For a number of weeks now, Australians have been reeling in the wake of major shutdowns that have effectively crippled numerous business sectors, but none more so than the local music industry.
While the impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic has seen countless events, tours, and festivals – including, but not limited to Coachella, South by Southwest, Splendour in the Grass, Bluesfest, Download, and Dark Mofo – cancelled or postponed, almost everyone involved in the music industry – both here and abroad – has witnessed the effects of a worldwide shutdown.
As festivals began to announce how COVID-19 had affected them, an increased severity on just how many people were allowed to congregate at any given time saw tours – no matter their size – wiped out entirely. Though it’s easy to think of the musicians and artists as the face of this crisis, it goes far beyond them, with everyone involved in the industry at risk. Whether it’s a promoter, a publicist, a tour manager, a sound technician, stagehand, venue booker, bar staff, or even community radio hosts, everyone has been feeling the pinch.
Websites like ilostmygig have been set up to document the impact COVID-19 and its associated shutdowns have had on the industry, and while its value exceeds $310m, initiatives like Sound of Silence have been set up to provide music fans with methods to support their favourite artists.
In the wake of these closures, cancellations, and shutdowns, we spoke with three Australian artists who have been affected by the recent situation to learn more about how they’re faring, what the future holds, and what’s involved when a tour is axed. Be sure to read the first part of this series, featuring Melbourne’s Kingswood, here.
While plenty of focus has been placed on the local bands who had either embarked on national tours, were about to head out on a run of shows, or were even about to simply announce a run of dates, it’s easy to forget the bands who went through this experience while overseas.
One such act was Adelaide’s Bad//Dreems, who landed in the UK for a run of dates beginning in early March. Their fourth overseas trek, these shows came a couple of months on from their last visit to the UK and Europe for a number of appearances supporting The Chats.
Kicking off their UK run with a spot as the support act for DMA’S in London, Bad//Dreems managed to complete just three of their own shows – in Brighton, London, and Manchester – before the decision was made to axe the remainder of the tour.
Speaking from his Bendigo home during a period of mandatory self-isolation, guitarist Alex Cameron explains that following a week of recording in the UK, the tour’s fate became clear when European officials increased the severity of restrictions in the wake of COVID-19.
“Would we be able to do the gigs? Would we be able to hire all this other stuff? That was our main concern.”
“The shows in Europe, they were the first to go,” Cameron recalls. “They limited the number of people that could gather and then it continued day by day. With all the changes that were happening, it just seemed ridiculous to be going on and playing shows when they were just talking about closing schools.
“Then, we were worried about getting back. We knew that we were going to have to quarantine when we got back, so that was going to mess with everyone. Some people that had bought pre-sale tickets weren’t even turning up, so you could see the writing on the wall. We made the decision then to pull the pin.”
While Cameron notes that the ban’s fans had been “unanimously supportive” during this difficult time, he admits that as news of COVID-19 and its spread began to increase, the status of the tour and its future quickly came to mind.
“I remember some people were worried about the tour, and wondering what measures we should take,” he explains. “I was kind of pretty dismissive about that. Then, it was interesting because pretty much every day overseas you’d wake up and there’d be an escalation with what was going on.
“I don’t think any of us were worried about contracting the illness, I guess, because all the information we had was that we’re not at a great risk of dying from it, or getting very sick. We definitely started to worry, and it was worrying that everything was just up in the air about how logistics were. Would we be able to do the gigs? Would we be able to hire all this other stuff? That was our main concern.”
In terms of logistics, Bad//Dreems were somewhat fortunate. Though a quick escape from the northern hemisphere was on the cards, they were lucky enough to do so before things became far too hectic.
“We had to change our flights which, luckily, we could do fairly easily, though it cost a little bit of money,” he notes. “Our manager was working trying to recoup money that was paid for accomodation, van hire, equipment hire, and such.
“Then we came back, and as per the Australian government rules, we’ve each gone into self isolation. I actually was sick on the plane ride home, so I went to the hospital here in Bendigo, and because I’m also a doctor they wanted to test me.
“In these respective times everyone is just doing whatever – writing music [laughs], I mean, that’s what I’m doing, anyways. It’s a pretty awesome opportunity to have uninterrupted time where you don’t have to do anything else, so I’ve been recording. We had actually recorded four demos in London, as well, so we’d already started that process.
“I think we’re all in a bit of a better position than a lot of other bands because we are kind of at the end of an album cycle, whereas I feel really sorry for bands who have just put out an album and then they can’t tour and they’ve got big shows booked. So, we’ve been kind of lucky that it’s giving us the time to start working on the next album, really.”
“I feel really sorry for bands who have just put out an album and then they can’t tour and they’ve got big shows booked.”
While Bad//Dreems’ third album Doomsday Ballet spoke –almost prophetically – of a sense of global chaos, Cameron notes that the band’s members are in something of a less chaotic position than most other acts, though the financial burden is something they’ll have to weather.
“We’re losing income,” he notes. “We had quite a few festivals and dates booked that have been postponed. But, I think a lot of the hotels that we booked you don’t pay for until you actually check in, so we’ll get a bit of our money back.
“The other thing is we don’t really draw an income from the band, luckily, so most of us will be able to do our normal jobs. Ali [Wells, guitar] works in hospitality, so his job might be in jeopardy. We’re definitely in a better position than a lot of other bands, but it’ll still be hard to keep things going.”
See Bad//Dreems’ acoustic song, “I Wanna Self-Isolate With You”:
While the industry itself is undoubtedly in a sense of crisis now, Cameron notes that he hopes to see Australians truly come together to ensure that the music industry is kept afloat during this difficult time.
“It’s a really good chance for us as a society to show what we’re made of,” he says. “We saw during the bushfire crisis how people really bonded together and did quite amazing things to help each other.
“I hope now that we’re faced with an even more widespread crisis that people will respond in the right way and really look after each other and try to do things like support their local hospitality venues, bars, musicians, and whatnot.
“I think that if we try to make those changes and do those things as individuals, then that would be the best way of seeing through this rather than relying on government.”
Stay tuned for the final instalment of our three-part series into what happens to a band when when COVID-19 cancels their tour.
While it remains to be seen when restrictions will be lifted enough for the Australian live industry to return to some semblance of normalcy, music fans can show their support by donating to Support Act if they have the means, ordering merchandise from their favourite artists, or simply streaming local music.