NSW's Roadmap To Freedom Is Here, But What Does It Mean For The Music Industry?

10 September 2021 | 4:10 pm | Tiana Speter

With NSW's roadmap to freedom for fully vaccinated residents revealed yesterday, what exactly does it all mean for the music industry when NSW passes the 70% double vaxxed target?

(Pic by Clare Hawley)

What are the rules for the NSW Roadmap?

  • At the time of publication, from the Monday after NSW passes the 70% double vaccination target, stay-at-home orders for adults who have received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine will be lifted (estimates currently predict that NSW will reach this target sometime after mid-October, but this is all pending on sustaining current high vaccination rates)
  • It's important to note that only fully vaccinated people and those with medical exemptions will gain access to the freedoms announced under the Reopening NSW roadmap
  • Following hitting the vaccination target, hospitality venues will be able to reopen subject to one person per 4sqm inside, and one person per 2sqm outside. Standing while drinking will be permitted outside
  • Major recreation outdoor facilities, including stadiums, will be able to reopen with one person per 4sqm, capped at 5000 people
  • Up to 500 people can attend ticketed and seated outdoor events
  • Indoor entertainment facilities (including theatres and music halls) will be able to reopen with one person per 4sqm or 75% fixed seated capacity 
  • Masks will remain mandatory for all indoor public venues, and only hospitality staff will be required to wear a mask when outdoors. Children aged under 12 will not need to wear a mask indoors
  • The announcement yesterday also confirmed that when NSW hits the 80 per cent double dose target, the government intends to open up further freedoms around international travel, community sport, major events and other areas.

What does this mean for artists?

  • In a statement released on Wednesday, NSW Minister for Jobs, Investment and Tourism Stuart Ayers stated that the state's roadmap to freedom would be a "very welcome shot in the arm" for the arts and cultural sectors, and that he was hopeful that music gigs can recommence before March 2022 next year when the Great Southern Nights events are currently scheduled to take place in NSW.
  • The live entertainment industry is classified as a service industry, with live venues spanning theatres, amphitheatres, outdoor venues, pubs, taverns and bars, restaurants, clubs, concert halls and dedicated music venues and events, including weddings
  • When the NSW roadmap is implemented following the State hitting its double vaxxed target, the hardline restrictions over the past 11 weeks for Sydney (and within that timeframe, broader NSW) will mean events can start taking place. But that's where a large portion of the positives end, with the reality being that shows will remain financially unviable for artists, promoters and venues over the coming months
  • From a financial perspective, take for example Sydney's Factory Theatre, a purpose-built live venue in the Inner West that has played host to a myriad of local and international acts over the years. With the Factory Theatre's Fusebox stage normally operating at approximately a 250 capacity in the 170sqm room, under the new roadmap restrictions this would mean a normally 250 capacity show becomes closer to 40 people max allowed in the room. The Factory Floor room in the same venue approximately operates at a 250 capacity in a 156sqm room, resulting in just under 40 people maximum allowed into that event under the new restrictions. These figures would lessen further taking into account space reduced for bar and amenities in the rooms. 
  • Additionally, the Enmore Theatre in Sydney, now Sydney's oldest and longest running live theatres, is a venue that has an average capacity of up to 2500 standing guests. With the theatre room clocking in at approximately 1786sqm in size, under these 1 person per 4sqm capacity rules, that means a normally 2500 capacity show becomes closer to just 447 - around  a mere 17.88%. 

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Financially, what does this all mean?

While the roadmap announcement is an extremely welcome step in the right direction, it doesn't take into account the realities of staging a live event, with some large financial aspects to consider for an industry already financially crippled. Think about it like this: when you put on a live show, with or without restrictions, your fundamental show costs don't change. Universal costs that have to be paid for include:

  • venue costs
  • production
  • backline hire
  • promotion and publicity
  • staffing (tour management, tech, and more)
  • flights, accommodation and any other touring costs

In addition to the above, there's a range of other costs that come into play with any live event, with or without restrictions. The ultimate thing that does change with restrictions in place is how much money walks through the door in ticket sales, and it's a pretty easy equation to see that this means less and less money for artists that are already struggling to make ends meet after 18 months of little to no shows.

What is the industry saying so far?

Speaking to The Music earlier today, CEO of Select Music and board member of the Australian Live Music Business Council Stephen Wade discussed the NSW roadmap and its impact on the music industry following talks earlier in the week with the NSW Treasury, where Wade was able to illustrate important elements for the industry when planning the road to recovery. 

"The number one thing which I said in that speech was that anything that isn't 1-2sqm is still quite disastrous for our industry," Wade told The Music.

"To open 1 per 4sqm, there's probably a vast majority of venues that just can't afford to do that. It's welcomed that we can get out, that we can get back to some sense of normalcy. But I explained to them, we've already been through this roadmap as an industry.

"Seated capacities further diminish how many people you can have in a show, and for most artists - a seated show just doesn't feel right for them. It worked when we came out of the first lockdown because everyone had lost that chance to see music, they were just so desperate and happy to see anything. But I think to try and replicate that or go back to that model will be a really tough ask, as far as whether the punters, whether the general public would actually fully support that again.

"My take on that was that we need vertical drinking, standing at shows. And most importantly, we need to recognise that our artists can't be forced to have to do two, four or eight shows to cover the one lot of tickets that they'd sold. What happened to our artists, say you'd sold 2,000 tickets when you couldn't play a venue with 2,000 tickets - you had to split it based off the capacities that were there. Some artists had to play two shows a night for three nights, or two nights or four nights. 

"You wouldn't ask a restaurant to cook the same meal eight times, but only be paid for one."

What restrictions have been introduced for other industries?

Beyond the music industry, other easing of restrictions for other industries and events have been announced with NSW's roadmap to freedom when the State hits its double vaxxed target, including the below:

  • Sporting facilities, including swimming pools, can reopen
  • Gyms and indoor recreation facilities will be able to open with one person per 4sqm, and classes of up to 20 people
  • Weddings, funerals and places of worship will reopen: up to 50 guests will be able to attend weddings, with dancing permitted, and eating and drinking permitted when seated. Churches and places of worship will also be subject to the one person per 4sqm rule, with so singing allowed
  • Retail stores can reopen with one person per 4sqm rules in place; unvaccinated people will continue to only be able to access critical retail in line with the current lockdown restrictions
  • Hospitality, including pubs, restaurants and cafes, will be allowed to reopen under the one person per 4sqm rules indoors, and one person per 2sqm outdoors
  • Hairdressers, nail salons and other personal services will be able to open, with one person per 4sqm, capped at 5 clients per premises

Ultimately, while the Government has actively focused on the recovery of sport and theatre sectors specifically, the contemporary live music industry seems to still be left behind, with many in and around the industry urging the need to know that the government has a plan for us.

The NSW roadmap is subject to further fine-tuning and health advice, and the NSW government has announced that the roadmap could change if circumstances change drastically or if cases within a designated area remain too high. As of today, NSW recorded 1542 cases and nine deaths.