Melbourne Australia Peter Noble remembers the moment he had to close his music festival just hours before it was due to open.
“It was a state of terror and shock, not only for me but my entire team,” he told Al Jazeera.
Noble is the director of Bluesfest, an annual Australian music festival that has seen stars such as James Brown, BB King and Norah Jones perform on stage.
Held in the popular coastal tourist destination of Byron Bay in northern New South Wales, the award-winning Bluesfest attracts around 25,000 people to the area, generating millions for the local economy.
However, the impact of COVID-19 saw the festival closed by Australian health authorities the night before it opened, based on one case in the area.
“We were ready to go and we were in discussions until the night before the cancellation under the public health system,” Noble said. “I still shake my head and go: ‘Is this course of action, was it the only one available?’
“Not only were we shut down, our entire district was shut down within an hour’s drive. The losses are incalculable. It’s not just the millions of dollars we took down and lost, it’s the tens of millions of dollars our district lost due to its inability to fully trade.”
The cancellation of 2021 came earlier this year after the cancellation of last year’s event. In 2020, they were notified three weeks in advance.
The cancellation of music events due to the Corona virus has affected the Australian music industry severely across the board.
Not only have big festivals like Bluesfest closed, but bistro parties as well, tours canceled and even the ability to rehearse and register is restricted due to the ongoing shutdown.
Economic modeling for consultancy PwC Australia indicates that the Australian music industry reached A$1.82 billion ($1.36 million) in 2019 – a number that is expected to decline by as much as 90% in 2020.
The pioneers of the Australian music scene, You Am I, saw their nearly 32-year career come to a halt in March 2020 as a result of the pandemic.
The band members live in different Australian states, and due to travel restrictions, they even had to remotely record their new album.
“We just had to adapt,” bassist and manager Andy Kent told Al Jazeera. “We somehow managed to get a record when we weren’t even in the same state.”
The Australian music industry has traditionally relied on touring and live performances to generate income and for artists to gain exposure.
You and I, who started playing together in 1989, understand very well the importance of live performance for new and emerging bands.
“If you have 2,000 people in a room, these are your goods [merchandise] “Sales will go up,” Kent said. “And if you tour a lot, there are a lot of people interacting with you, so your profile goes up and your chances of playing on the radio or increasing your record sales increase.”
Kent tells Al Jazeera that while I’ve been fortunate to have over 30 years of experience and a strong loyal fan base to draw on, the lack of tour and performance opportunities creates a huge challenge for new and emerging teams.
“Basic playing in front of so many people is very important for music business and touring bands,” he said.
Online live broadcast
However, emerging Aboriginal soul singer Kee’ahn has risen to the challenge, releasing her debut single, Better Things, in mid-2020.
With her hometown of Melbourne in the midst of a months-long lockdown, Kee’ahn felt it was the right time to release the song.
“I was like, ‘I really want to get this song out because I love it and I think it could come in handy during this stage of it all,'” Kian told Al Jazeera.
With no chance of a live performance or tour in support of the Better Things release, the song still attracted radio broadcasts from the online version alone and even won an award at the 2020 National Indigenous Music Awards.
Everyone was online [due to the lockdown] Entity said.
The singer – whose name means “dance, sing and play” in her family’s native Wake language – says the shutdown has opened up opportunities online that many musicians might not have thought of before.
“Personally, I am really interested مهتم [in how] Tik Tok and Instagram have affected how music is used and [how] Artists can take advantage of the streams and start a musical career without doing any live concerts.”
“I really like to view the online space on Zoom and IG live. The younger generation can adapt to the online space. I’m not saying the older generation can’t, but I think it’s easier [for young people]. “
However, despite the opportunities from online sharing, Kee’ahn also acknowledges the limitations.
“It’s not the same when doing it online via Zoom,” she said. “But it was highlighted how music can be accessed online for people who can’t go in person. I [still] I think live music is really important.”
Noble remains adamant that Australia’s live music industry needs support.
“I don’t want this to be the end of major live music events in Australia as a result,” he said. “I see people going into broadcasts and that really worries me.”
Musicians and artists have gained access to the Australian Government’s Employment Allowance, a minimum wage welfare scheme designed to help workers who have become unemployed due to the fallout from COVID-19.
However, Jobkeeper access is now gone, and while the government has committed another A$135 million ($101 million) to support the industry, this is well below the roughly A$2 billion ($1.5 billion) that is generated annually.
Noble says that live music, in particular, is vital, not only to the concert experience for the masses but also to the income it brings to the musicians.
“Because the profits from CDs are essentially zero and the live broadcasts are zero, the music industry relies on live performance for its income,” Noble said.
“And now I’m starting to see broadcast events happen to replace live music events. I can guarantee you that payments from these to artists are not equal to or close to anything that artists get paid for live performance.”
Noble says the Australian government should support the music industry in the same way it has supported the return of sport.
Tens of thousands of people can now attend sports matches and an Olympic team has been sent to Tokyo, despite some of the world’s most severe travel restrictions as a result of COVID-19 – so much so that even citizens couldn’t go home.
However, strict social distancing measures have greatly limited the capacities of live music venues, and laws have been enacted banning dancing.
“There is a joke going around in the industry that all musicians should run upstage wearing a soccer jacket and kick the ball into the audience and we’re not going to be cancelled,” Noble said. “But there is a lot of truth in that joke.”
Despite the challenges presented by COVID-19, Noble is organizing Bluesfest for the third time.
Now, who will be taking place in October with an all-Australian squad, says it was “very difficult for us to get up and down from the ring”.
The festival – and the live music – may be further tested.
COVID-19 is re-emerging and Sydney is in lockdown amid a new outbreak driven by the more transmissible type of delta.