Both the music industry and media are experiencing major technological disruption, changing how and where we can produce and consume culture. Audiences have access to music and content from around the world at their fingertips.
Within this brave new world, media and cultural programmers offer audiences a sense of curation in what can otherwise be a sea of noise. The function of radio is to allow for discovery whilst providing context and companionship. And as a broadcaster that has a mandate to foster local and emerging culture, we’re increasingly looking at how we can offer opportunities for connection in the real world.
FBi Radio exists to support Sydney music, arts and culture—specifically youth and emerging cultures. We do this by playing 50% Australian music, with half of that from Sydney, and we program musicians, artists and broadcasters who are unlikely to be supported or yet to be discovered by other media. 1
In essence, our license mandates that we’re a champion for the new. And for Sydney. It’s our job to help to discover the next big thing. Even just the next thing. And it’s our job to ensure that young people have a voice in this city.
How do we best do this when our city, as well as our cultural and media landscape, is changing so rapidly?
Each year, more Australians go to see live music than sport, with over 40 million attending contemporary music performances annually. 2 Engaging with live music culture has myriad social and cultural benefits. Live music helps to build communities and social connections and create a sense of attachment to a place.
Youth culture and music culture are inextricably linked. A survey undertaken in 2014 by the Australia Council for the Arts 3 found that a third of Australians aged 15–24 are involved in making music. The survey also found that amongst that audience, the role of arts and cultural participation was critical to defining a sense of self. Of those surveyed, 53% in this age group felt the arts were important in shaping and expressing cultural identity, compared with 43% for people over 25, and that the arts provided ‘the ability to express themselves’, at 74% compared with 58% respectively.
In recent years, this city has produced a stunning and diverse array of artists that have achieved commercial and critical acclaim internationally. Whilst our geographical isolation has fostered strong, unique musical communities, technology has removed some of the tyranny of distance, allowing for international collaboration, international distribution and international audiences. Sydney artists such as Flume, Flight Facilities, Hermitude, Jagwar Ma and The Preatures, who all received some of their first airplay on FBi, have benefited from the increased reach that new technologies provide, building substantial international audiences and headlining major international music festivals in recent years.
But technology’s influence presents new challenges. Online streaming platforms have not only changed the way audiences are consuming music, but are changing the extent to which artists can rely on revenue from recorded music. As a result of diminished potential for revenue from recorded music, live performance has taken on a greater importance, and income from live performance is now an integral part of developing a viable and sustainable career as an artist.
A healthy local live music culture enriches the lives of its makers and participants and helps to define our cultural identity through participation and expression. It employs 65,000 people nationally. 4
However, in Sydney we currently have a live music sector in decline. Many venues in the city have closed, and those that remain open report a range of regulatory challenges—prohibitive costs associated with building compliance, urban development, sound complaints, and licensing regulations that have reduced trading hours.
Figures released by the Australasian Performing Rights Association (APRA) and the Australian Mechanical Copyright Owners Society Limited (AMCOS) in February 2016 via the Live Music Office, showed that within the Sydney CBD, since the introduction of the lockouts, live music venues saw a 40% drop in attendance and a 15% overall reduction in expenditure on artist fees.
In a climate in which live performance is an increasingly integral part of the new business model for music, the already difficult task of earning a living as a musician in this city is made even harder. With fewer venues and reduced trading hours in licensed venues, fewer slots are available for artists to hone their craft and build relationships with local audiences, both of which are traditionally the first step to building an international profile.
With fewer slots to fill, emerging acts or those with smaller audiences are less likely to be booked. This results in less diversity in programming, and fewer choices for audiences, particularly youth audiences, to engage with a range of artistic practice.
Understanding the important role that live music plays in helping young people form a sense of identity and community gives some insight into the high level of youth engagement with the Keep Sydney Open movement. 5 What may be seen by older generations as a petulant overreaction to the lockouts, ignores the symbolic and actual importance of supporting youth culture in a shifting landscape.
All of this points to a sector that needs assistance to navigate a complex technological and regulatory environment. We have a pipeline of unique, globally competitive talent, and audiences that both value and are engaged in culture. And we have an industry that contributes $1.2 billion to the economy annually.
We are seeing programmers adapt, particularly at a grassroots level. Solutions are being presented to the challenges faced by a reduction in venues and licensing regulations restricting late night entertainment. A partnership between local event promoter Astral People and the National Art School resulted in a series of daytime events last summer. In the last 18 months the event collective Lovebombs, have been responsible for day parties on a basketball court, a hotel rooftop and more recently in a marquee at Pier 2/3. These events all showcased emerging local talent and have strong creative communities surrounding them.
The inclusion of local contemporary music—particularly partnerships with third party and young programmers—in the programs of Sydney cultural institutions such as the Opera House and Carriageworks, are helping to ensure their ongoing relevance to the next generation of audiences. I would encourage other cultural institutions to follow suit.
But the creativity and ingenuity of those working to create and maintain culture in our city does not mitigate the need for local and state government to examine the current regulatory framework, specifically to assess its impact on existing live music venue operators. The majority of these venues exist within the inner city, and it’s these spaces that are vital to supporting emerging acts and a diverse range of voices. The City of Sydney has taken positive steps in developing a Live Music and Performance Action Plan 6 that includes strategies to streamline approval processes for small scale, temporary and live music activity. The City of Sydney also made a number of regulatory recommendations to the NSW Government 7 around the Liquor Law review. This included trial exemptions for live music and performance venues that would remove the 1:30am lockout and allow for annual renewal based on good management.
With 47% of Sydney’s population now residing in Western Sydney, we must also look for ways to engage audiences in contemporary music outside of the Sydney CBD. Parramatta City Council have recently appointed a Live Music Coordinator. The Plot—a festival with an all-Australian lineup—returns to Parramatta Park for the 2nd year running, with considerable focus on Western Sydney talent. FBi is also focusing our attention West in the coming year, working alongside Campbelltown Arts Centre and Blacktown Arts Centre.
Culture thrives only through exposure and interaction. Let’s ensure that together we find more ways to make space for younger voices in this city.
- FBi (Free Broadcast Inc) was established in 1995 where it was run out of a shop front on Pitt St Mall and ran a series of month-long test broadcasts for many years. After a lengthy campaign for a full-time licence, the Australian Broadcasting Authority granted FBi a licence to broadcast across Sydney on 94.5FM. The station launched full time on August 29, 2003. ↩
- Music Australia, 2016, National Contemporary Music Plan. ↩
- Australia Council for the Arts, 2014, Arts in Daily Life: Australian Participation in the Arts. ↩
- University of Tasmania, 2014, The Economic and Cultural Value of Live Music in Australia. ↩
- In February, 2014 the NSW State Government imposed a suite of restrictions on inner city Sydney venues, preventing entry to any venue after 1:30am as a response to a number of violent incidents. Keep Sydney Open was formed by a variety of local live music and performance venues, cultural organisations, artists and other stakeholders to highlight the unfair imposition of the laws. The controversial lockout laws have been blamed for the closure of more than 20 major Sydney entertainment venues and deterioration of Sydney’s nightlife. ↩
- City of Sydney, 2014, Live Music and Performance Action Plan. ↩
- City of Sydney, 2016, Submission to the NSW Government Liquor Law Review. ↩