Victoria’s live music scene offered $13 million in life support to keep “debts at bay”

The Jazz Lab Melbourne

The Jazz Lab in Brunswick, Melbourne, in busier times. Photographer: Kevin Peterson.

The Victorian state government has dished out $9 million in grant funding to help live music venues keep their heads above water until they can reopen in November, and pledged a further $4.2 million in support for musicians, crew, managers and other workers in the industry.

The $9 million in grant funding has been issued to 106 live music venues both in Melbourne and regional Victoria, through the first tranche of the Victorian Live Music Venues Program.

A further $3 million in grant funding will be made available to help other workers in the industry adapt to COVIDSafe ways of working, and to find and develop new ways of connecting with audiences.

Through this Victorian Music Industry Recovery program, artists, managers, promoters, bookers, road crew and other industry workers will be able to apply for grants of between $4,000 and $50,000.

Finally, $1.2 million has been allocated to ten Victorian music organisations and peak bodies, offering professional and business development programs to people in the music industry.

Recipients of the live music venue grants include the likes of The Blues Train in Queenscliff and Belgrave’s Sooki Lounge, as well as iconic metropolitan Melbourne venues such as The Corner Hotel in Richmond, Dog’s Bar in St Kilda and The Jazzlab in Brunswick.

The funding is intended to cover urgent overheads and the cost of putting COVIDSafe measures in place, a statement from Creative Victoria said.

It will also allow them to reopen while density quotas and customer caps are in place.

“Our live music venues, businesses, musicians and other industry workers were some of the first to feel the full impact of this pandemic — and we know they’ll be among the last to get back up and running,” Victorian Minister for Creative Industries Martin Foley said in a Facebook post.

“Our music scene is much loved across the state and envied the world over.

“This support will protect our grassroots venues, save jobs and music businesses, and keep local music playing well beyond this pandemic.”

Keeping debts at bay

Under the current Melbourne reopening roadmap, indoor live music venues are not able to reopen until the ‘last step’, from November 23. And, that’s only if there are no new COVID-19 cases recorded state-wide for the 14 days previous.

During the last step, hospitality businesses will be able to serve a maximum of 50 people indoors, with density restrictions and for seated service only, making live music events look considerably different to pre-pandemic times.

Speaking to SmartCompany, Jazzlab venue manager Jeremy Jankie says the grant funding will basically cover the club’s rent for the six months since it’s been unable to open.

“The aim behind the grant was to keep businesses that would at other times be completely viable, viable,” he explains.

“But it’s only a first step really. It’s stopping people that would have had to shut down from shutting down.”

The grant will keep The Jazzlab’s “debts at bay”, Jankie says.

But, even once the venue can open its doors again, it will be at 10% capacity.

“We’re a 200-capacity venue, and we’ll have a 20-person cap,” he notes.

“I know that sounds insane.

“We’ll be full, but full is 20 people.”

While Jankie is grateful for the funding, he doesn’t know how much The Jazzlab has secured yet. In fact, he only found out he was on the list through the state government’s Facebook post.

“We’re assuming we got what we asked for,” he says.

But, he still appreciates that there has been support from the state government for the arts industry, “when the federal government has done nothing”.

“I think the state government has actually done a really good job,” he adds.

“I actually feel sorry for the other states that don’t have a state government that cares about live music.”

Still, he’s itching to reopen. And while the venue is diversifying to livestream gigs to reach more than its 20-person capacity, Jankie is dreaming of the day when things are back not only to COVID-normal, but normal-normal.

“You lose all that ambience, you lose the feedback between audience and band,” he says.

“It’s something, but it’s not what we do.”

Live music at The Jazzlab in Brunswick. Photographer: Kim Densham.

One in, one out

In a Facebook post from Broadsheet about the grants announcement, some live music lovers expressed disappointment that their favourites did not make an appearance on the list of recipients.

“Um, I don’t see revs on that list,” said one, referring to the iconic Revolver Upstairs nightclub.

“How the hell didn’t Section 8 get on the list?!?!” asked another.

Another commenter said bluntly: “Hopefully the second round is like covid, much bigger”.

Initially, the Victorian Live Music Venues program was announced as a $15 million grants scheme, meaning there should be $6 million of funding still available.

A spokesperson from Creative Victoria told SmartCompany 210 venues applied for the grants, so far.

“An external panel of music industry experts assessed the eligible applications and made recommendations based on how each application met the assessment criteria,” the spokesperson said.

“The criteria included the venue’s reputation, the frequency of original live music programming prior to the pandemic and the number of jobs supported.”

A second round of recipients is due to be announced “in the weeks ahead”, they said.

It’s also not clear exactly why these particular punter favourites missed out, or whether they might get a look in in the second round.

But, it’s also worth noting that the grant funding was not available to those businesses that are eligible for funding under the $20 million CBD Business Support Fund.

Equally, businesses that are eligible for the Victorian government’s Night-time Economy Business Support initiative were not eligible.

Even so, Premier Daniel Andrews has today reiterated that this was just the first round of funding.

“We had more than 106 come to us and we are working through a second round,” he said.

“There is a range of different criteria, but iconic venues are pretty obvious,” the Premier added.

“But in terms of support for individual artists, what they want most of all is the opportunity to play, the opportunity to perform, and I’ll have more to say about that soon.”

This story was updated at 3pm on September 21 to include comment from Creative Victoria. 

Do these grants offer a lifeline to your business? Do they go far enough? Or did you apply and miss out? Let us know.

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