Melbourne is a city that draws in crowds, not with landmarks and attractions, but with its culture and atmosphere. For tourists, heady tales of luxuriant meals and tucked-away bars are what friends and family will hear upon their return home. Like any large metropolitan area around the world, Melbourne is constantly changing. At the moment this city is in a heightened state of change, spurred on by knock on effects of the COVID pandemic.

Live music venues are synonymous with Melbourne, woven into the fabric of the CBD and dotted throughout the greater metropolitan area. However, according to the annual APRA AMCOS report, as of December 2023 live music venue numbers have dropped by 24% in Victoria. Along with the venue closures, several high profile Australian music festivals, including Splendour in the Grass and Groovin the Moo, had to cancel their 2024 iterations. With doubts over whether they will ever return. These cancellations and closures can be attributed to an overall worsened economic position Australia-wide, as well as skyrocketing public liability insurance premiums for venues hosting live music events. These aforementioned factors are certainly detrimental and must be addressed, but not enough light has been shed on how the changing tastes of consumers has also contributed to the situation we now find ourselves in.

What exactly do these venue closures look like?
The dropping off of venues is occurring at the smaller capacity end of the market. Consumer spending patterns have shifted toward punters willing to spend more money, less frequently. So, this has resulted in global megastars selling tickets for upwards of $200 each and selling out within seconds. However, lower capacity venues that have traditionally relied on being consistently busy throughout the week by putting on smaller, local acts. Are now struggling to fill venues with $20-$30 ticket prices. This shift in consumer habits has a direct link to the wider cost of living crisis and attitudes to spending that’ve been permanently changed by two years of living within tough lockdowns.

Let’s take our focus away from this drop in live music venues for a moment, and instead take a look at the areas which have seen a recent growth.
While venue numbers are in decline, revenue from recorded music has grown Australia-wide as found in a 2023 report by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. The vinyl-record market is experiencing a second coming as sales boom. Furthermore, due to the world-wide reach of streaming platforms, Australian acts are reaching international markets with an ease that has never been seen before. This then is a clear indication that the issue isn’t with a lack of talent on our shores, nor a lack of appetite for homegrown music from Australian consumers. Instead, the issue appears to arise around the not so small matter of putting these acts in front of a live audience. 

We are in a period of great change, both locally and internationally. This change has seen the end of music institutions that have been stalwarts on the scene for decades, such as those music festivals mentioned earlier. However, to say that change of this scale has never happened before or to presume that it is wholly negative, would be rather naive.

This then brings us back to the elephant in the room of this venue crisis. An elephant that hasn’t been discussed enough in the current conversation surrounding this issue. That is the important matter of taste.
Where the impact of economic factors and rising insurance costs have been discussed and deliberated over till the cows come home, almost every article and news-piece has overlooked how important music taste is to this whole situation. The “institutions” that have found themselves closing down, all gained this title due to their longevity, their age. The brutal truth is that some of these venues and events, simply have not shifted their tastes to suit the majority of gig/festival goers accordingly. Especially in catering to the younger generation who have turned 18 since 2020.
Again, it cannot be overstated that taste is not the only reason that businesses are closing and festivals are being cancelled, but it is an area of influence which simply isn’t being discussed.

It is clear that Australian consumers are tired of being sold the same product year in, year out. With nothing changing except the rise in ticket prices. This is especially true of Australia’s music Festival scene. With the deaths of Groovin the Moo and Splendour in the Grass all but permanent, an analysis of their recent line-ups reveal repetition of acts had become rampant. There have been cries by these festival organisers for governments to do more, in terms of funding and insurance legislation. This support is vital in itself, but organisers are failing to address the gaping issue of creating line-ups that appeal to consumers. To hammer the point home. In the wake of the cancellations, many smaller festivals have been wading in to take the place of these lost dinosaurs.

It is clear the government has a role to play in taming skyrocketing insurance premiums, but it is also clear that the appetite for live music is not waining. It is time promoters and touring companies re-calibrate their music tastes with that of the general public. Lastly, enough praise cannot be heaped on those who have continued to tune in to the tastes of gig-goers and are booking artists that appeal to Australian audiences.
Melbourne is a beacon for emerging artists globally, let’s keep it that way.

George Davies

Well-Dressed Background Noise

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