Here’s how to help the Australian music scene during the coronavirus pandemic

A running list of initiatives and ideas by artists and Aussie music industry figures

The coronavirus pandemic is having a detrimental financial impact on music industries worldwide. Scores of concerts, festivals and tours over the next few months have been cancelled or postponed, as governments institute bans on public gatherings and encourage social distancing measures. This means interrupted income streams for not just artists, but also venues, managers, booking agents, roadies and more.

In Australia, millions of dollars in income have been lost to events cancelled by both COVID-19 and the bushfires that raged earlier this year. As of April 7, I Lost My Gig Australia, a new site tracking creative industry workers’ financial losses from cancelled events, has logged a $330million loss in income. Figures released on April 7 by the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that only 47 per cent of businesses in the arts and recreation industry were operating.

Meanwhile, Australian artists and music industry figures are brainstorming and launching schemes to alleviate financial losses. Here’s a running list of measures that have been launched so far, as well as initiatives fans can participate in.

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On April 9, a new community radio programme Australian Music is Bloody Great was announced. Hosted by Aussie artists including the Teskey Brothers, Sampa the Great, Husky and Genesis Owusu, the programme will celebrate Australian music.

On March 30, streaming giant Foxtel announced that it would program only Australian music on Mondays on its three major music channels – MAX, Channel [V] and Country Music Channel – from April 6 onwards, in a bid to support Aussie artists. They have also thrown their support behind music crisis relief charity Support Act.

On Friday (March 20), music distribution platform Bandcamp waived its revenue share of sales for one day only, ensuring artists and labels received 100% of the payments that take place on the website. Fans paid out USD $4.3million during that 24-hour period, which was more than 15 times the usual amount paid out on any given Friday on Bandcamp.

On March 18, Federal Labor MP Tony Burke published a statement urging streaming services and commercial radio to support Australian artists through the current crisis. Burke urged outlets to consider promoting “Australian-only playlists” and “special hours of Australian-only music”.

Australian singer-songwriter Alex Lahey, who published an open letter to Victorian premier Daniel Andrews in response to the projected financial loss of the music community, spoke with triple j’s Hobba and Hing on March 17. She encouraged fans to purchase music and merchandise, explaining that artists don’t just lose performance fees when a show is cancelled, but opportunities to sell music and merchandise, too. “Try and stimulate their businesses as directly as possible,” Lahey said.

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Maori-Australian musician Kira Puru has challenged Australian radio stations to play more Australian artists throughout the coronavirus outbreak, tagging broadcasters including triple j, Triple M and FBi radio on her original Twitter post. Some radio DJs and programmes have responded to her call, including triple j’s short.fast.loud, Our Mosh Pit on JOY 94.9, triple j’s The Racket and ABC Radio Australia’s Tali Aualiitia.

On March 18, BATZ vocalist Christina Aubry started a Change.org petition calling for Australian radio stations to play more Australian music. As of March 30, the petition has gained more than 2,270 signatures.

Melbourne’s The Cat Empire launched a new initiative called Lockdown Get Down on March 19, intended to urge fans to stream music to support artists during the coronavirus pandemic. The Cat Empire also asked that people show solidarity with the initiative and post on social media using the hashtag #lockdowngetdown.

Government and state relief

On April 9, the federal government announced a $27million stimulus package for the arts and entertainment sector. Of this amount, $10million will be channelled to music crisis relief charity Support Act, $10million to Regional Arts Australia and the remaining $7million to the government’s Indigenous Visual Arts Industry Support program.

Shadow arts minister Tony Burke has criticised the $27million stimulus package – which came after Burke’s motion for an arts-specific stimulus package was voted down by the House of Representatives – as inadequate, saying it “does not even come close to what’s needed to save this industry from decimation”.

Several stakeholders in the Australian music industry had called on the government to provide urgent monetary relief for those who have had their livelihoods rocked by the pandemic.

On March 30, a number of touring companies – including Live Nation, TEG, Chugg Entertainment and Frontier Touring – submitted a joint letter requesting $650million for the small businesses and contractors that help put live entertainment events together.

On March 26, a group of over 100 Australian arts organisations sent an open letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, advocating for “urgent” targeted stimulus of over $2billion. That came two days after academics and art workers signed an open letter calling for a $750million relief package.

On March 30, the Sydney city council heard Lord Mayor Clover Moore’s proposal of a multimillion-dollar package to support the community, business and creative industries in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. Of that proposal, $3.5million has been set aside for the arts, in three different programs.

On March 26, the city of Melbourne opened applications for coronavirus artist grants worth $2million, to be disbursed as 500 increments of $4,000 to individual artists (those classified as sole traders) and “small” arts organisations who live and work in Melbourne.

That same day, the Australia Council for the Arts detailed plans that outline financial aid for those within the arts sector. Dubbed the Response Package, it includes initiatives for First Nations and digital support, as well as an online learning series and research and analysis on the impacts of COVID-19 on Australia’s cultural sector, and the broader public as a result.

Australian Arts Minister Paul Fletcher heard from industry representatives on Tuesday (March 17) who called for an $850million stimulus package to help preserve arts sector employment. Representatives from organisations such as ARIA and Live Performance Australia said “the coronavirus shutdown would cost the industry hundreds of millions of dollars”.

Other fundraising initiatives

Many in the Australian music industry have stepped up by organising various relief funds to support musicians who have lost income to the pandemic, or made changes to existing policies to improve cash flow to artists.

On April 8, Instagram livestream festival ISOL-AID organised its fourth edition, departing from its usual slate of all-Australian artists to feature Julien Baker, Shura and more. The weekly festival, though free to watch, has raised thousands of dollars from its viewers so far for Support Act.

On March 30, triple j announced that Ausmusic T-Shirt Day would be shifted up to April 17 from its usual November, in a bid to stoke merchandise sales and get money into the pockets of musicians who have lost income from pandemic-induced concert cancellations.

On March 27, APRA AMCOS announced it would be channelling royalties to musicians in May, instead of the usual month of November. “We know we need to get money into the pockets of our members quickly and efficiently,” Chief Executive of APRA AMCOS Dean Ormston said.

On March 20, non-profit organisation PPCA announced an “emergency special policy”, which offers one-off cash advances to their registered artists who have suffered financial losses due to the coronavirus pandemic. To subsidise any lost earnings, amounts ranging from $250 to $10,000 will be made available by the PPCA and distribution will be assessed according to an artist’s average earnings over the last three years.

Sound Of Silence
Sound Of Silence, image provided

Australian music bodies announced the formation of a new coronavirus campaign, Sound Of Silence on March 20. The organisation is made up of radio stations, touring companies, managers, producers and more, banding together to encourage music consumers to help provide immediate aid to the music industry in various ways, after the cancellation of so many live events caused a massive loss of income to many.

One of the organisations on board Sound Of Silence is Support Act, which on March 19, launched a COVID-19 Emergency Appeal for the Australian music industry. The crisis relief charity fund for artists, crew and music workers, Support Act said it had been “inundated” with requests for crisis relief in recent days. Support Act has kicked in $100,000 from its own reserves to help reach the target, which was initially set at $20million. As of April 9, the target has been revised to $1million (following the announcement of government relief) and funds raised stand at $403,191.

On March 18, prog-rock musician Tim Charles (of Melbourne band Ne Obliviscaris) has, with his partner Natasha May Charles, launched a COVID-19 Relief Fund for workers in the Australian music industry. All proceeds go to Support Act, and the funds raised will be distributed through financial grants. As of April 9, this fund had raised $2,540 of a $10,000 target.

Support Act fundraiser Charlotte Abroms Angie McMahon Jono Steer
L-R: Charlotte Abroms, Jono Steer and Angie McMahon. Credit: Press

On March 16, Charlotte Abroms, head of management agency Hear Hear, launched a fundraiser also for Support Act to help arts workers who’ve lost their jobs after recent cancellations and postponements of events. Some of Abroms’ own team have been affected, including musician Angie McMahon and sound engineer Jono Steer. The proceeds will be used to help those struggling to pay expenses including rent, bills, medical and dental expenses and mental health care. As of April 4, more than $45,000 has been raised.

On April 1, Sydney’s famed Studios 301 launched a new Pay It Forward initiative, allowing musicians to gift a free online mix to an artist of their choice. Artists wishing to participate in the new scheme can purchase a full price regular mix with studio engineer Simon Cohen (Lizzo, Will.I.Am, Justin Bieber, Thelma Plum). Cohen will then gift a free mix to an artist of their choice, whoever it may be.

Retain your concert and festival tickets

The growing list of concert, tour and festival cancellations and postponements has led to calls from the music industry to retain their tickets. The call – which is manifesting on social media as the hashtag #KeepYourTicket – echoes announcements by promoters and venues, which promise refunds for punters but often appeal to fans to not seek a refund, to stem the loss of income as a result of cancellations.

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