In recent days, five of Dave Jenkins Jr’s upcoming gigs have been cancelled, “with more to come I’m sure”, says the Australian indie musician.
“That is the equivalent of about a month’s rent for me. I have friends in much worse situations, however … in the middle of international tours, with no compensation in sight.”
The COVID-19 pandemic is exerting a harsh toll on many sectors of Australian society, and the performing arts are one of the hardest hit.
Theatres are shut until further notice, the big Palace Cinemas chain has closed its doors, and Opera Australia has canned all forthcoming performances. Music festivals such as Bluesfest and Groovin’ the Moo have also been cancelled.
Indie musicians, many of whom live hand to mouth, have seen thousands of gigs wiped, along with other events and sources of income, following Australia’s move this week to ban outdoor gatherings of more than 500 people and indoor events with more than 100.
Musicians, though, are banding together to support each other, through online resources such as I Lost My Gig Australia, where they can report loss of income and share their stories. In addition, the musicians’ welfare organisation Support Act has launched an emergency appeal.
As of Sunday (22 March), the total tally of reported income loss was $280 million, with more than 500,000 performers affected.
Many musicians are sole traders and, as Jenkins says, this is “an incredibly tricky time”.
“Like my peers, I rely on a constant stream of work to be able to stay afloat. Especially living in a city like Sydney where the living costs are so high.”
– Dave Jenkins Jr.
Sydney artist Nada-Leigh Nasser can’t believe what she’s seeing unfold.
“In all my years of doing gigs I’ve never ever had a wedding cancelled. This is an unprecedented loss for the music industry as a whole, which is amazing considering lockout laws [in Sydney] have just been lifted,” she says.
Some Sydney artists are even contemplating uprooting their lives because they have no foreseeable work in the city. Among them is former The Voice contestant and local musician Luke Antony.
“I have gone from being a well-paid, full-time professional singer to having absolutely no work in my calendar for the foreseeable future, so I don’t really have a job.
“I don’t know what to do. I’m looking at moving home from Sydney to Bundaberg in Queensland to hide out at my parents’ place till I can find a job.
“I don’t think we really know the full effect on how it’s going to play out in the wider community and the industry… There’s still going to be the financial recovery time that they [venues] need before they have the luxury of getting live entertainment at their events.”
Nic Kelly, a music journalist and the founder of the Project U music website, says: “We’re a $2 billion industry per year and for that amount to be wiped off in just a matter of days is frightening.”
On a more positive note, Kelly pointed to the current Instagram trend #Covered19, where Triple J Unearthed artists are sharing the love and supporting their artist friends by posting acoustic covers of their songs.
“What I am seeing is everyone being more innovative than I’ve ever seen before. Everyone is immediately working out ways to circumnavigate the problem and use social media and technology to their advantage. There’s some positivity coming out of this.”
– Nic Kelly
Plus, he says, songs are finally being finished because artists are in isolation and have nothing else to do but stay focused and work on their craft. That, as Kelly notes, is the magic of songwriting.
“Songs can still be made even in isolation, songs can still be released in isolation and songs can be heard in isolation, so the song business will remain strong, I’m sure.
“I think we’ll see some incredible music come out of this period.”