Why everyone is getting behind Support Act, the music industry’s saving grace
20.04.2020

Why everyone is getting behind Support Act, the music industry’s saving grace

City Calm Down - photo by Josh Braybrook
Words by Meg Crawford

Been hearing a bit about Support Act lately? Here’s why.

While the coronavirus calamity started to unfold in Australia from late January, it has kicked up a notch since then. From the start of March, the rapid onslaught of festival cancellations, gathering bans and progressive lockdowns obliged our live music scene to all but shut shop. In turn, as in many other sectors, income streams for musicians and ancillary folk dried up pretty much overnight. However, unlike other sectors, there are fewer outfits to help music workers who find themselves in strife, which is where Support Act comes in.

Established in 1997, Support Act provides relief services to participants in the Australian music industry who are experiencing crises, as a result of a variety of factors including mental health problems, injury or other factors detrimentally impacting their capacity to earn a crust. Among other things, this support could come in the form of rental, mortgage or bill relief all the way through to the provision of funds for funerals.

More recently, Support Act established its Wellbeing Hotline, which is a free, telephone counselling service that’s available 24/7. Staffed by professionals, the hotline tackles all aspects of mental health including depression, anxiety, addiction and suicidal ideation, as well as providing support in relation to issues that can have an impact on mental health, such as relationship or workplace difficulties.

In the face of coronavirus devastation, Support Act is focusing its efforts on those unable to access JobSeeker payments or subsidies, while continuing to support people experiencing hardship because of illness, injury or mental health issues.

Of course, it’s doing all of this against a backdrop whereby all of its own planned fundraising activities for the year have been canned or postponed.

“That’s why one of the first things we had to do when we started to realise what was happening all around us was to launch our COVID-19 Emergency Appeal,” says Support Act CEO Clive Miller. “We needed to try and raise some funds so we’d be in a position to provide some crisis relief support to people who’ve been affected and to ramp up our wellbeing helpline.”

A bunch of innovative industry participants also pivoted quickly in response to the crisis, throwing their backs into bolstering Support Act’s coffers. Take, for instance, the genius live-streaming music festival Isol-Aid. The festival that sees musicians play a 20-minute set live to Instagram before they throw to the next act, has had five iterations to date, with the most recent being a Record Store Day edition which saw artists perform straight to the Instagram pages of four Melbourne record stores. The plan is that the Isol-Aid ball will keep rollin’ so long as we continue to be isolated.

While punters take a musical deep dive down the Isol-Aid rabbit hole, they’re gently urged to donate to Support Act’s Emergency COVID-19 Appeal. The decision to back Support Act was a no-brainer from Isol-Aid’s perspective.

“It’s our only not-for-profit organisation in Australia that looks after musicians and music workers,” says Melbourne singer-songwriter and Isol-Aid co-founder Emily Ulman. “It’s not like say during the bushfire appeal where you could donate to the Red Cross, or there were individual communities that you could sponsor. In this instance, in terms of looking after the music community that’s all but been shut down, this is our only lifeline and way of supporting and making sure that the people who need help have access to financial support or someone to talk to on their [Support Act’s] 24-hour hotline.”

That Isol-Aid is operating so seamlessly and has garnered support of everyone from Courtney Barnett and Camp Cope to Tim Rogers is testament to the open-heartedness of the music community, as well as its ingenuity, resilience and ability to act fast.

“I’ve already lost track, but I know that the first edition came together in two days,” Ulman notes of the festival’s inception. “It was born partly from the desperation of the Brunswick Music Festival being cancelled, which was one of the contracts I had before becoming unemployed, and venues not being able to have gatherings first of over 500, then 100, then closing. It happened super quickly.”

To date, Isol-Aid’s been unstintingly extraordinary – an intimate experience of your favourite musicians which is enlightening, weirdly euphoric and so relatable it could have you both laughing and crying in the one sitting.

It’s also had some unexpectedly super-cute moments.

“This couple had their first date during one of the sets and they’re now having an IRL relationship,” Ulman says. “I’ve reached out to them both to say I have to be the MC at the wedding.”

Call the Support Act Wellbeing Hotline if you work in Australian music or performing arts and need to talk to someone about your wellbeing, or if you’re concerned about a mate in the industry. The number is 1800 959 500.

If you have the capacity to donate to Support Act, head to Emergency COVID-19 Appeal. Isol-Aid happens every weekend – keep an eye out for the next instalment here.