'It Is A Huge Risk For Us' - The Music Industry Unpacks The NSW Roadmap

14 September 2021 | 3:49 pm | Tiana Speter

"The reality is, we don't really have that longevity left in us anymore, until some serious income starts circulating through the industry again."

With last week's announcement of the long-awaited roadmap to freedom for NSW for fully vaccinated residents, many in the embattled State breathed a sigh of collective relief, particularly those entering their twelfth consecutive week of lockdown. But for many, including the beleaguered music industry, the news came heavy with sobering realities for those who have been consistently operating at below 100% for over a year and a half now, with recovery still seemingly very much a pipedream as restrictions persist.

Promising new freedoms for New South Wales residents pending the State hitting its target of 70% of people 16 years and older being double vaxxed, the revelation of a government roadmap marked a significant shift in Australia's broader battle against the COVID-19 pandemic and the virulent Delta strain. But while the taste of liberty from lockdown is entirely tantalising on paper, the significant implications for multiple industries, other States and non-vaccinated residents continue to wreak havoc on the Australian pandemic narrative - and, sadly, the flow on effect for the music and live event industries spells further disaster for the already crippled creative sectors.

In light of the recent announcements for New South Wales as well as Victoria's roadmap to freedom confirmed to be unveiling this weekend, The Music spoke with Sophie Kirov, director of touring and logistics company Lost Motel, Live Nation president Roger Field, COO of heavy music venue Crowbar Sydney Tyla Dombroski, and CEO of Select Music and board member of the Australian Live Music Business Council Stephen Wade to unpack the New South Wales roadmap and its implications for the music industry further. 

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Following the additional announcement yesterday that unvaccinated NSW residents may face tough restrictions even after New South Wales exceeds the 80% double dose target, a cloud of uncertainty still remains as to how the music industry and Australian in general can futureproof itself beyond the easing of restrictions and the seemingly 'one-size-fits-all' roadmap. For Kirov, the reality of what these eased restrictions under the NSW roadmap truly means for the music industry signals at a long road ahead for multiple stakeholders, both on and off the stage.

"I think the reality is that those restrictions mean that we are still not able to deliver live shows," Kirov told The Music. "We're really just not able to deliver live shows as people know shows to happen.

"Not only is there that emotional element, that people can't stand and they can't dance, and the room is quite sparse...outside of that, we financially are heavily impacted. If we look at tour budgets - they're just not financially viable. And outside of that, it does mean that because the numbers are so slim, we can't then engage all of the stakeholders that would normally be part of putting on a show, or putting on a tour.

"You may only engage half of the crew that you would've in previous years, crew are having to double up on roles. Or if you look at the suppliers that you've engaged...for one, you might not be able to engage a particular supplier, or you may have to come in with a really low offer. You just can't deliver the same show. 

"It might mean that you can only have half the lights, or half the production that you've had in previous years. Or you're asking the supplier to do you a deal, and then that impacts their own bottom line."

Accompanying the discussion relating to the financial ramifications surrounding unclear and potentially oscillating COVID requirements, Field narrowed down additional in-house issues for venues who may be looking to pounce on expensive improvements simply to get back up and running or attempt to stay in the game. 

"There are additional questions being asked around improving ventilation in indoor venues and the like - and these are all very big-ticket cost items," said Field. 

"You’ve got, on one hand, the loss of your sellable capacity, and then on the other hand you’ve got additional compliance requirements that cost money. It’s not a great equation, and I think one of the critical components is: if there are requirements going to be in place, it’s to try and understand for how long. 

"If people, particularly venues, are going to go and invest significant amounts of money in longer-term compliance things over and above additional staff or COVID marshals – and then suddenly that requirement disappears? That’s going to be very unfortunate because it’s going to be money basically down the drain potentially too."

 "We're really just not able to deliver live shows as people know shows to happen."

While the New South Wales Government has previously outlined a recovery plan to help the state remain resilient and build a future-proof economy, the creative and cultural sectors continue to be sidelined, despite contributing billions per year to the national economy. Recently studies highlighted that $115.2 billion was injected into Australia's economy in 2017–18 via cultural and creative activity, indicating a 34% increase in the space of a decade. And for New South Wales, Australia's largest state by population, a report in 2018 by Create NSW assessed the economic value of of the creative and cultural industries to be approximately $16.4 billion ($8.7 billion direct and $7.7 billion indirect) to the NSW Gross State Product (GSP). 

Despite the hard evidence of the economic role the creative sectors play on a State and Federal level, it's been a long and arduous year and a half for those who call the creative field home for their careers. And while many around the industry have acknowledged the impact the ongoing restrictions will have on the short and longer term survival of the music world, a permeating sentiment has continued to be one of understanding and attempting to work with each other and the current health advice to ensure live shows can get back on track in a safe and financially viable manner, as Kirov elaborated on.

"The reality is, the restrictions are in place for a reason, that's the health advice they've been given," Kirov said. "And our industry has been incredibly accommodating, understanding, whatever you want to call it, throughout the past eighteen months, we have done everything we can.

"Even now we continue to say: 'what do you need from us?', whether it is contact tracing, wearing masks, all these different things that we can do to facilitate live shows. But at some point, we sort of need to be listened to, and the Government needs to be paying attention to what's been going on overseas with different rollouts in the UK, there was a pilot program, an event program. And in the US there's been those pilot event programs. Australia does need to follow suit, because this idea of 1 in 4sqm, or even 1 in 2sqm...that cannot continue long-term. 

"There has to be a point that all those restrictions come off, and we need an idea of when that's gonna happen."

Echoing Kirov's thoughts regarding the short and longer term impact of ongoing restrictions for the industry, Dombroski discussed with The Music about the resilience of the industry, coupled with the ongoing risk relating to the live music sector and, ultimately, what the NSW roadmap ultimately does represent for the industry.

"Operating a venue at the 4sqm rule means running at a huge loss for us, which is really hard and unfortunate given where we were all at right before this outbreak and lockdown kicked off in June," Dombroski explained. "Things were finally starting to pick up again, standing at shows was back and it felt like we were on the right track to recovery. 

"The live music community is strong though and while these restrictions have a terrible impact on us all, unfortunately this is an essential step that we have to fight through towards getting back to a point of higher capacities and regular trade. 

"But it is a huge risk for us, reopening at 4sqm and the uncertainty of how patrons will return, when bookings will return and shows actually go ahead and how long it will be until we can hit 2sqm and standing."

"We don't make any money until a show happens - no one in our industry does."

With extensive behind the scenes work ongoing around the industry for the last year and a half, some silver linings have come into play for the music sectors, and the New South Wales roadmap signals at a long-awaited clear cut decision from the Government, alongside a step towards less of an unknown - but for now, as Field explained, much of this is still a waiting game.

"I’ve welcomed New South Wales being quite clear and decisive about a plan, a roadmap, because that’s what we’ve really struggled to get throughout this at any point," said Field. 

"I understand the challenge of Government, let alone in a pandemic. But each time we’ve come in and out of lockdown restrictions in various states, there’s been no ability for us to have a sense of: ‘OK, we’ve come out of lockdown, but our industry doesn’t come out of lockdown. What does the next week or two weeks or three weeks hold for us, as far as gradual reopening’s concerned?’, because we need that lead time, because we need to prepare.

“I think New South Wales taking such a definitive stance has probably been a first instance of there being any sense that there is going to be a determination to start to live with this more, rather than try and shut it down. And what it’s coincided with, which is the reason we all came together to push the vaccination campaign, is the availability of enough vaccine options for people to be able to make that choice. 

"What we have really struggled with from an industry perspective, and probably from an 'all levels of government perspective', is: there’s a willingness, and, I think there’s majority desire to start to get back to a level of freedom and gathering, and gatherings in any form, not necessarily just around live entertainment. But we know that live entertainment is a big piece of that pie. And people haven’t been able to access the jab.

“I think [the roadmap] has coincided in the availability of vaccines, the New South Wales Government’s clear position on opening up once people have had a choice – and I think that all bodes well for us to then be able to engage on specifically how our industry comes out of it.

“We’ve been very, very clear from the very beginning of this that operating at restricted capacities is in the short-term, for short periods… if we can operate at 85%, some venues can work with that. But in the long-term, we have to be at 100%, because it’s a very slim margin gain. If your capacity’s restricted, you’re kind of giving away, or losing, that ability to generate that margin you need for the industry and business to be profitable. That’s the unknown, but I think if New South Wales brings Victoria along in being decisive in that respect, then we’ll start to really see some clarity in how our specific industry navigates out of this.

“But for now: all we can do is encourage people to go and get vaccinated.

"If New South Wales brings Victoria along in being decisive...then we’ll start to really see some clarity in how our specific industry navigates out of this."

Having recently been involved in talks with the NSW Treasury and various representatives from other industries, Wade acknowledged the pros and ongoing cons the roadmap realistically presents, while also pointing to the long-term hope that capacity restrictions may improve in time. 

"Last time, we had artists having to do two shows in a night, so they're working twice to get paid for what they would've just done once," Wade told The Music

"I realise that this is far different, and there's a lot more at stake: but all of those things, from my perspective, it's more about learning from what didn't work last time. And what didn't work was those 1 per 4's, and for so many venues: they just couldn't open and make money, a lot of them couldn't even break even at 1 per 4sqm.

"I think what you're gonna find in our industry is: if lockdown finishes, all the State and Federal Government COVID disaster payments and wage payments stop. We don't make any money until a show happens - no one in our industry does.

"Reopening New South Wales doesn't reopen my business, or any artist's business because there's no shows booked for the next three months anywhere in New South Wales because we had to cancel them all.

"There's still a fair bit of short-term pain I would suspect for those of us in New South Wales when we reopen. But if things do go plan, hopefully they can push through the measures that give us more people per square meterage in venues."

"What I hope comes out of this is that the industry sticks together in an ongoing pursuit of benefits and support for what is a significant economic driver."

The ongoing impacts facing artists, their teams and the broader industry at-large continues to be a difficult brew of financial, mental and logistical strain. And while many in and around the industry are more than ready to help find sound and appropriate ways to traverse the difficulties, many have been unable to stay afloat to even enter those conversations, let alone look beyond the next few months, as Kirov acknowledged.

"I think we already have started seeing that businesses are starting to wrap up now," Kirov said. "And I think at the moment, they're kind of in hibernation-mode. But, as shows come back...even as shows are coming back, if that money isn't starting to trickle through to them, then that will be just another nail in the coffin for them. 

"It's really just kind of like a day by day thing, I don't think we can say 'oh, in three months' time, they're all gone', or in six months' time - I think it's really just that at this point in time that particular small businesses through to those large suppliers are pretty much fighting day by day just to keep in the game. And for however long the bank will keep extending their loans for."

As Wade explained, the situation may be exhausting and financially devastating, but the music industry has diligently continued to persevere alongside some straightforward and health-aligned understanding.

"As an industry, we're just exhausted," said Wade. "But it's all they can do, I've listened intently to Government, and I recognise and understand that the decisions they're making are based on our health system, and keeping as many people out of our health system as they can. 

"And that's the thing I think is getting lost on a lot of people, it's that if our health system is able to handle the influx of people who will have COVID, and those that are even worse off...then everybody's able to have more freedoms, we're able to have more people in shows, all those kinds of things.

"That's the unfortunate bit that's been lost in all this, it's not the government trying to control us, and I've thought many different things in the past 18 months as well. But I now recognise that it's actually as simple as this: if our health system can stand up to the onslaught of cases, then we can have more people at the show, we can have more people in the room. 

"And if that means we've all gotta wear a mask to stand up and be at a gig, I'd much rather that than having to sit down in a venue that's got a quarter of its capacity.

"As shows are coming back, if that money isn't starting to trickle through to them, then that will be just another nail in the coffin." 

With the Government making attempts to engage and assist the music and entertainment industries, for example the recent RISE grant funding and politicians urging for more support, the ultimate take-home from the latest announcements is that a roadmap is welcomed; but so much more is needed to actively kickstart the dormant music industry, as Dombroski discussed further.

"The Government has listened to our sector more than ever, and there has been some great support and discussion which we are so thankful for," Dombroski said. "But we will need a lot more across the whole industry to get us through the recovery, to opening up state and international borders and allowing artists to feel safe booking tours outside of their states again, and not having to play three or four times to make up for the restricted crowds. 

"We hope this is the last lockdown to face, I’m not sure how many venues will survive another period like this. The same goes for artists, mentally and financially this has torn our industry apart. COVID has taken some veteran music workers and artists out of music all together, venues have closed or have been on the brink of closure, it's really important that we help each other get through to the next stage of reopening at regular capacities as quickly and safely as possible."

Additionally, as highlighted by Kirov, an understanding also needs to happen surrounding the unique requirements and essentials for the local music industry to function, while still operating within the health advice; a fact which many nations beyond our shores have taken up and tested with varying results. 

"I think Australia on a government level really needs to come to the party there, and start to go: 'Yes, these restrictions are not feasible for your sector', so let's start looking at what is feasible!" said Kirov. "And not only what's feasible on a financial level, but feasible when we couple that with what we know on a health advice level. 

"If the health advice had been, or even if there had been a study that said 'we put 3000 people in a venue, but we noticed that when everyone was wearing a mask, this is how that affected the rate of transmission'... then, of course, everyone would go out and wear a mask if it meant that we could put shows back on. But I think those conversations aren't happening, again from that government level, those studies are not happening. All we really have to go on is this Doherty Institute modelling, and I just think that somewhere along the line that'll be problematic, because it just sets up for every state to kind of have their own rules. And that in itself will be problematic at some point. I mean, we're already seeing it be problematic now between people trying to cross borders just to visit friends and family. 

"It will create a really challenging touring environment if, in such a small market like Australia, what your show and how you roll out your show between all the different states is different.... what an interesting time that's gonna be!

"The reality is, we don't really have that longevity left in us anymore, until some serious income starts circulating through the industry again. There's only so long that people can keep holding on for. And, yes, we've seen some of those government packages coming through to business owners, but they also come with their own challenges, and, they're limited by what states they're in.

"And, of course, what we will see is that those packages, as the states open, those packages will start to dissipate, and that tap will turn off, even though we're still not able to trade per normal again - or be able to trade feasibly, which is a real concern."

"There’s been a lot of work behind the scenes collaboratively that I certainly haven’t seen before."

While the industry continues to suffer through some of its darkest days, there is still some hope on the figurative horizon, and, as summarised by Field, there's some long-term positive factors the music industry may emerge with after the difficult short-term months to come. 

“Once the gate opens in New South Wales, and the one-size-fits-all roadmap sees some sort of a return… then we will continue to engage directly on how our industry specifically finds a way out of this," said Field.

“All of the state governments have got significant investment. In Australia, we’re in an unusual position where a lot of the major venues are government venues, that varies from state to state. But then also, you’ve got significant investment in theatrical productions and the like.

“New South Wales Government will want Hamilton to reopen, and they will want the Opera House to get back to operation. It’s just a matter of, I think, them getting the main gate open, and then starting to be able to focus on the specific sectors.

“This roadmap will take the other states with New South Wales. And what I hope comes out of this is that the industry sticks together in an ongoing pursuit of benefits and support for what is a significant economic driver. 

"There’s been a lot of work behind the scenes collaboratively that I certainly haven’t seen before. So, if one positive comes out of that, it’s that that continues."


At the time of publication, the New South Wales roadmap to freedom for adults who have received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine will be triggered from the Monday after NSW passes the 70 per cent double vaccination target. For Victoria, Dan Andrews has confirmed that he will reveal the state's road out of lockdown for the coming months this weekend.

As of today, New South Wales recorded 1127 new locally acquired Covid-19 cases, Victoria recorded 445 new locally acquired cases, Queensland recorded one new locally acquired case and the ACT recorded 22 new locally acquired cases, with the ACT lockdown extended by four weeks until Friday 15 October.