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|
|Gate 1 Bar||75||1||n/a||n/a|
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:
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%).
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.