves as we stood up for what we believed was right.
Further clarification from Stirling Hinchliffe revealed other examples in which the QLD Government supported the arts industry with events for local acts at Olympics Live:
“Local talent to perform at this event was identified through the QUBE Effect, a Brisbane City Council program that provides musical acts with the opportunity to take part in a six-month music development program. Busby Marou, a well-known Queensland duo, and other local talent were secured throughout Olympics Live to support the program.”
This is in no way takes away from the much-deserved success of Busby Marou, a local contemporary duo from Rockhampton who have not only received mainstream support and promotion through commercial radio, but also various television commercials and shows playing their music.
Stirling also spoke about the NRL’s inclusion of QLD based musicians performing at their games and pre-events, stating:
“The NRL engaged Gladstone-born Kate Miller-Heidke, iconic Australian rock musician Ian Moss and the Gold Coast’s Stafford Brothers to perform at the 2021 NRL Grand Final, in a show of support for the local live music scene. Brisbane artists Sheppard were also engaged to perform a live set at the NRL Fan Fest activation in King George Square on the Friday evening before the Grand Final.”
Once again, all the above mentioned are musicians and acts who have been supported in some way shape or form by mainstream media. Why an act like the ARIA-winning, Mansfield-based rockers Violent Soho weren’t engaged for a sporting event in Brisbane is astounding in my opinion (considering they fly the flag for their 4122 neighbourhood and support the Broncos and locally brewed XXXX Gold extensively), but I guess that comes down to personal preference and is a fight for another day…
But on that subject, would/could a band from within the alternative/heavy music industry land a spot at a prestigious event like this? Unfortunately for these bands—and similar acts we cover predominately at Wall of Sound such as WAAX, The Butterfly Effect, Deadlights, Caligula’s Horse, Being Jane Lane, Flangipanis, Wildheart, Dune Rats and so on—they’re still considered too “niche” to the powers that be. But from within the heavy music scene, we know that certain acts have the ability to pull in excess of tens of thousands of crowds, not only in Australia but on a global stage.
If you disagree with that statement, give yourself an uppercut.
But how much funding has the sports industry received?
Back on track again.
Since July 28, 2021, I’ve been questioning how much the QLD Government has invested in securing sporting events such as the 2020 AFL Grand Final (held October 24, 2020 at the Gabba), the 2021 State of Origin Game II (held June 27, 2021 at Suncorp Stadium), and the 2021 NRL Grand Final (held October 3, 2021 at Suncorp Stadium), as well as various NRL and AFL games held throughout the state for the 2021 season.
On October 14, 2021 I finally received a reply from Stirling Hinchliffe who revealed, as anticipated, that amount will still be withheld from the public:
“The Government’s investments in events are commercial in confidence and cannot be disclosed. To do so would breach contractual obligations and jeopardise the Government’s negotiating position when it comes to securing future events.”
I get that. We want more business in Queensland and more sporting events to take part in. This isn’t an argument about stopping it altogether, it’s about a level playing field for two industries that bring in billions to the local economy.
One of the key factors in which those sporting events were allowed to take place and live music/concerts wasn’t, was because of the COVID Safe Professional Sporting Code Plans which was put in place throughout QLD, in order for these games to happen in the first place.
According to Stirling:
“All elite sporting fixtures have been conducted in accordance with COVID Safe Professional Sporting Code Plans, and all stadia operate in accordance with site specific COVID Safe Plans approved by Queensland’s Chief Health Officer.
All events in stadia are ticketed, with allocated seats, which helps to enable contact tracing if necessary. Stadiums Queensland has also implemented a variety of operating procedures to ensure the safety of patrons. These include staggered exit times; segmented zones with dedicated entrances, exits, catering and toilets for each zone; a focus on extra cleaning and sanitisation; and when capacity restrictions are in place, a ‘checkerboard’ approach to seat sales to limit patrons in each row and separate groups, with unavailable seats indicated.
In line with the level of restrictions under the Queensland Government Roadmap to Easing Restrictions, patrons are required to check in with the Check In Qld app; wear face masks when entering, exiting and when seated, except when consuming food or beverages; and to be seated when consuming food and beverages.”
But were these plans adhered to? Well, let’s take a look at the recent 2021 NRL Grand Final at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane on Sunday, October 3, 2021? You tell me!
A grand total of 39,322 fans packed into Suncorp and as 7 News and the ABC News both separately reported, photos and video footage showed punters without masks cheering, standing and clearly not adhering to the COVID mask compliance rules, which (according to Stirling’s response above) were required to be worn at all times except when eating and drinking.
The good news is only one new COVID case was announced following the NRL Grand Final, which begs the question: why were live outdoor venues still being hurt by the 1 per 4 square meter rule when this is happening in front of our eyes?
As of publishing this piece, restrictions have eased once again but the 1 per 2 square meter regulations remain with “further details to be confirmed” according to the Government’s latest COVID Vaccine Plan, which also states that from December 17, 2021, venues may be able to operate without public health restrictions if “all patrons and staff are vaccinated”. So even with the end almost in sight, there’s still some uncertainty about the return of gigs in Queensland without capacity restraints, even with vaccination percentage goals met.
Daniel Andrews announces "no caps anywhere, no density quotients anywhere" and masks only in high-risk indoor settings from November 24 – a month from now – when Victoria expects to hit 90% vaccination
Big change. Things are about to start moving very quickly
— Josh Butler (@JoshButler) October 24, 2021
I’m not the only vocal music fan fighting for the return of shows in their home state. Melbourne music industry lobbyists launched the successful Save Our Scene campaign which advocated for:
1. A staged roadmap to reopening music venues at 100% capacity
2. Ongoing, scaled financial support for music venues until we return to 100% capacity
3. Ongoing, scaled financial support for music industry businesses and professionals until we return to 100% capacity
4. Direct consultation with music venues in planning for the recovery of the sector
Last week, after countless months of being left in the dark and enduring 263 cumulative days in lockdown (between March 2020 to October 2021), Melbourne announced a return of no capacity restrictions anywhere starting November 24, 2021 once vaccinations hit 90%. With that in mind, surely this is enough encouragement for the QLD Government to orchestrate a clear road map out of our current situation so we can get back out again, supporting an industry that so desperately needs our help now more than ever.
We at Wall of Sound are continuously encouraging all Australians to roll up their sleeves and get vaccinated (where and if they can) and with other campaigns such as #VaxTheNation proving to be a success, is it now time for officials to momentarily turn their attention from sport to the live music industry? Especially with news of Victoria allowing 10,000 punters to attend the upcoming Melbourne Cup Day celebrations at Flemington on November 2, 2021.
Look, the past couple of years have been tough, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that. I know we are not out of the woods yet, but it is absolutely disheartening to see so many friends, colleagues, associates and clients get knocked back when they try to pick up where their careers stalled in early 2020.
On top of that, mental health struggles have skyrocketed with stats from Beyond Blue revealing they had a 42% increase in calls to their Support Services during the COVID-19 pandemic (from March 2020 to December 2020) compared to the same time in 2019.
As someone who suffers from anxiety and depression, I’ve found the best form of release from the world was to attend a show (a heavy metal show) and scream alongside hundreds/thousands of fellow metalheads as a form of stress relief. There is no way to explain the euphoria one feels when you’re standing at a show, surrounded by people you don’t know, living in the moment and lapping up every second of the performance that’s happening in front of you.
We need that back, the musicians need it to continue living out their hard-earned careers in the music industry and our local economy will be better off for bringing it back. So please, let’s get the ball rolling on the return of restriction free concerts in Queensland.
Written by Paul ‘Browny’ Brown @brownypaul
Wall of Sound Owner/Editorial Manager and Live Music Enthusiast