Dynamics of Live Music Venues and why lockout laws are a problem

Oxford Art Factory, Image credit: Musicfeeds.com.au
Chris Bowen
| March 30, 2016

Those not actively involved in the live music scene may wonder why lockout laws are a problem. After all, 1.30am and 3.00am appears to allow plenty of time to trade, for bands to play, and audiences to attend.

We explain the dynamics of live music venues and the problems these lockout laws present for the contemporary music industry. This information is in our submissions to the forthcoming Senate Inquiry into the Need for a nationally-consistent approach to alcohol-fuelled violence, and the Callinan Independent Review of liquor law reforms in NSW.

Lockout Laws

Lockout laws have been enacted in NSW, and more recently in Queensland, to address alcohol fuelled violence. The laws require most licensed venues in designated zones to ‘lock out’ new patrons from entering at 1.30am, alcohol sales must cease at 3.00am, and other conditions apply. They are a response to highly publicised incidents of street violence in entertainment precincts, resulting in fatalities, and strong public and health sector pressure for action which we have previously covered here.

These laws are Questionable

The reason they are a problem for the music industries is it is questionable whether they will achieve their aim, and they have multiple unintended consequences.

The laws are questionable because they are both over inclusive and under inclusive

The laws are questionable because, in ‘legal language’, they are both over inclusive and under inclusive. Laws are over inclusive in that they adversely affect many lawful and non-violent activities, including entering a licensed venue after the designated lock out time to listen to live music.  The laws are under inclusive in that they do not address multiple issues of alcohol fuelled and other violence, including at other times and places, excessive alcohol consumption before going out, and the systemic broader cultural causes of excessive alcohol consumption and violence.

Dynamics of licensed music venues

The dynamics of live music venues are such that these laws render them unviable.

Many live music performances start late, can continue until 2 or 3am, patrons move between venues, and some will see more than one act on one night.  Typically venues will present 2 shows, the first from 8pm and the second from midnight. Multiple bands and DJs may appear. The double show format is an economic necessity, as typical revenues from food and beverage comprise over 80 per cent of total income, and ticket sales less than twenty per cent.

In many cases people will simply not attend if artists perform earlier. If fewer patrons attend, venues face lesser revenues but similar costs. The bands still have to be paid and the business operates at a loss. With reduced slots, it is emerging bands who are less likely to draw an audience, and can miss out. These bands miss the valuable performance experience necessary for a successful career.

The dynamics of live music venues are such that these laws render them un-viable

When patron movement is restricted by requiring people to remain in a certain venue after 1.30am, it is a disincentive to attend. Fewer performance slots are available, resulting in fewer artists presented through the course of a night. The reality is that fewer people will attend, and fewer bands will perform, reducing employment in the industry. Live music is a tool often used by business to attract patrons, and lockout laws restricts a business’s ability to attract their customer base.

Negative Music Industry Impacts

These laws, if implemented without exemptions and mitigation, will lead to significant declines in attendances and loss of revenues, reduced music industry jobs, and fewer public entertainment options.

This is already happening. Figures released by industry body APRA AMCOS show a 40 per cent drop in live music revenue in the Sydney CBD lockout zone since the laws were introduced in 2014. The data also shows a 19 per cent decrease in attendances at night clubs and dance venues in the affected zone.

Figures by APRA AMCOS show a 40 per cent drop in live music revenue in the Sydney CBD lockout zone since the laws were introduced

There are broader economic and cultural impacts, including adverse effects on related night time economies (evening leisure activities based around food, beverage and culture), on city branding, and on tourism.

You can read more about the importance of late night economies for music in our story here.

Our Recommendations

In our submissions we make the case that music is not a contributor to the problem, and can be part of the solution. And we cite evidence of the role music plays in promoting positive social behaviour.

We support recommendations of the National Live Music Office, and call for proactive approaches as essential to address violence in entertainment precincts, to ensure these businesses are not adversely impacted, and that planned and integrated management and regulatory environments are implemented. These include best practice approaches from other jurisdictions such as Victoria and South Australia, and mitigation measures including exemptions, grants, and legislative recognition.

music is not a contributor to the problem, and can be part of the solution

You can read our full submission into Lockout Laws on our website here

We are grateful to ClarkeKann Lawyers for generously donating their services and expertise to contribute to these submissions.

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