After two decades working in the music industry with the likes of Cold Chisel and Crowded House, Melbourne tour manager Sean Richards last year found himself holding a stop/slow sign to make ends meet.
“It was rewarding in some ways, as much as I was getting out of the house, but I was still mourning for my own career,” he said.
When live music stopped last March, Mr Richards lost all of his work — and income — overnight.
“Going from working 100 hours a week to zero, I needed to do something and contribute,” he said.
A friend told him there was work available in traffic management, so Mr Richards got his qualification and waited for shifts.
It was the first “day job” he’d had in decades.
Talent drain coming
According to new research conducted by RMIT University on behalf of the Victorian Music Development Office and the Victorian Office for Women, Mr Richards is not alone.
The report Understanding challenges to the Victorian Music Industry during COVID-19 reveals the extent of the damage the pandemic has had on music professionals.
“Before the pandemic, Melbourne was one of the great music cities of the world,” lead author Dr Catherine Strong said.
“The impact has been devastating.”
From February to August more than 26,000 jobs were lost in the Victorian Arts and Recreational Services sector.
Of the 292 people surveyed, 58 per cent said they were considering completely leaving the industry.
“The loss of talent overall is potentially huge,” Dr Strong said.
“The survey also highlighted that the pandemic exacerbated some already-existing problems within the Victorian music industry, including income security, discrimination and elitism.”
From traffic back to touring
If anything, Mr Richards thinks the survey could be underestimating the devastating impact the pandemic has had on music professionals.
In the past few weeks he has swapped managing traffic for managing Midnight Oil’s Makarrata Live tour around Australia.
“I submitted my first invoice for the financial year last week,” he said.
“Up until now my income has been 100 per cent affected.”
As a tour manager Mr Richards’ work consists of bringing international acts to tour Australia, or taking Australian acts on tour overseas.
He is calling for parity in the way government approaches sports entertainment and music entertainment, asking if Victoria can safely put on an international tennis tournament, can’t the state also host international music acts?
“We have the same trickle effect and provide the same kind of employment.”
If touring doesn’t come back and the Midnight Oil gigs are just a “sugar hit”, Mr Richards faces the prospect of returning to the road to manage traffic rather than musicians.
“Hopefully we can show the Government we can put on safe events, just like sport,” he said.
As the original ‘gig workers’, music industry professionals are used to living precariously.
Dr Strong said there was now a chance to build back better — by improving working conditions, creating a more inclusive culture and getting the community to see the value of music-related work.
“We have an opportunity to rethink how we do music so that it is fair, has good outcomes and still produces good work,” she said.
The Victorian Government had “provided close to $25 million in dedicated support to venues, music businesses and artists” a spokeswoman said.
“We take great pride in our live music scene and we are working hand-in-hand with the industry to respond to the complex challenges of this global pandemic,” she said.