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News October 27, 2015

Hot Seat: Ianto Ware – National Live Music Coordinator for Sounds Australia

Australia’s live scene is big business. It’s a booming sector which generates $1.2 billion, services almost 42 million punters and creates almost 15,000 full-time jobs, according to a 2011 study commissioned by APRA/AMCOS. But live also has its problem. Many problems. Just ask the owners of the Annandale Hotel. Enter Ianto Ware. Last month, Arts Minister Simon Crean announced the appointment of Ware as National Live Music Coordinator for SOUNDS AUSTRALIA – a signal that the health of live music was on the political agenda. SLAM – or Save Live Australia’s Music – had lobbied hard for the past three years to have the position created to ensure live music here was supported and recognised. Ware, a performing musician since the mid-90s, has enjoyed stints as CEO of Renew Adelaide and as founding director of Format Adelaide. Ware’s appointment is a timely one, and it comes ahead of next week’s national SLAM Day, which on February 23 will gather more than 200 participating venues under the one banner.

Why do we need a national live music coordinator? 

There have been a couple of reports that show whilst live music is one of the most popular forms of cultural activity in the country, something like 70% of venues said regulation had a serious impact on their capacity to host it. There’s an increased sense of communities having problems finding stages to perform on and maybe not getting the opportunities they deserve. So they hired somebody to work across states, look at what the problems are and what the possible solutions are. We’re identifying what the best practice would be, and trying to pull everything together.

What other big tasks lay ahead for you? 

The obvious one is looking at the Building Code of Australia (BCA) regulations, which make it incredibly difficult to set-up live music venues. Noise complaints are handled differently from state to state. Often they’re not handled with the welfare of small business in mind. Some local government approaches to handling the planning issues are really negative. So we’re seeing fewer opportunities for people to get involved in live music: fewer opportunities to work on stages, for people to learn how to book and manage venues, or be publicists or band managers, because there’s not that entry level-left anymore.

We talk often about how big live music is in Australia Pink is doing 44 arena shows here. 

And yet there’s this problem at the grassroots level. There’s a real growth. If anything, people are even more passionate about live music than they have been in the past, because of the shifts in the media environment. But at that entry level, the regulations are pretty tight. And it’s very hard to reach a point where you start to get paid for your work. Every pub used to do bands and there were a lot more music venues. Noise restrictions and BCA problems have had a big impact on that. And that was the bread-and-butter for the music industry.

We’ve seen reports that the Annandale is entering administration. Is there something your office can do to help businesses like this? 

Given that I’ve only just started, I’m not sure what they need help with or what we can do. My understanding of their situation is that it came down to a very small number of noise complaints, mainly from vexatious residents, having a very big impact on their business. It’s estimated that legal fees came to $250,000, which is a story I hear from small venues all over the country. Suzie Wong’s Room in Adelaide lost $10,000-$15,000 in legal fees, just because she wanted to have live music and the local council decided she couldn’t. The Jade Monkey, a 120-capacity venue in Adelaide, was shut-down four months ago and it still hasn’t reopened. Even with pretty high-levels of support, it hasn’t been able to get through the regulatory system. It isn’t a good time to run a live music venue.

Is anyone chasing-down that granular information on the grassroots live business? 

There is work going into it. (Associate Professor) Shane Homan at Monash University and Dr Kate Shaw at Melbourne University have been doing a lot of work in the sector. We’ll also see more work coming through organizations like APRA. The lack of real solid research makes it hard for us to know where to focus our energies. One of the common things we see is that a venue was hosting live music, but they start to decrease it and stop it. And it’s usually to do with noise complaints or planning issues.

Crean’s National Cultural Policy is expected in early 2013. Do you have any insider knowledge? 

All I know is the final consultations have been going through before the initial release, so hopefully (it’ll arrive) sometime soon.

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