For Greg Carey, this week offers a strange dichotomy.
On the one hand, he’s waiting to see whether the new album from The Rubens, the Hottest 100-winning band he manages, will snare the number-one spot on the ARIA charts on Friday.
On the other, he’s trying to comprehend what the immediate future of his business looks like should the JobKeeper wage subsidy end, as expected, in a fortnight.
“I am largely worried about the mental health of my peers,” said Mr Carey, who owns Grow Yourself Up, a Sydney management company that looks after The Rubens as well as Urthboy and Saskwatch.
“Some people have mortgages, some people have families to feed.
“This isn’t just sex, drugs and rock and roll.
“This is a sophisticated industry that brings an extremely valuable cultural and economic [product] to society.”
Now he and more than 3,000 other members of the Australian music industry are calling on the Federal Government to extend JobKeeper beyond its end date in March or create an alternative wage subsidy, saying the industry is in crisis.
Live music ‘running at 4 per cent capacity’
In an open letter published on Wednesday, artist managers, booking agents, stage crew and musicians, from Archie Roach to Courtney Barnett and Gordi, implored the government to keep the scheme in place or provide a similar targeted rescue program.
Live music is operating at 4 per cent of pre-COVID capacity, according to data collected by the music rights group APRA AMCOS.
APRA said that, since March, no Australian artist had completed a national tour and no festival had run at full capacity. Touring is the major source of revenue for working musicians.
“Each time there is another COVID-19 cluster or a quarantine breach, any plans to trade again are halted,” the letter reads.
“Musicians, sole traders, venues, clubs, festivals, music businesses and the industry remain out of work.
“Billions of dollars for hospitality and tourism generated from Australian music remains stifled.
“We are an industry in crisis.”
Preliminary data from the latest I Lost My Gig arts industry survey, to be released this week, found 55 per cent of 1,556 respondents were considering leaving the industry.
More than half of business owners surveyed said they would need to close if there was no JobKeeper extension, while two-thirds of respondents expected to be stood down if that happened.
The total lost wages from the first two surveys in 2020 stands at $345 million.
The music industry has long argued it would be one of the last aspects of normal life to resume, given it is organised around packing people closely together into indoor spaces.
Last year, the federal government contributed about $220 million to people working within the music industry and to facilitate grants and loans for new shows and tours.
Separately, the Victorian government pledged $13 million during last year’s lockdown to help venues and other businesses adapt and survive.
While that has been welcomed, figures across the arts have been regularly calling for more support, noting the toll restrictions and border closures have taken, particularly in the live space.
The arts and entertainment sector contributes about $15 billion annually to the Australian economy, according to a report last year from the Australia Institute.
“Extending JobKeeper, or providing an industry-specific wage subsidy package, will keep the show on the road,” the open letter says.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said recently a final decision about the end of the program was yet to be made, but that there should be “no expectation” it would continue.
The ABC has contacted his office for comment on the letter.
Targeted approach would acknowledge sector’s struggles: manager
Anticipating the end of JobKeeper, Mr Carey was recently expecting thousands of dollars in management commissions as The Rubens prepared to release their new album and tour nationally.
“We were optimistic that we could go out and really start earning money again,” he said of the mood late last year.
The outbreaks over the New Year quashed that, and those commissions may be delayed, or not materialise at all. The Rubens’ touring dates have now been postponed several times.
He said he did not expect the government to match dollar-for-dollar what the industry had lost, but that a targeted subsidy would demonstrate that it understood the particular struggles facing live music.
“It does start playing on your anxiety a bit,” Mr Carey said of the end of JobKeeper.
“How can you make this work when the unknown keeps coming up?”