More live music venues than ever? Really?

Some time back I posted figures estimating a 70% – 80% decrease of live music in the CBD. I came to that figure through two methods. Firstly, I posted an estimate of live music venues, their capacities and frequency of live shows in 2009, and then a similar estimate today. That looked like this:

Venues 1999 Estimate Capacity in band room 1999 Estimate Frequency of Live Music per week 2005 Est Cap 2005 Est Frequency
Austral 100 3 n/a n/a
Exeter 100 3 50 3
Madlove Bar 100 3 n/a n/a
Rhino Room 100 3 100 3
Gate 1 Bar 75 1 n/a n/a
UniBar 250 2 n/a n/a
C&A 100 3 n/a n/a
Tivoli 350 1 n/a n/a
Total 1175 19 250 6

I posted this up for public feedback, and the dominant response from those who’ve been involved in the scene over the past ten or more years confirmed my estimates. Sometime in the early 2000s, we started losing a lot of venues.

Secondly, one of Renew Adelaide’s volunteers, Simon Amber, went through every gig guide in the Adelaide Advertiser over a ten year period, and noted a decrease in both the number of venues and the amount of bands they were hosting which, like the above figures, equated to about a 75% decline in the number of bands playing, and had the same time frame of the early 2000s as the tipping point, just prior to the major cinemas shutting down.

Right after that, figures and statements started coming out from certain government agencies declaring that there were “more live music venues than ever before”, which have been added to in recent weeks by claims that Adelaide has more live music venues in its CBD than any other state.

In correspondence with one of those foisting the ‘More venues than ever!’ line it became apparent they were citing stats from SAPOL’s Alcohol and Crime Report, which claimed a 62.5% increase in Entertainment Venue Licenses (EVLs). That sounds great! 62.5% more venues! Except then you look at their data:

LL SAPOL Graph.jpg

See the little pink line down the bottom? The one that almost disappears around 2001, and then slowly picks up to just above disappearing? That’s the EVLs. SAPOL goes on to detail that, as of 2009, there were a whopping 29 EVLs in the Adelaide CBD, a 62.5% increase. On top of that, the problem with using EVLs as a measure of live music venues is that it doesn’t take into account the other regulatory approvals required to host live music – like noise restrictions, Class 9B approvals, DDA access and so forth. Given how blatantly unreliable this data is, I’m continually baffled that relatively senior bureaucrats and elected members are still citing it.

Assuming there’s more data out there I haven’t seen, I still don’t believe Adelaide has either more venues than other cities or more than it had ten or fifteen years ago. That’s not just because it goes against my estimates, but it also contradicts the sparse research conducted in Adelaide, and the better studied national trend.

The most solid piece of analysis is APRA’s Economic Contribution of the Venue Based Live Music Industry in Australia, conducted by Ernst and Young in 2011. Whilst it doesn’t offer city by city break downs, it undermines the idea that South Australia has more music venues than elsewhere, listing a total of 8.7% of the national total, putting the state fifth, behind NSW (32.1%), Queensland (23.6%) and Victoria (22%) and WA (9%).

Music venues by state.jpg

Broken down per capita, you could argue SA isn’t doing so badly. Based on the ABS stats, SA makes up about 7.3% of the total national population, which means we have more music venues per capita that most other states. But those figures don’t measure either the frequency of performance, the nature of the venues, nor do they take into account the relatively large geographical spread, whereby every country town with a pub hosting cover bands once a week would show up.

That data might, however, explain Ryan Winter’s recent claim in InDaily that:

The reality is that Adelaide has more venues within its CBD than any other capital city in Australia. Opportunities to play live are provided in abundance, and have been for several years now, despite the closure of some named iconic venues.

Whilst SA might have more venues per capita, the claim that the Adelaide CBD has more venues is spurious. Indeed, it is directly contradicted by Deloitte’s report for Arts Victoria, The Economic, Social and Cultural Contribution of Venue Based Live Music in Victoria from 2019, which notes:

Melbourne has more live music venues than any other Australian city, including around 370 hotels, bars, nightclubs and restaurants featuring live music.

Sorry Ryan, but I trust Deloitte’s research more than either yours, SAPOLs or, indeed, those City Vibrators who took the 62.5% at face value, and it’s counter productive to see that claim now being repeated further and further up the policy chain.

Although I should point out, Ryan’s redeemed himself in my eyes by working on the upcoming SLAM campaign.

More generally, claims that Adelaide is some kind of glut of music venues tends to go against national research by people like Shane Homan and Kate Shaw noting a gradual decrease in the face of increased noise restrictions, tighter regulations, licensing laws and local government behaviour throughout the 1990s and 2000s. That’s reflected in both the Ernst and Young and Deloitte reports, with the former finding 69.1% of venue managers cited the “impact of the current regulatory environment for live music venues” as a major concern, and the latter noting “property rights and amenity” as a common reason for venues limiting live music or not hosting it entirely.

Closer to home, there really hasn’t been any serious research for quite a while. Elizabeth Raupach’s Theatre Spaces and Venues Audit in Adelaide from 2010 does, however, tend to suggest South Australian venue based creative initiatives have suffered, finding:

This audit has found that at present there is a lack of suitable spaces to house international artists during Adelaide Festival and Fringe periods. Equally, there is a lack of suitable and affordable venues in Adelaide for the local theatre community to make and present work.

She also noted the issues with regulation:

Artists report that they don’t mind complying with appropriate legislation if only they could work out how to go about it.

Interesting, that reflects one of the recommendations Charles Landry made during his time as Thinker in Residence, writing in his 2003 Rethinking Adelaide report that SA should:

Make sure world class knowledge sector industries such as health and well being, the creative industries, the green economy, the learning sectors and advanced manufacturing are supported by world class regulations rather than forcing them to struggle through dated legislation.

We’ve started to see reviews of the 1997 Liquor Licensing Act. It’ll be interesting to see if those flow through to the 1992 Development Act, the 1999 Local Government Act and 1998 City of Adelaide Act.

On the whole, I find it difficult to believe that Adelaide has more live music venues than ever before or even that it has a greater concentration in the CBD. There simply isn’t a body of evidence suggesting those claims are true, and there’s a reasonable body of evidence suggesting the opposite.

Overall, my sense with these claims is that they’re a product of a particular way of viewing the culture of cities that values traditional top down mechanisms of government. This is ideological in nature. I’ve said this before, as have numerous other people including the Premier, but South Australia has an entrenched (to use Jay Weatherill’s term) ‘paternal’ approach to governing, and when it comes to handling cultural and creative enterprise, it bears witness to the top down ‘culture of excellence’ established under Dunstan. Tim Horton discusses this in his recent blog post here.

From that position, the perspective is that (a) the problem for smaller cultural enterprises, like music and arts venues, is basically market failure, or simply that “people just don’t like going to live gigs anymore”.  So (b) as the market has failed, SA should avoid allocating resources to it and should continue focusing resources on major flagship projects with clearer outcomes. And (c) ,as the current system works for top down projects, there’s no need to take responsibility for the regulatory issues that have crippled the smaller end of the creative sector or the structure and staffing of the agencies that have overseen it. After all, it was market failure that made those smaller venues fail, not lack of investment and hostile bureaucracy.

The alternate perspective is that small scale, grass roots enterprises are important to the State’s cultural and economic regeneration, things like music venues are a vital part of that, and SA needs to take heed of the existing research and begin revising the decidedly unglamorous torrent of regulatory and legal frameworks that prevent such ventures succeeding. And it needs to take a good, long look at the agencies that enforce the current system, given they’ve had a negative impact upon it.

Six months ago, I would have said I thought there was real value being given to the smaller scale activity in Adelaide, and things like the Small Venues License and the recent ArtsSA review of live music funding, seemed to flow out of a  desire to move away from the Top Down approach.

But that was six months ago. At the moment, it seems like it could go either way.


14 responses to “More live music venues than ever? Really?

  1. Additionally, I always find the CBD arguments quite disingenuous when comparing Australian capital cities. The east coast capitals are much less centralised than Adelaide: they have suburbs that are made up of more than housing developments, streets you can be on after 6pm and see actual people on. Adelaide doesn’t have equivalents of Melbourne’s Fitzroy, Sydney’s Surrey Hills, or Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley.

  2. Agreed, Sydney’s CBD is all big office blocks but its surrounding mainstreets are ‘vibrant’, and that’s more likely to be the case with a larger city rather than, as you say, a city surrounded by suburbs, where the city centre is pretty much the only urban hub. I can’t decide whether the use of stats like this is ‘Disingenuous’ or just plain stupid. In Ryan’s case, I think it’s just a slip up because he’s otherwise pretty good at this sort of thing – hence his involvement with SLAM. But these stats come from government agencies that employ professionals, and it’s bewildering that someone being paid to review data could fail over something so minor.

  3. Will we be seeing this story (or parts of) in InDaily?

  4. Alistair Cranney

    The real issue is why are we discussing venue numbers in Adelaide or indeed anywhere in Australia. The real issue is why we would want more half empty venues with average (at best) bands performing…Any discussion of venue numbers in absence of a discussion about audience development and artistic development is little more than an exercise in proving one can read reports and write an academic assessment of them…clever but doesn’t address the real issues!

  5. I can see what you’re saying, but I think the decline of, in particular, smaller venues is key to industry development. Without them, there’s no entry point, no real world forum for skills development, and low cost forum for incubating and experimenting with new approaches. As Justin O’Connor has said about the creative sector, it’s the smaller venues that play the role of sector R&D. Without that, we’re in a situation whereby bands that might be able to bring in 50 or 100 people are playing in 400 person venues, and there’s simply not the mass of activity to fill a space that large. It’s like asking a local art collective to fill a major gallery.

    Second to that, it’s been put to me that the decline of student unions – who used to host bands on campus and act as a sort of induction into live music, along with the decline of bands performing routinely in smaller venues during the week – has removed the ‘habit’ of attending live music from the cultural behaviour of a lot of younger people, and that we’re now seeing the impact of this declined induction into live music in audience numbers. Certainly, I’ve heard this argument made a great deal in Sydney.

    To that end, I think the empty 400+ capacity venues are a direct result of a decline across the board. Undoubtedly, there’s grounds for a stronger focus on funding for industry development – and I can’t see adequate skills development happening easily without funding – but without the entry point 100 person venues, I personally can’t see audiences re-forming, and we’ll continue to see underskilled musicians, promoters, bookers, managers and agents struggling with venues that are too big for them to fill.

  6. Alistair Cranney

    Dr Ware your reply really just confirms my original comment. Adelaide doesn’t lack good small rooms. Grace, Wheaty, Cranker, Exeter, Enigma, Ed Castle…are all small rooms. Good small rooms is not the missing link here!

    I started managing acts in 1987 in Adelaide and it was much harder to get a gig then…you had to play lots of parties and regional local government shows before you could ever think about a gig in a city venue…i.e you had to be good…unfortunately that is not the case now…

    Your reply is a bit too ‘Waynes World’ for me…If you build them they will come…

    Simply comparing number of venues is an arbitrary measure of the health of an industry. The entire industry has changed since 1987…cost of recording, cost of touring, distribution of music, the media landscape, radio etc etc… whether we have more or less venues is really a meaningless conversation.

    Student union gigs were a great way to top up a touring budget but a bunch of disinterested students in a massive refectory is hardly the breeding ground of great talent or the desire to attend more live shows.

    We have more training that has ever existed, more opportunities to network with the industry and arguably less successful bands…Why? Because of the number of venues…I don’t think so!

    Perhaps there are some alternative issues that deserve more attention than venue numbers?

    1. Adelaide bands don’t tour enough to measure themselves against the bands making noise on the eastern seaboard. i.e its easy to be good in Adelaide but it doesn’t mean much!

    2. Bands everywhere don’t work hard enough to generate and relate to their audience. Simply posting an event a Facebook isn’t my idea of working hard to promote a show.

    3. The entertainment market is far more fractured than it ever used to be.

    4. The cultural damage done to the industry by funded government events that present commercial music for free thereby devaluing music and educating a whole generation that music has no commercial value. Take the Adelaide festival’s opening night show presenting Neil Finn & Paul Kelly for free. This is a shameful use of government funds to screw over commercial promoters by presenting this for free…no wonder the national promoters balk at taking a risk in Adelaide when we spend hundreds of thousands of government dollars educating the public that music should be free. Try selling a ticket to a local band who need the income to tour, record etc…why would the public pay?

    5. Most people who are so called industry development people in Adelaide do not understand how to develop an audience for a band or a venue…how then could they propose teaching others?

    6. The ability for bands to record cheaply is actually counterproductive. Historically you had to do a lot of shows just to afford the cost of recording…this generally meant you had improved as songwriters and performers…and when you did record you already had an audience for your music. Unfortunately now it is so cheap to record that there are thousands of record residing in boxes under artists beds as they never had an audience before they thought it was a good idea to release an album…

    7. Too many acts in Adelaide complain about the cost of touring as if somehow we are victims… Adelaide has a great lifestyle but a small conservative population base to draw an audience from. Any band from Adelaide who is serious about success and not simply complaining needs an audience in Sydney & Melbourne…

    Id far rather put my energy into addressing the audience development issues than blindly insisting that more venues will somehow magically create and audience…that is naive at best

  7. Well Al, I can only really see the irony in what you’re saying given that you were the managing director of Fuse for the past few years, and Fuse has had the most potential for engaging local bands in the ‘audience development’ of the local industry through ArtsSA funding. It feels more than coincidental that you commented here just after Ianto’s national position was announced following Fuse’s hiatus for 2013. Not sure if I detect some resentment for being looked over…? Anyway, I kind of read this as you saying that something like Fuse should be getting more attention than this ‘venue initiative’ (which is actually more about community and audience than you’re giving it credit). They are, to me, intrinsically linked.

    Full disclosure, Alistair is the managing director of Fuse Festival, an industry focused music conference and showcase, and I interned at the Fuse office in 2010 for an unpaid role as ‘Online Marketing and PR Intern’. It was a valuable experience for me, but I do see a disconnect between the ‘Fuse’ world, and the real world of the Adelaide scene that I work in daily running Format and sound-teching various venues.

    I see a similar disconnect between the triple j playlists and the underground national scene of labels, venues, and bands, and it makes me whether question audience development (as purely growth) is the healthy answer to support the local and national music industry. Especially when it’s these underground bands that have more international critical acclaim than the ‘alternative’ acts triple j ‘unearths’.

    You stated that “The entertainment market is far more fractured than it ever used to be”, and this is true, but that isn’t a problem so much as a fact; it’s something we now just have to work with. It’s not like we can ‘reunite the entertainment market’. That’s impossible. So our attachment to local music scenes is now happening on a smaller scale; in networks of subcultural scenes. Narrowcasting. Or some other buzzword. I believe I was saying this back in 2010, but the future of the music industry to me is to be able to do more with less. And I feel that that’s often something older people struggle to accept, with the ‘back in my day’ arguments, but that’s the reality. And it’s actually fine.

    I’d like to know which bands it was that pissed you off to dismiss them as ‘average at best’, cos I’ve certainly never seen you at any of the gigs I’ve been working at, and I think bands still work hard to build audiences and communities. Perhaps not to your taste, but that’s not a fair reason to dismiss them. Please check out Summer Flake, Old Mate, Wild Oats, Swimming, Sparkspitter, Bitch Prefect, Peak Twins before dismissing the entire DIY Adelaide scene. These bands have all had critical interstate acclaim, and all formed around subcultural scenes within Adelaide, not because there was an audience out there for them, but because there was a community, based around certain venues, that encouraged them to take to the stage and get away with a few shitty shows to gain experience and confidence.

    Teaching them about social media didn’t make them the bands they are today, and it won’t make tomorrow’s bands either.

    Venue numbers do mean nothing if you don’t look beyond the stats, but I think that’s Ianto’s point, that while there are ‘venues’ with ‘live music’, there aren’t as many venues that exist FOR live music, to foster and grow local scenes. Not many small venues in Adelaide have a clear vision for that. And we’re not talking about small ‘laneway’ bars either, we’re talking about music venues.

    In Adelaide, the Grace and the Wheaty are nice pubs, but don’t have as large a focus on live music as others. Which is fine. The Exeter and Cranka are shuffling live music towards the Cranka, which has to deal with its reputation as a more ‘hardcore’ live venue, but it has some sense of community. The Ed Castle and Rocket cater to the triple j crowd, which again is fine, but it seems more about numbers through the door than musical community. I don’t like Enigma, which is also fine. The Metro has a clearly distinguished musical lineup, and I would say is arguably (and understatedly) Adelaide’s best live local-and-interstate music venue. Format has a clear vision for an artist run creative hub incorporating music, art, and indie media. But we have to move, and finding venue space is difficult. And look how long it’s taking the Jade Monkey to come back!

    So, it’s also important for venues to book interstate bands, and put on solid support lineups, and I think the recent Boomgates show at the Metro was a prime example of how local bands learnt a lot from playing with an interstate band, and also how this helps support communities around live music. Similarly, the Woods show at Format, or Lost City Festival give local bands a great opportunity to network and learn from interstate and international bands. But again, these opportunities happened because of venues and communities, not because ‘such-and-such’ local band can bring 100 of their friends, who’ll disappear for the rest of the show, but that’s ok cos the venues sold enough beer.

    This is about building communities through venues, which is a much more sustainable method than building a generic, broadly popular (but ultimately safer and ‘boring’) audience market (ie. the criticisms of triple j and the latest Hottest 100). Or building audiences that only come to see their friend’s band if it doesn’t clash with a 21st, or a pub-crawl. It’s about protecting the ‘third space’ between work and home, as a community with positive cultural impact. That’s the key difference, and if you don’t understand that you’re either not coming to the right shows, or you’re missing the point.

    I have to agree with your point that there isn’t any older industry people with experience to pass on to the current generation, but again, this isn’t a problem. Just look at things like Lost City Festival that ran this past weekend, or Format, or Heavy Lows Record label, or Moving Music; the next generation is here and working on it’s own terms. But, in order to participate in city culture, as musical subcultural scenes should, we have a real difficulty in Adelaide to provide space for these activities.

    Just because there’s nothing that you personally can recognize as ‘success’ for local bands (and the more straight-line ‘rock’n’roll’ acts that you manage), doesn’t mean that the industry is falling apart. It’s just moved on and needs help in new ways. And that is the importance of someone like Ianto being in the role he has been given, and the reason why the model of Fuse has been suspended for 2013 in order to review how best to run a conference/showcase event in 2014.

    Like I said, I value the experience I got interning for Fuse, but it really opened my eyes to how dismally Fuse’s current model fails to enrich the local scene as it is, and on it’s own terms.

    The pay-to-play model, the excessive weighting on funding to bring outside (and often disinterested) ‘experts’ in, the clashing showcase times and venues, plus the lack of curating bands to keep delegates interested/entertained, the unfair nature through which the winner of the Great Escape Festival slot is chosen; these have regularly been the criticisms of Fuse, and year after year they haven’t really been addressed fully. Fuse should be re-directed to look at local community, and encourage connections between local bands, managers, festival directors, venues etc., and this will encourage a local audience development far more naturally than say the head of Spotify being Skype conferenced to those who can afford it.

    Largely just my opinions, but they’re shared by a lot. You can still call it naïve if you want to, but it comes from the front-line, not the office.

    • Alistair Cranney


      Thanks so much for your post.

      There are a couple of things I need to respond to however…

      1. I am certainly not feeling any resentment or feeling looked over. I think its a great thing for Fuse to be put on hold while Arts SA and the Thinker in Residence review what is needed so that Fuse can (if it is refunded) respond to those reviews.

      2. Fuse was never set up as the primary driver of audience development for the local Adelaide scene. Its goal quite simply was to support bands to engage nationally and internationally…and for that you have to bring buyers to Adelaide. What you are talking about as fostering local music communities is very important but Fuse was never funded to do that.

      3. I agree with you on the lack of curating bands but again the event has suffered from its relationship with the Fringe who wanted an open access model to match its own model…moving the event out from the auspices of the Fringe only stands to serve the event and bands in a better way.

      4. The Great Escape curate their own festival and as such the deal was always about them choosing the band. Fuse was always up front about that. Just because a band doesn’t get chosen to play at a festival doesn’t make the process unfair.

      5. My comments were never about funding…I actually believe its a good thing for more and varied people and projects to be funded…

      6. You quote Fuse as a pay to play model…which is disappointing to say the least. Bands paid a registration fee which is true but we gave the band members free registration to attend the conference within that fee. Far from pay to play its pay to attend and a significantly cheaper rate than comparative events interstate. Far from lacking understanding of the issues facing musicians the event was structured to allow bands a one off fee with significant benefits. The event was weighted that way as we fully believe that attending the conference is as important as showcasing…

      7. Fuse could be re-directed to look at local community, and encourage connections between local bands, managers, festival directors, venues etc., this would be a change in focus for the event and its not for me to decide if that is the best use of the funding.

      8. After 25 years of managing bands I do happen to know that without an audience outside of Adelaide you cant survive as a musician on a full time basis which has always been my thrust. Your goals are very different to mine. Neither of us is wrong but based on our goals we would always see a different focus for Fuse. I would contest that organisations such as Music SA, Carclew & Northern Sound system are well placed to do the things you are discussing…but who is going to support bands to engage nationally and internationally…

      9. Fuse was not suspended for 2013 in order to review how best to run a conference/showcase event in 2014. It was put on hold as the Adelaide Fringe handed the event back to ArtsSA and therefore when they decided to roll over the current triennial agreement for funding to allow the completion of their review there was no home for Fuse and they didn’t have the 6 months they indeed to run an open tender process. Your belief that it was stopped as there was a problem with it is quite simply wrong. Fuse grew year on year for the last eight years and exceeded Arts SA’s KPI’s.

      10. Pat you have a negative slant on the success of the act I currently manage. Clearly they are not your cup of tea but their success shouldn’t be diminished just because you don’t like them…I have never made any secret about the fact that my role as a manager is to make my act financially sustainable which involves some level of commercial success…

      11 There is absolutely a role for the sorts of events and festivals that you talk about that focus around small communities of musicians…but this is not my role as a music manager or the role of Fuse. You made some very disparaging comments about mainstream audiences but they are as important to the music industry as small cliques. I don’t like most of the music most people want to see live but that doesn’t make it bad it is only a description of my taste…

      12, You wont make a better band using social media but you may connect a band to more people who like their music. You may engage with your fans when you aren’t playing in front of them and god forbid you may actually sell some merchandise.

      Pat far from wanting to turn the clock back I like the change in the music industry., I like that bands can relate directly to their fans and not have that governed by a label or a radio network…Far from turning the clock back I also think the new crop of promoters and ideas are fantastic…but being hung up on venue numbers without a broadly articulated audience development strategy will lead to more half full venues…which I don’t think is good for bands or artistic development!

  8. Hey guys,

    This all seems a bit academic above but it all comes down to one thing. People that live in Adelaide don’t go see live original music. It’s not an inherent & vital part of our cultural DNA. It was once, but it’s not anymore. I can (& do regularly) go & see great music being played every night of week. Pretty much no-one else I know does, even the other musos don’t.

    I think the most marked decline co-incided with the rise of the AFL teams based in Adelaide. We are up against a massive PR machine telling everyone how interesting AFL is & how they need it in their life. Sport is now officially entertainment, even by their own statements. Original music simply cannot compete for the cultural mindspace with the massive budgets at play here.

    We are also ridiculously comfortable at home. We work hard & retire to our fortress to hide from the world. Until we can encourage people to turn off the TV, get off their arse & leave their house, whilst simultaneously taking on the powerhouse of AFL (& all sport) advertising, nothing will change. The misguided redevelopment of Adelaide Oval will go down as yet another nail in the coffin of our live music culture.

    Cheers & I’m off to practice for a gig at the Grace tomorrow…

  9. You’ve talked a lot about Fuse now Al, and you haven’t really responded to my points about people attending venues, and the value of venues as community. Which is fair enough, cos you’ve got your agenda with Fuse and the bands you manage, but I’m still not convinced as to why we should be listening to you over someone like Ianto that’s been on the scene, played in shitty bands, and participated in some basement handball over the recent decade. It’s the same disconnect I said I felt between Fuse and the Adelaide scene that I participate in daily.

    I guess the point here is, if ‘audience development’ is, in your view, THE answer to Adelaide’s grumbling, what does this achieve that encouraging small venues and scenes doesn’t? What firsthand experience do you have that indicates this? And why haven’t ArtSA or yourself ‘directed’ Fuse towards amending the deficiency in ‘audience development’?

    I mean personally, I don’t even understand how ‘audience development training’ is meant to work sustainably beyond helping one or two bands ‘make it’ interstate. How does ‘the next Hilltop Hoods’ help other Adelaide bands? Or Australian bands in general; after all, triple j acts fare terribly critically overseas compared to independent Aussie bands (eg. Twerps, Dick Diver, Total Control, Royal Headache etc.) that don’t receive the same support at home to reach a national audience. For a side matter, how does you vaguely bagging on DIY artists ‘not trying hard enough’ have any positive impact on… anything?

    I have no problem with the commercial arts, but I do have a problem with them being selected for government funding over more worthwhile artistic endeavors that have clear benefits for the local community and demonstrate a sustainable model. For example, Format pays all the bands that play shows, and provides a similar number of diverse, unique opportunities all year long to bands that aren’t looking for what Fuse is selling; a patchwork of ‘how to make it in the corporate music industry’ tales. And our live music program currently receives no funding, while Fuse has to ask the bands that attend to help cover costs including accommodation and flights of ‘industry professionals’ on top of it’s ArtsSA allocated funding. I know there’s more depth to Fuse, but it still looks to me like a tired model. Not sure if you’ve heard of Sound Summit in Newcastle, but I think they manage to provide an alternative to BigSound, without being a poor clone.

    Creating more small venues isn’t the be-all-and-end-all solution, but I think it has the most potential to allow Adelaide’s live music scene to grow naturally and sustainably, improving the quality of artistic musical output from the city without detracting from the already experimental and critically applauded (via interstate indie press) scene we currently have. I feel that Format is a strong example of how supporting venues to create community has a wide-range of positive results that feed back into the reason why the Arts are important and deserve funding in general. I’m not sure and question whether Fuse has quite as strong a record, especially considering ‘bang for buck’. But at the end of the day it’s up to ArtsSA to decide how to allocate it’s funding. So, I guess it’s a good time to be having this kind of debate.

    • Alistair Cranney


      Thanks for your post…its a funny thing that you feel that you can spend most of your original post bagging Fuse and then have a go at me for responding to your post about Fuse…Surely its only fair that I redress the lack of facts that your post contained. I don’t have any desire to defend the Fuse model I simply feel that you have missed the point that Fuse was never designed to do what Format does.

      I wasn’t however aware that playing basement hand ball was the qualification for comment on the music industry. In the essence of full disclosure I didn’t mention Fuse initially as it has no bearing on the discussion about more venues leading the a healthier industry. You also haven’t mentioned that you are a mate of Ianto’s and that that colours your lack of perspective on the industry. I may not have played handball in a basement but I am not so insecure that I have to use my academic title to try and give myself credibility…

      I referred people to Ianto in his ‘Renew Adelaide’ role. They wanted to start a small venue that would involve themselves in live music. They never even received a response from him…So perhaps the he was distracted by the handball or the ongoing rhetoric but not actually committed to the reality of supporting people to start new venues…Its clear that he is your idol but not clear that he actually did much beyond Format or a very clever series of academic articles…

      Format is fantastic but it is one small part of the music industry. If your measure on whether someone has a right to comment on the music industry is whether they participate in Format then you miss the big picture.

      Your statement about a disconnect between Fuse and your experience of the Adelaide industry may well be true but that doesn’t mean Fuse is out of touch…it simply means that the goals of Fuse may not connect with the goals of the sub culture upon which you base relevance.

      I support any initiative that involves live original music and the development of audiences. There is no one solution…

      As I said previously I am committed to supporting bands to have a financially sustainable career which necessitates an audience in Sydney, Melbourne and overseas. This in no way invalidates bands that want to primarily play to their friends in a local Adelaide scene…it doesn’t mean they are not good bands but it may mean they have different goals to that which I am committed.

      What will the next Hilltop Hoods do for Adelaide…it will make it easier for the acts that come after them to be taken seriously on the national stage…if we reflect on the WA & QLD experiences a critical mass of nationally successful acts has made it easier for other acts to follow in their footsteps. I am aware that you don’t value national success in the same way as I do but that doesn’t make either of us wrong. It simply reflects different facets of the music industry.

      I absolutely agree that Format should be funded, Moving Music should be funded, Music SA should be funded and so on…but I don’t agree that its and either/or proposition…we should be committed to jointly increasing the size of the cake by recognising the value of a varied approach to industry development. As valid as developing local music communities is, so is developing nationally and internationally successful bands…

      The Adelaide scene has been for far too long too fragmented. If we expect the global industry and the national, state and local governments to take us seriously it starts with us working together to recognise the value in each-others approaches to industry development.

      I don’t want to play handball in a basement and simplify the industry to the number of venues vs the number in the past…I do however want to see a variety of models prosper and be supported. Fuse serves a purpose, my own business serves a purpose, my festival serves a purpose but despite my personal involvement they are still only part of the overall mosaic that needs to be encouraged to grow the industry…

      What I take issue with is the simplistic discussion of the number of venues from those who would rather talk about it than offer practical assistance to those who actually want to risk their own capital to create it. I don’t expect anyone to see me as all knowing…I mean come on I haven’t played handball since high school so how could I possible have any relevance.

  10. I am a Youth, I love live music, I am Vegan (that means I’m the hippest new thing companies are trying to adjust to), I don’t like drinking.

    I am at home, on the internet, reading your report on live music. Yep Adelaide is screwed.

    When all the research is done, do you suppose officials will have legitimized their potential positive actions enough to out weigh any down sides that may come of it?

    People are so scared of making mistakes in this society, they’d rather destroy things on purpose. I mean when a disaster happens, noone is to blame, everyone is bewildered and confused. Lost, alone and looking for reason.

    Like the Jade Monkey, Higher Ground and Glenelg Cinema.

    What if someone in a position of Authority levered to keep them (lets face it no bureaucrat can make a moral decision on their own self-esteem, without a protest forcing their hand 😉 alive, then they stagnated onward for the next few years.

    That someone would be mocked in some circles, but what is stagnation in a wasteful world. Loss of finite mass is a greater concern than not having ‘MORE’ stuff. Dammit~

    Adelaide, the Parking Lot State.

    Someone start a business up selling realistic number plates,
    quick! You will get rich ASAP, quick.

    Busy Busy. Need to drink, Need to be Entertained, Or you won’t be Chipper for Work on Monday.

    THAT is the answer, not pie graphs.

    The Promethean isn’t even mentioned Ianto, it is one of the sexiest (probably not the best word to use considering what clubs survive long-time in Adelaide), most under-utilized and charming places.

    Instead of raising policy, raise ‘real world’ (crap) truths.

    People are self-promoting and centered, they don’t like to see others having things they cannot, success, blissfully care free experience. What ever it is. What does that mean?

    Artful, humans are artful; Cunning and devious.

    Instead of thesis, that only the few read and only if they are in some sort of law suit pressure suit or studying away their hex.

    What is needed, is a simple solution.

    >Obtain free website.
    >Create list of Adelaide Venues.
    >Put pretty picture.
    >Write nice description.

    People on mass don’t know where these places are, let alone WHAT they are about. People in their home city do not know how to turn their head sideways, in-fact I hazard a guess their is an urban condition.

    Having a subconscious phobia of doing just that. Worried they may find what they have always been looking for and damn they are still wearing their work face ~ catastrophe.

    With more being presented to people to depress them daily, the truth is. People are finding more ways to cure and be happy.

    This does not include intoxicating in more depressants.

    If the Music Industry is to thrive itself a new humble-life, simply it has to stop being an Ancillary mechanism of the Legal Drugs trade.

    Petrol, Drinking Alcohol and Smokes.

    It sure is hard for our Government to ween themselves off it. Their solution is to allow charming old buildings to become spoil and pre-fab futurists to pioneer grand new ideas of expansion.

    Like parking lots, shopping malls and education space, ironically to teach youth of today WHAT. Architecture?

    Whose going to be rich enough to build anything of any real quality in the future, try see the richest man alive build a city like they used to and still have lint in his pocket.

    Are they banking on everyone being so absorbed in the Radiation of a silk screen to notice extinction debt on a grand scale. Or is everyone, no matter how grand their title or yearly earnings, still no wiser or less naive than the next new born.

    Considering people are payed a living to try and bring enthusiasm back into society by social planning through infrastructure, it is a great concern they become another part of the growing maintenance cost which is what 90% of the work force equate to doing, shuffling papers from the file, to the shredder. Now dirtied with ink and names.

    I am an inventor and an economist, this is my new concept.

    Join the Printer……. to the Shredder.

    Far more economical, proficient and dramatically slashes working time. Just like Computers were meant to do, but in a less paper saving way (which we all know they failed at, because people being perfectionists more than aspiring to the chaos of nature, they felt indifferent to the suffering of faceless undiscovered animals, that people only dare dream of in Xerox picture books).

    Solve one problem, gotta solve them all.
    Save one independent, gotta save em all.

    That may be how it seems, but in a world of favoritism in the form of likes and humor, noone would be offended for passionate people to take up arms (pens) against the press (for time), over singular places and people.

    And so, all-in-all. What am I saying?

    I Concur!!

    My thesis just looks more like a rant.
    That way anyone that would be offended by it,
    wouldn’t have taken the time to read much of it.

    tsk tsk those so-ci-ety chumps and trumps


  11. Boys, boys. I worry that this discussion will degenerate into another tired “commercial vs alternative” debate. Alistair is right in that commercially-orientated institutions like Fuse simply represent different but equally valid goals to those of the smaller subcultures based around places like Format, or Animal House, or the Metro Hotel, or the recent Lost City festival. Fuse wants to help musicians sell records, Pat wants musicians to party. Believe it or not, both these manifestos aren’t incompatible.

    Pat – a musician, sound engineer and coalface promoter – represents a growing tide of resentment of older, mostly male, mostly radio-orientated entrepreneurs and commentators who don’t see the value in music that doesn’t generate a livelihood. These folks – some of whom operate large, “half empty” venues – feel a magnanimous urge to help young musicians towards a goal of quitting their jobs, “developing an audience”, becoming the next Hilltop Hoods and filling their venues.

    This is great thing, make no mistake. The more musicians on Kingsmill’s list the better. However, there are some who worry that the Alistairs of this world forget that music – and live music especially – is a culture as well as an industry.

    Cultures and industries share a lot of characteristics. They are both subject to market forces. They both involve production and consumption. They are both important to the prosperity of a city. Nevertheless, a culture is, by its very nature, organic. In order for live music culture to thrive, there need to be places where musicians can rehearse, record, perform, meet, dance and imbibe with other musicians. Small venues – the kind where musicians mix with their audiences, where they talk to each other every weekend, where they conduct vague band meetings on broken couches – are where live music cultures grow. Rough Trade – Mr Elbourn’s former place of work – started out as one of these places.

    To this I would add emphasis to the difference between critical and commercial “success”. Critical success tends to emerge from subcultural “cliques” – think Post-Punk in Sheffield and Manchester, or New Wave in New York. Most of these artists didn’t make a livelihood from their work, and had no interest in being “mentored” by those who thought they should. Nobody mentored Brad Cameron and his coterie when they started Lost City. Nobody taught Steph Crase or Kynan Lawlor how to record their lo-fi masterpieces. No audience development seminar fostered Animal House, who will this weekend be hosting and recording critically acclaimed Melbourne band UV Race. Nobody told the Metro’s Damien Kelly that his business would thrive on the back of an original, critically sound live music program. All these people figured it out through common sense, and achieved incredible results for this city. We need to support them with places where they can work and think and party before more of them leave town.

    The records that Pat has produced in his DIY studio have brought their respective artists a great deal of praise in the eastern states and overseas, but none of them are particularly interested in quitting their jobs. A good example is a three-piece called Terrible Truths, who moved to Melbourne some time ago, where they have played in a number of small, subcultural venues. One of them has started the Adelaide-centric Heavy Lows label, and is now performing her Dark-wave synth solo project at SXSW, while another runs a boutique record label in Brisbane with a catalogue that to my mind rivals any other indie label in the world.

    I certainly don’t idolise Ianto, and neither does Pat. Adelaide’s over-regulated, conservative climate seems to have gotten the better of Renew Adelaide’s goal of opening up empty spaces for creative enterprises. And the Format Collective – as useful a resource as it is for local musicians – wasn’t much more than a naive activist corroboree when Ianto abandoned it for his career as a lobbyist. Nevertheless, Dr Ware’s fetishisation of live music as a panacea for the stagnation of urban culture is not unfounded. It is the subcultural elements of a city that keep it alive, and subcultures tend to form around bands and musicians, and bands and musicians tend to form around small, left-field venues, some of which involve handball.

    More Format / Jade Monkey sized venues would not result in half-filled rooms (although someone needs to point out that there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with a half-filled room, just like there’s nothing wrong with commercial ambition). This idea is defeatist in the extreme. The audiences are there, and artists are itching to put on shows and bring really interesting acts from all over Australia and the world. Pat and I know – Format has to turn them down all the time.

    I have no doubt at all that if more time and energy was spent on developing new and existing small venues, the change in Adelaide’s nightlife would be breathtaking. The culture of binge drinking would wane, critical media would start to take notice of our cultural output, fewer artists would feel the need to move to larger markets, tourists would sense the difference in atmosphere, touring artists would cease to look down on us, and locals would stay out dancing and fomenting culture, outnumbering the violent alcoholics that currently rule our nightlife. And – miracle of miracles – those larger, half empty venues would start filling up again.

  12. Al, I believe I did NOT spend the majority of my original post bagging Fuse, but I clearly struck a nerve. You have a particular sense of humour when framing your own wit, however fail to see my own humour, or that of Ianto’s in using his title. Or maybe you begrudge not having a PhD of your own? I think this is indicative of your inability to accept musical subcultures on their terms; describing local bands as “average at best”; what wasn’t cool, or fair.

    Handball was just a symbol of community activity and participation, but it could have been anything. It’s about the open invitation to ‘join in’; even if you’re not ‘in the band’. The consumption of alcohol could be (on a more detrimental note) a similar activity (and often happens in greater abundance without even requiring live entertainment). Or riding a mechanical bull. Or waiting in a line for hours. Or dancing to trashy pop till 3am (a regular occurrence at a lot of local shows, actually). Or playing badminton. For you, maybe the equivalent is a nice meal and wine. But again, there’s that ‘disconnect’ with the local scene on its own, naturally evolved terms.

    I wanted to know what experience you have to back up your claim that ‘audience development’ is more important than the decline in venues that foster diverse subcultural participation and community. I wanted you to try convince me, or at the very least put up a well considered argument. All you’ve done is highlighted your personal ‘gripes’ with local music, with no offer of how to realistically improve things.

    After all, it was you that came to Ianto’s blog and refuted this post’s point.

    To directly redress your original points (as I kind of feel I’ve already done previously):

    1. Which bands don’t tour enough? I know of plenty of Adelaide bands that have carried out, or are planning tours. At least as often as similar interstate bands. I mean, Summer Flake is in New Zealand today for Campus A Low Hum, for christssake!

    2. Perhaps for some bands who want to focus on their music, this is less the point? Perhaps this is more to do with the decline in independent music media in Adelaide, ie street press, radio and music blogs? If bands everywhere didn’t have to rely on social media before the internet, why do bands everywhere have to now? How is it fair to take away responsibility from the media and audience to publicize bands and put all the blame on the artists? You admitted this, that teaching bands social media doesn’t make them better bands. And I think above all else, bands being enabled to reach their personal potential is the more important point.

    3. Yes, this is true.

    4. Ok, a bit beside the point maybe, but if you want to complain about mis-using funds let’s talk about funding then. At least back in 2006, Fuse was receiving $126,000 annually of the ArtsSA Contemporary Music Fund. The total pool of funding was $500,000 annually ( I’m not sure what the current figure is, but if it’s still close, Fuse takes a considerable portion of that funding, obtains further monetary support through commercial sponsorship, and STILL asks bands to pay what is a relatively weighty ‘registration fee’.

    Fuse is given more money than Ianto, Format, Moving Music, and Lost City received combined (or even require), to deliver a 3-day conference/showcase/’festival’ that you, yourself, have said isn’t even aimed at fixing the problem you claim is the ‘answer’ to Adelaide’s music industry problems. You’ve refuted any personal responsibility of how that funding is spent to make a difference. And, to me, this is the grain-of-salt that I think should be taken with your un-backed-up assertion that Ianto is ‘wrong’, and you are ‘right’; that ‘audience development’ should take precedence to ‘developing venues’. Hence, my original post.

    You go as far as to call what these other organizations do as ‘fantastic’ without having experienced any of them firsthand. Which is not to say that they aren’t, only that you’re not in a position to explain how or why they work, underfunded and all year round.

    I agree that live music should have a value, which is why at Format I make sure we always pay the bands.

    5. I agree, but as I said, that’s not a problem. The problem is when these older people hold on to government-funded positions year-after-year in spite of their growing ineffectiveness to understand the current local music industry and deliver meaning full results efficiently.

    6. I don’t think it’s your call to decide whether home-recording is worthwhile, and I challenge you, once again, to listen to the bands I mentioned and accept that they have had both critical acclaim (eg., plus high rotation on interstate community radio stations), and have fulfilled all commercial objectives that the artists intended. You claim to have embraced new media technologies, but don’t accept how these bands set goals and achieve them through it; your measuring the present against the way things were 20 years in the past.

    7. Again, I don’t think you are looking at a wide enough array of bands, nor the reciprocal nature of how the national touring industry works. From my experience, touring is often reciprocal, with bands helping each other out with venues and publicity in their respective states. This is fostered by the ability of local venues to attract interstate artists. It is also true that Adelaide venues pays bands better than interstate (listen to interviews by No Zu (Melb) and Ghost Notes (Bris)). So it actually IS easier for interstate bands to tour than Adelaide than for our bands to tour interstate. But I still don’t hear that many bands complaining about touring costs, personally, in my experience. For those that do, there’s funding for that.

    So… yeah. Hopefully that makes my counter-argument more clear.

    I made it clear that I work for Format, and this blog clearly states that Ianto founded Format (, so I don’t think I need to disclose anything more than that. People reading this blog know that. I think people would be less aware of your role in the Adelaide music scene.

    Let me also point out that Format is not a Renew Adelaide space, nor is Renew Adelaide equipped to just ‘hand out’ venue spaces. This is precisely the problem in Adelaide, and we are only just at the beginning of the discussion in how to amend the general venue decline; not just in numbers but in support for subcultural activities and participation; hence this post on Ianto’s personal blog. I’m not sure of the specifics of why Ianto may not have replied to those people, but perhaps you didn’t refer their proposal to the proper Renew Adelaide application process; ? Or perhaps that space just simply isn’t realistically available through the Renew program, and those people are in the same boat as Format and the Jade Monkey, attempting to find a new location with now government sponsored subsidy. Either way, I think it only serves to strengthen the point of this article.

    Thank you for your posts, and good luck with Fuse in 2014. I’m gonna go to a house party that the UV Race are playing.

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