Victoria Votes '14

4 November 2014 | 10:06 am | Dobe Newton

The State government’s support for music is at an all-time low.

At election time especially, governments are fond of inviting scrutiny of their record. So guest columnist Dobe Newton considers four years of popular music support in Victoria.

Why? Because if we’re talking popular live music in Melbourne and Victoria in general, then we’re talking about a serious generator of tourism, income and jobs which, based on attendance figures and academic research, provides Victorians with more enjoyment than any other cultural or sporting activity.

And yet, instead of supporting the sector, its workers and its millions of fans in order to grow the economic pie, the current State government has consistently reduced funding through its major agency Arts Victoria, while continuing to provide significant support for other sporting and cultural events/organisations that are far less popular and certainly contribute far less to the city and state coffers.

Some Statistical Background

In the last two years, popular/contemporary music in Victoria has emerged from the statistical ‘wilderness’ with the issuing of a number of authoritative reports – Arts Victoria (DeLoitte Access Economics), APRA (Ernst & Young), City of Melbourne (Capital City Report), City of Melbourne/Music Victoria (Live Music Census - Melbourne) and Music Victoria (Regional Live Music Census).

Don't miss a beat with our FREE daily newsletter

"Why does the State Government continue to invest such significant sums in cars, horses, fashion, sports, operas, orchestras etc, and not in the music that Victorians constantly and consistently signal they care more about?"

Here are some headline figures from the various reports:
There are 660+ small venues in Victoria providing regular live music – 90,000+ gigs per year. They generate some $155 million in door entry/ticket revenue; some $700 million in patron spending (food/drink etc at gigs), and annually create some 116,000 full time-equivalent jobs for musicians/DJs, production and venue staff.

On top of this, Live Performance Australia have recently released their 2013 Ticket Revenue and Attendance data for the performing Arts sector, which reveals that Victoria experienced a boom year, largely due to the stellar performance of major concerts and festivals in the popular music sector. Victorians bought 5.6 million tickets to live performance events (up 14 per cent on 2012 figures), valued at $473 million (up 37 per cent on 2012).  Nearly all of this increase can be attributed to popular music – $211 million in revenue from two million tickets.

According to the LPA data, popular music concerts and festivals account for 36 per cent of all tickets sold for the performing arts and 44 per cent of total revenue, almost as many tickets as the combined total for Dance/Ballet, Classical Music/Opera, Music Theatre and Theatre, and $50 million more in revenue.

If we add the money that concert and festival-goers spend when attending events, the total climbs by an additional $160 million.
Combining the findings from small venue studies with LPA data produces (now) documented proof that 90,000+ live music performances in the state of Victoria annually generate approx $1.22 billion in ticket/door entry and patron spending, create over 116,000 full time-equivalent jobs and attract 18 million patron visits. The patronage at live music events in Melbourne absolutely dwarfs the totals for other major events – in 2012 for instance, AFL 4.6 million; NRL 0.3 million; A-League 0.43 million; Spring Racing Carnival 0.7 million; Grand Prix 0.1 million.

To provide another perspective, Australian Bureau of Statistics data for the ‘Inner Melbourne Statistical Region’ in 2011 showed that 14,000 people were employed annually in retail and 16,000 in food and accommodation. The Live Music Census showed that live music performances employed 39,000 people annually in full-time-equivalent jobs (ie. 35 hours per week) in the same area.

The Question:

So why does the State Government continue to invest such significant sums in cars, horses, fashion, sports, operas, orchestras etc, and not in the music that Victorians constantly and consistently signal they care more about?

As an example, the most recent information from Major Events Victoria suggests that the Grand Prix is a ‘win’ for the taxpayers. We spend/invest an estimated $40-50 million and receive $60 million in ‘economic benefit’ – $30 million from consumer-related activity (tickets, hotels, meals, retail etc) and (apparently) $30 million in ‘brand recognition’ from international media coverage.

The Potential:

A 2012 study commissioned by UK Music, showed that music ‘tourists’ spent an additional 49 per cent ‘off-site’ (meals, retail, accom, transport etc), in addition to tickets and on-site spending. Why in heaven’s name then, given all these figures, wouldn’t any sensible/wise investor see this as a golden opportunity to take advantage of the opportunity to promote our music and musicians to the world and deliver a significant dividend to the Victorian taxpayers?

The Reality:

Sad to say, exactly the opposite has happened. At a time when these authoritative studies have confirmed the economic significance of the popular music sector to Victoria, and the City of Melbourne has committed to a comprehensive Music Strategy, the State government’s support for the genre’s practitioners and promoters – through its designated funding agency Arts Victoria, is at an all-time low.

The Government’s Performance:

Over the four years of the previous Labor government, $7.1 million had been committed to contemporary music support through the funding of the FreeZa program, FreeZa Central and a stand-alone Vic Rocks program.

When the Coalition assumed power, Vic Rocks was dispensing some $770,000+ for specific popular/contemporary music programs across Career Development, Sector Development and Music Touring. On assuming the reins of government, Premier Baillieu abolished the FreeZa Central program and reduced the size of the (now) Contemporary Music and Live Development fund by 50 per cent to some $357,000.

However, the industry was encouraged that the Premier followed through on an election promise to de-link music and violence, which had resulted in draconian licensing provisions (and inspired the 20,000-strong SLAM march through Melbourne’s streets), and committed to continuing the Premier’s Round Table, established by the previous Labor government, to address the industry’s broader concerns, foremost among them, the introduction and implementation of the ‘agent of change’ principle in planning legislation/regulation, seen as vital to protect live music venues in development precincts.

On 7 May, 2013, the Minister for the Arts, the Hon Heidi Victoria, announced that eight separate funding categories (including the Contemporary and Live Music Development), would be merged into a single VicArts Grants program. This would “eliminate duplication, streamline processes and target state investment for the greatest public benefit”. Instead of being ‘restricted’ by having to make applications to share in a relatively small funding pool, contemporary music projects would now have the opportunity to apply in a greatly enhanced pool – the $3 million+ VicArts Grants*.
At the time of the Minister’s announcement, there was considerable scepticism in the contemporary music community that its music practitioners and myriad small businesses would struggle to compete with the ‘established’ arts and their application-savvy practitioners and administrative staff. A year down the track, we’ve now seen two funding rounds of VicArts grants announced. The results seem to bear out the contemporary music sector’s concerns.

From a 2011 ‘high’ of $700,000+, contemporary music’s share of state government Arts funding has declined to $358,000 (2012) and then – under the contestable VicArts grants (2013) to approximately $96,000 in grants announced in December, 2013 (from a $1.3 million pool), and to $82,000 in grants announced in June, 2014 (from a $1.5 million pool).

"It is a tragedy that those in a position to do so have not had the sense to invest significantly in our State’s most valuable and popular cultural treasure."

(*Note: The $3 million refers just to ‘contestable’ grants. Much more VicArts funding ($20 million+ annually) is dispensed to major organisations through annual and multi-year program support.  Needless to say, the vast majority of that goes to ‘established’ art forms; e.g. dance and theatre companies, opera and classical music organisations/ensembles etc. In the last two years, the only significant support for popular music has been a $250,000 allocation to Music Victoria. There are allocations to all art forms which fall outside the contestable grants program, but they do not alter the balance of the overall picture).

An analysis of the grants and the number of successful ‘auspiced’ projects suggests that the contemporary music sector’s fears have been realised. That is, that a lack of organisational infrastructure, compared to established artforms with their grant-writing expertise/experience, would not produce a level playing field.

If the Minister’s ‘greatest public interest’ is the guiding motivation in terms of State government support for artforms and their practitioners, the current VicArts program support for contemporary music has comprehensively failed the government’s own test.
Why does popular music receive less than ten per cent of the grant ‘pie’, half that allocated to Theatre, Litereature and Visual Arts, and less than Dance and Classical/Opera?

We’re even faced with the prospect that the many years of hard work spent establishing a peak body to represent our industry could all be in vain with the current government refusing to guarantee ongoing support for Music Victoria. On the up-side, we do have to credit the Premier and his government for following through and incorporating the ‘agent of change’ principle in planning regulations, a not insignificant win for our industry.


By any measure – numbers of practitioners involved; consumption of live and recorded music product; economic generation; audience interest/involvement; tourism; job creation – contemporary music deserves a better deal from state government than it is receiving under the current funding administration.

This city and state are blessed with one of the world’s largest and most active live music scenes. It is a tragedy that those in a position to do so have not had the sense to invest significantly in our State’s most valuable and popular cultural treasure.