Musicians’ incomes haven’t changed for 25 years, so what can be done about it?

Last week the Music Cities Conference in Melbourne was held over two days to 300 delegates. They came from 40 countries and spoke about achievements including music districts and night mayors, while Melbourne’s successes included agents of change and the live music census.

You’ll remember two weeks ago, Music Victoria made headlines when it released an early executive summary of its Melbourne Live Music Census. It showed Melbourne had more venues per capita than any other city in the world, most venues found their crowds growing, and were getting government help with upgrading facilities and soundproofing.
But when Census project manager Dobe Newton introduced the full data from the Census, there were problems for musicians and venues. Musicians are still being paid the same as in 1992, even though the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported incomes have been growing each year by 4%.
In the Census, 2000 musicians cited the main barrier to their music practice was financial viability (47%) with 69% saying their music earnings don’t cover the costs of their music practice.
Venues might be on a better keel, but a high rate (67%) complained their trade is being affected by noise restrictions, while 47% are hit by property developments.
The Convention had two interactive panels, where delegates divided into smaller groups and discussed what should take priority in Melbourne music policy. In other words, if you found yourself in a lift with the lord mayor for three minutes, what would you pitch?
The panel suggested that Centrelink should see playing music as a career and not a hobby, that playing gigs be seen as a valid wage, and that musicians should be allowed to concentrate fully on writing and rehearsing rather than being sent off to look for “real” jobs.
Other initiatives recommended for musicians were a minimum wage, cheaper housing for subsidised rent, tax breaks for landowners who donate their properties for rehearsals or performances, resuscitating the under-18 gigs and schools circuits to create a ready-made audience, and initiatives to ensure mental and physical health for musos.
For venues, ideas included an educational campaign to teach the positive contributions they make to the neighbourhood, rewarding venues which actively work at being inclusive to their patrons (including disability access), encouraging more government agencies to talk to each other and to the live music industry about venues, a night mayor to oversee the night-time economy, rent control and short-term funding for venues doing it tough, a space for performance in each new apartment complex, and a tenant union which will help venue operators with legal and tenant right issues.
Every single group in the discussion emphasised the need for the music industry to be respectful, diverse and inclusive. This was a constant theme in all panels and discussions during the two days of the convention.