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, and the second part, featuring Adelaide’s Bad//Dreems, here.
Though national and international tours have been on the minds of most artists and fans, smaller local bands have also found themselves suffering as a result of these cancellations and restrictions.
One of these bands is Mount Gambier’s Chelsea Manor, who had released their latest single, “Lotion“, just one week prior to the increase in national restrictions. Though the band didn’t have any headline dates on the horizon, a number of previously-announced support slots had to be cancelled, with their immediate future plans also being affected.
Speaking in the days following these cancellations, guitarist and vocalist Bianca Hendy explains just how deeply this period of lockdown impacted the band’s plans.
“We were sort of ready to kick off our big show run starting on Saturday, March 21st, which would have been the Fringe in Mount Gambier, so that got cancelled,” Hendy explains. “The gig on Sunday got cancelled, and after that it just kept going.
“I mean, we’re probably in a different position where 80% of the band have general work that they do to survive anyway. I’m a bit more reliant on the band front at the moment, so we were pretty much expecting all that money to come in. We were also ready to push on and buy some merch, and all that stuff that wasn’t going to have to come out of our pockets for the first time in I don’t know how long.
“So, we’re obviously not on a huge level, but we have had a whole run of shows cancelled – I think about 7-9 shows cancelled. Some hadn’t been announced yet, but the comforting thing – if you can take any comfort from what’s going on at the moment – is that it’s going on for everyone. Whether you’re in retail, or music, or arts, or venues, or whatever it is you do, everyone is in the same ball game.
“If anything that can come of this, it’s the community spirit and working together and looking out for each other. That’s the positive that comes from it all.”
Although the threat of COVID-19 was undoubtedly playing on the minds of the band members, Hendy notes that she never really expected the impact to run this deep on an industry-wide scale.
“My dad is very much into the world and what goes on, so he said to me that it’s going to be a lot bigger than what we think it is,” she remembers with a laugh. “And, y’know, it’s your dad, so you just laugh at him. He was pretty spot on, so I think we weren’t expecting it to the level that it is, but it’s just crazy.
“I just feel for all the venues, and stuff like that that are closed. You can have a live stream coming from a venue, but a lot of the money does come from the bar, and retail. It’s just everything. I definitely didn’t expect this, to be honest.”
Though Chelsea Manor are currently unable to play any shows in support of their latest single, Hendy admits she’s tried to find a silver lining to the situation, and counting herself lucky the band had been able to do so much work before things got more intense.
The comforting thing – if you can take any comfort from what’s going on at the moment – is that it’s going on for everyone.
“I’m the type of person that I try to find positives in whatever I can at the time, so for us at the moment we were lucky that we got the video in and done,” she notes. “We were lucky that we recorded the EP. We actually got to play live on Three D Radio, which they’ve canned as well. So it’s just been a few little things to set up a foundation for what’s to come.
“For us, personally as a band, we try and use whatever we can. So, whether we write or just generally hang out and get back that dynamic again. We’ve got a couple of things that keep us in the light.
“I think the other positive that came out of it is that people are generally looking more for music. If you are housebound there’s really not much you can do besides animals and walking around, and all that sort of stuff, and movies and music, and art, and writing, and sport, and whatever else you watch or go to. I think it’s encouraging people to look for it.
“That’s not really much of a silver lining, but I think as a band we’ll just spend this time getting closer and writing music, and supporting our friends and family that we can help out, as well during it all. No-one knows how long it’ll go on for, just make the best of it while we can and look out for each other.”
Looking ahead though, Hendy notes that the current climate gives people a chance to not only see how their own actions affect others, but also provides us with an insight into how vital the music industry is to Australia, and what needs to be done in order to ensure its survival.
“I think that everyone needs to get on board and help each other,” she notes. “If you’re doing the right thing, and you have symptoms or think that you should be at home, just stay home. Do the right thing. Just check on each other and make sure everyone is okay.
“Obviously people are still suffering due to the bushfire crisis, so it’s important not to forget them. But if you do have funds coming in, and you have excess that you can use, put it towards things. With bands and music, there’s always physicals out there, and merch, and stuff that you can wear.
“If you don’t have any cash ‘cause you’re going through the same type of stuff, then word of mouth. Talk about it and let people know what’s getting you through.
“Music obviously got me through minor tragedies that I went through, and I think that music and arts and watching sports do what it does for people. Whatever you need to get through, find that and jump on that, and check in on everyone.”
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.