News November 13, 2017

“Nobody’s underage forever”: why the music industry needs to prioritise all-ages access

“Nobody’s underage forever”: why the music industry needs to prioritise all-ages access

Chuck out your lazy stereotypes: there’s a huge number of passionate young music fans and music makers in Australia, from the inner cities to remote areas. But with the live music industry so closely tied to alcohol sales, licensing laws that vary wildly from state to state, and not enough bands willing to eat into their slim profit margins to stage all-ages shows, are people under 18 getting enough opportunities to experience live music on a regular basis?

TMN put this question and a few others to four music professionals and fans (including two ~actual teens~) who work in the all-ages space – whether out of passion or necessity, or both.

 

Nina Wilson aka Ninajirachi: “Nobody is underage forever”

Musician
Unearthed High finalist
 

Happy birthday! What are you doing to celebrate turning 18 and being an Unearthed finalist in the same week? 

Thank you! My HSC trials started this week so unfortunately I won’t be doing much celebrating until after they finish in two weeks’ time.


Where do you and your friends who are under 18 go to enjoy live music?

There isn’t much live music on the Central Coast at all let alone gigs which people underage can attend, so we go to Sydney whenever our favourite artists play all-ages shows. The trek down and back is almost part of the whole ‘going to a concert’ experience.

The only super bothersome part of it is getting home if none of us can drive, because public transport isn’t overly reliable up here and Uber is virtually non-existent.

What are some of the best live music experiences you’ve had? What made them so good?

Porter Robinson’s ‘Worlds’ show at the Enmore Theatre in 2015 is the best live music experience I’ve had. I took my friend who was on exchange from Italy at the time and it was really cool to be able to show her the music that I listen to within that context. The support acts were two of my favourite artists at the time which made the lead up to Porter’s set (which itself was super awesome) really enjoyable.

This is very closely rivalled by Porter’s and Madeon’s ‘Shelter’ show at the Hordern Pavilion this year during which I cried at least twice (in a good way).

What do you think needs to happen to create more opportunities for fans and artists who are under 18?

From my experience I don’t think that there is a huge lack in opportunity for underage artists if they have access to the internet and platforms like Unearthed. I know that being underage can restrict opportunities to perform, but if you really want something to happen and you work for it, it will happen. Plus, nobody is underage forever.

The lack of opportunity for underage fans and underage live music seems to be a catch 22 situation – not many adults care enough about it to incite change, and those who care the most are too young to put on shows without going substantially out of their way.

Last month I was privileged to play at XraySpeX, an underage live music event at the Oxford Art Factory and a great opportunity for underage artists and fans. For me, the rarity of such opportunities has only made the future so much more exciting and provides all the more reason to celebrate turning 18.

Who are some other Unearthed High artists (or other acts under 20) you’re a big fan of?

All of the other finalists this year are really cool. Freya Staer (who wrote and sang the top line on ’Pure Luck’) is seventeen as well, we’ve known each other since we were ten. Her voice is soooo beautiful and her writing is super mature, she has some amazing original content to come. Speaking internationally I’m a fan of Steve Lacy, Billie Eilish and probably more which I am forgetting right now.


Have you had to say no to a gig, or had an invitation to play revoked, because you were underage? Have you been allowed to play a gig but only with a parent chaperoning?

I used to DJ regularly at Proud Mary’s on the Central Coast as a local resident and initially the security were super uptight about it, even if I brought my mum or dad. After I became a familiar face I was able to enter alone so long as I stayed behind the booth or with security.

A few times at different venues I’ve almost been denied entry because the security haven’t believed me that I’m playing, but I’ve never entirely missed out on a gig because of my age.

What’s the single biggest disadvantage of being a music fan and artist under 18?

The biggest disadvantage of being a music fan and artist under 18 is definitely the fact that it’s difficult to see live music. When I first started attending shows I felt much stronger about this, but now I better understand the practicality of 18+ shows. As I said, the wait only makes turning 18 so much more exciting and besides, as of today, I no longer face this disadvantage.

 

Shaad D’Souza: “If the only shows teens can go to are big arena shows and festivals then that’s all they’ll go to”

New Slang U18 Events Project Coordinator, The Push
Producer, BalconyTV

Where did you grow up? Where did you and your friends go to enjoy live music? 

I grew up in Melbourne, so the options were slightly more broad than if I grew up outside a metro area, but there wasn’t much. When I was a young teen – like, 13 or so – a couple of venues were doing U18 shows with like, Little Red and Two Door Cinema Club and stuff, but they kinda tapered off fairly early.

Aside from U18 Freeza shows with local bands we mostly just had to go to venues that didn’t ask for ID or use fake IDs. It was either that or going to massive shows at like, Festival Hall or arena shows or whatever, which were kinda too expensive to just go to casually anyway.

What were some of the best live music experiences you had as a teenager? What made them so good? 

I remember the first show I went to, I think, was a Little Red under 18 show on Halloween. My friends and I all dressed up and the room was absolutely rammed, and we just had the best time.

I think being able to do stuff with my friends that wasn’t like, the movies or just hanging out at a park or whatever was nice. It felt cool in a way that most other activities didn’t.

What are some of the most common feedback on live music opportunities from the U18s you work with at The Push? 

The teens who program Freeza shows love being able to work directly with their favourite artists and actually do the nitty gritty stuff of putting on a show. The audiences love it because like, how else is a 13-year-old gonna see Wil Wagner or Bec Sandridge or whatever?

Teens love being able to go out on a Friday night and see their favourite artist, or at the very least do something that’s not sitting at home or drinking in a park or whatever.

Why does it cost more to put on an all-ages show? What’s the broader cost of that financial disincentive? 

Venues charge massive fees for promoters and artists wanting to put on under 18 shows because they apply a one-size-fits-all model to putting on gigs. They expect to make a few grand on bar sales at a show, so if they’re not making that at an under 18 show, they’re gonna charge a massive fee so they make the same amount of money as they would at an 18+ show. While there are costs involved – security, staffing, stuff like that – a lot of the time venues just aren’t willing to play ball because they see under 18 shows at a loss of income. Which, for the most part, they aren’t.

As for the broader cost – if the only shows teens can go to are big arena shows and festivals then that’s all they’ll go to. That will be their understanding and experience of live music, and so just going down to the pub to see who’s on won’t be such a *thing*. Under 18s become over 18s, and if they’re not going to shows when they’re underage then they probably will be less inclined to do it when they’re overage.

What do you think needs to happen to create more opportunities for fans and artists who are under 18? 

There has been a cultural shift away from supporting underage audiences to access live music over a number of years. Government and industry need to prioritise reinvesting in developing these audiences through financial stimulation for artists, promoters and venues to access funding so that they are encouraged to include these kinds of shows on their tour schedules.

The cost of putting on an under-18 show is just way too high, and that needs to be subsidised – infrastructure needs to be put in place that allows artists and venues to circumvent these roadblocks. The issue isn’t engaging young people with live music, the issue is the lack of events for them to engage with.

In addition – and this definitely isn’t a solution, as much as it is something that would help the U18 live music market a lot – I think triple j should be putting in place U18 quotas for the tours they present. triple j-presented tours already have to include regional shows; asking artists or promoters to do an under 18 or all-ages show in each state isn’t much different. As I said before, this isn’t a solution that will fit for every tour, because I think it’s important for ‘non-triple j bands’ (or whatever) to be playing U18 shows too, but triple j has a lot of sway with the tours it presents.    

If a group of teenagers wanted to put on an all-ages gig but didn’t have the support of an organisation like The Push to help them out, what advice would you give them? 

Getting in touch with your state’s peak body – Music Victoria, Music NSW, etc – is always great; they can put you in touch with the right people to help put on an under-18 show.  

But beyond that, there are very few limitations stopping young people from putting on small shows, whether that’s in houses or schools or local venues. Get in touch with a local venue or community space and put on shows with your mates’ bands.  

There are also a bunch of great organisations like Parlour Gigs and Sofar Sounds who regularly put on house shows and stuff like that – I think those things are really cool, and really accessible.

 

Casey O’Shaughnessy: “A lot of smaller Australian bands can’t afford to risk losing $1-2K on an U18 show”

Booking Agent, Select Music 

Where did you grow up? Where did you and your friends go to enjoy live music?

My early teenage years were spent living in a village in Kent in the UK. Live music was extremely accessible to me over there as I lived near a tiny venue who did all of their shows as AA.

Once we moved back to Australia when I was 16 my friends and I would trawl gig guides for any AA shows we could find, from Placebo at The Hordern, to seeing local punk shows in youth centres, or going to any of the multi-genre AA festivals at the time ie Homebake, Come Together Fest or Big Day Out.

What were some of the best live music experiences you had as a teenager? What made them so good?

Most of the best memories I have from my teenage years are from being at shows. I’ve made lifelong friends with people I met whilst lining up outside of venues until doors opened or hanging around to meet my favourite bands after the show so they could sign my CD.

Feeling like I’m part of a community has always been important to me and I believe that’s why the memories are so fond, it helps to give you a sense of belonging.

Also, I went to an all-girls school all my life, so U18 gigs were really my only opportunity to interact with boys (outside of MSN Messenger), which was always fun.

You recently put together the Skegss tour where they played a number of AA shows – what was behind that? And did it pay off?  

The band realise the importance of giving all of their fans the opportunity to come along to a show and have a good time. As Toby [Cregan, Skegss’ bassist] once said: “If I hadn’t gone to the all ages shows that my fav bands were putting on when I was a teenager I wouldn’t be in the band now, so it seems important to play these shows on the tour.”

Skegss do have a loyal U18 fanbase, so why shouldn’t they get the opportunity to enjoy one of their favourite bands?

All of the shows sold out well in advance, which proves that there is an audience out there who are keen and excited for these shows.

Why does it cost more to put on an all-ages show? How badly is this affecting bands’ ability to build younger audiences, and teenagers’ opportunities to experience live music?

Hiring a venue for a U18 show is a little more difficult – venues don’t make any income from bar sales, which makes up a big chunk of income at 18+ shows, and they also have to provide extra security guards. These costs get passed along to a band.

A lot of smaller Australian bands can’t afford to risk losing $1-2K on an U18 show, hence why they may shy away from putting on their own ticketed shows, hindering teenagers from having as many opportunities to head along to shows.

What’s the difference between promoting an all-ages and an U18s show?

Personally I prefer to put on U18 shows, as it doesn’t split my 18+ audience if I’m doing an O18 show later that night etc.


What do you think needs to happen to create more opportunities for fans and artists who are under 18?

I honestly feel if there were more grants avail to bands to help put on AA/U18 shows nationally then artists would absolutely jump on the opportunity to include these shows on their tours.

 

Isabella Moore: “Gigs are the perfect way to find friends and a support network” 

triple j Unearthed Presenter 
Booker, XraySpeX @ OAF

Where do you live? Where do you and your friends who are under 18 go to enjoy live music there?

I split my time between Kangaroo Valley on the coast of NSW and Sydney’s inner-west. There isn’t much on offer down in regional Kangaroo Valley but whenever I’m in Sydney, venues like the Enmore Theatre, Beatdisc Records, Golden Age Cinema & Bar, Petersham Bowling Club, Red Rattler, The Lair and the Hordern Pavilion quite regularly provide opportunities for underage people to see live music. 

The issue is, those venues either put on massive, often international acts or really small, unknown local acts. There’s not much opportunity to see artists/bands that sort of sit between those two extremes. 

What are some of the best live music experiences you’ve had? What made them so good?

Seeing Gang Of Youths sell out the Enmore Theatre was hands down one of the most beautiful, life-affirming and special live music experiences I’ve ever had. After seeing them at some in-stores along the road, it was incredible to see them champion such a huge, diverse and devoted crowd. There were children on shoulders, high school kids, young music lovers, parents, older people and their music was connecting with everyone in such a big way. They pour so much energy and emotion into their shows and it’s exhilarating to watch.

As well as that, Courtney Barnett at the Enmore, Lorde at the Hordern Pavilion and Against Me! at Groovin’ The Moo this year.

What’s the single biggest disadvantage of being a music fan and artist under 18?

Without a doubt, the lack of gigs available to both play and attend. Being able to see live music isn’t just important because it allows underage people to see their favourite bands live, it allows kids to see themselves represented on stage and find community.

This is something that is essential especially for underage girls, non-binary and gender diverse people, LGBTQIA+ people, PoC and other marginalised folk. For youth that lack people they can relate to within their schools or communities, gigs are the perfect way to find friends and a support network.
 

How important are online music communities when you’re under 18?

Online music communities are a necessity as an underage person. I’ve met a fair portion of my close under 18 friends through the internet and without it, I probably never would’ve found them.

Additionally, it’s really the only way to find out about new bands, U18 gigs and opportunities to get involved with the industry.

For underage musicians, it’s often how they find other artists and their community because once again, you can’t always go to gigs and find those people. 

Who are some other Unearthed High artists (or other acts under 20) you’re a big fan of?

I’m absolutely obsessed with a Canberra five-piece called Teen Jesus & The Jean Teasers – they are the sweetest girls and make some sick tunes.

As well as that, there are acts like Candy AirFRITZELKBrewer, Stevie JeanKat EdwardsArno FarajiGrace Aberhart and RAMBALLAM. Oh, I could go on and on.

What do you think needs to happen to create more opportunities for fans and artists who are under 18?

I think it just comes down to people being aware how important an exposure to art is for underage people. Lots of people just don’t think about it, it doesn’t cross their minds. It takes venues and bookers realising that they could do more to provide young people with live music opportunities and making it happen!

I think we need to make music accessible and inclusive for everyone, and that includes U18 individuals. I’d love to see more underage people involved behind the scenes too and I know some are itching to but they don’t know how. Programs like The Push and XraySpeX (I’m a bit biased here) are doing that but we still need more. We just need to be more inclusive and considerate I think.

 


 The Music Network and City of Sydney have partnered on a series of interviews and essays discussing the future of Sydney music and the industry that supports it.

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