“MusicNSW has had a killer 20 years”: Emily Collins reflects on the legacy of MusicNSW [Op-Ed]
“This year marks 20 years since MusicNSW was established and, like any good birthday, it’s a perfect time to reflect on what has already passed, and what’s still yet to come,” writes Emily Collins, managing director, MusicNSW.
For the uninitiated, we run development programs across NSW focused on supporting artists and industry. From running our annual youth music conference Feedback, to funding over 200 all-ages events, we’re passionate about providing opportunities for the next generation of music creators. Putting our money where our mouth is, with support from the State Government, we’ve provided over $1.2million in funding for the industry throughout our history, including backing artists to attend opportunities like BIGSOUND. From directly supporting artists to advocating for venues, festivals and music businesses, MusicNSW has been looking out for all tiers of our music industry to keep thriving since the late 90s.
In our 20 years, much has changed. Streaming services, which once threatened the demise of record labels, now eclipse physical sales. Social media platforms have had a huge impact on how we discover music, how we connect with artists, and how we conceive of branding and identity and marketing. Low-cost airlines have made interstate and international travel much more accessible. You can now self-release an album from your bedroom, and find fans across the world.
While much has changed, there are some constants that give us hope in the face of an ever-changing industry. Whatever you listen to, however you listen to it, music is a part of the Australian way. A cursory glance at the Australia Council for the Arts’ Artfacts is pretty heartening – 9 in 10 Australians listen to music every week, compared to just 4 in 10 who exercise. Live music is the most commonly attended art form and Australian households spend more on music each year than they do family holidays.
But while the industry continues to grow, and music is well-loved as an art form, most musicians are still poorly paid, with little financial stability and very few opportunities for a sustainable life-long music career. The rate of pay for artists has decreased in the last 10 years. While being a musician is a tough gig wherever you live, it’s particularly tough in NSW right now. In our office, we’re keeping a tally of artists who have moved interstate for more funding opportunities, for more regular gigs, for more engaged audiences. It’s a little heartbreaking. We are seeing too many NSW artists struggle to pay rent, struggle to find support to get overseas, struggle to build a sustainable career or find the audiences they need to sustain regular live performance.
We do our best to counter this, by giving musicians the tools to be entrepreneurs and advocating for industry development and support. We’ve got a stack of online resources focusing on artist development, and host regular talks, panels and masterclasses on a range of industry need-to-knows. And because we know musicians are cash-poor, our membership is free. But with just three staff, what we can do is limited by our resourcing. The recent Parliamentary inquiry recently found that if our state were to be funded on the same per- capita basis as Victoria, NSW would need $35m over four years, which is more than 8 times what NSW currently receives. We are being left behind. Our artists, our industry and our communities all deserve better.
In MusicNSW’s 20 years we’ve been through five state elections. Our funding has ebbed and flowed. With a state election around the corner, there’s an opportunity for artists, venues, festivals and music-loving audiences to make their case for better support. But we need to get organised and start putting pressure on all political parties to make significant commitments to music in NSW. This isn’t just about lockouts, or regulation, or funding. It’s about feeling pride for your city or town, of wanting to go out and be with your community, of celebrating life and bringing your people together – with music being central to all of those things.
The good thing is there are many things you can do to support the NSW music industry – go out and support your local venue, your local artist, your local festival. Buy a band t-shirt. Support community radio. Stream local artists. Pay the bloody cover charge at a gig. Call your local member and let them know you care about music. Research the various political parties and their commitments to investing in music in NSW. Whatever you do, don’t stay home or stay silent because there is simply too much at stake. With so much change happening socially, culturally and politically, it’s a critical time for artists, punters and the industry to come together and demand a better future for music in our state.
MusicNSW has had a killer 20 years, and we’re excited about what the next 20 will hold.