Live music in Melbourne under threat again after COVID horror

Kaase and her former Sydneysider Sienna Laycock formed Heavy Amber, a three-piece psychedelic band. In November 2020, after months of writing and rehearsals, the band played their first gig, a sold out show at the Tote in Collingwood between lockdowns.

COVID had left Melbourne short of bands giving an opportunity to Heavy Amber who are now performing at venues across Melbourne and will soon be releasing their first single.

Heavy Amber on stage.

Heavy Amber on stage.

In the 2022 edition of their Consumer Insights longitudinal survey, Music Victoria and the Victorian Music Development Office noted that live music was experiencing a “post-pandemic boom”. But it found nearly 30 percent of those who didn’t attend gigs said cost was the biggest deterrent, a higher percentage than those who cited fear of COVID.

Venue owners say they are not surprised.

Liam Matthews’ The Old Bar in Fitzroy is back to live music most nights of the week, but with fewer bands per night than pre-COVID. He said the biggest challenge to resuscitation is the rising cost of everything from beer and food to electricity and staff.

Of particular concern is the rising cost of insurance that covers legal liability for injury or damage. Public liability costs are increasing worldwide due to climate catastrophes such as floods and fires, COVID, the war in Eastern Europe and risk-averse insurance providers.

Liam Matthews, owner of dHE Old Bar in Fitzroy.

Liam Matthews, owner of dHE Old Bar in Fitzroy. Credit:Joe Armao

Matthews’ public liability bill has nearly quintupled this year from about $10,000 to $50,000. Other venues are reportedly facing premium increases tenfold from previous years.

He said such huge increases threaten the viability of venues and urged the state government to work with the industry to address the insurance issues. “Dan Andrews likes to say that Melbourne is the live music capital of Australia. Well, I’m saying if something isn’t done, soon it won’t be.”

The fallout from COVID is proving to be a time of reckoning for the industry. Young players struggling to pay rent, bills and buy equipment are demanding a better financial solution and warn that poor pay is a barrier to a life in music.

Musicians Australia, a branch of the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, is pushing for a minimum fee of $250 per performance. However, some venue owners say the proposal is counterproductive and would result in closures and fewer opportunities to perform without government support.

Helen Marcou, co-owner of Bakehouse Studios.

Helen Marcou, co-owner of Bakehouse Studios.
Credit:Wayne Taylor

Music industry celebrity Helen Marcou is among those backing the push. “Life is harder than ever for artists today,” said Marcou, who co-owns Richmond’s famed Bakehouse Studios. “It’s time to support them.”

Schinkel said she remains bullish on live music despite the many challenges, including ongoing pandemic-related impacts such as “hyper localized living.”


She said CBD venues in particular are struggling. “We’re seeing venues opening up north – but we also need to get people back into the city.”

“COVID has denied many young people the essential first-time moments of going out and being part of gigs,” Schinkel said.

“Hopefully we can recapture them and inspire them with live music for a lifetime.”

The Morning Edition Newsletter is our guide to the day’s most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights. Sign up here. Live music in Melbourne under threat again after COVID horror

Jaclyn Diaz

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