Roundtable to Call for Action on Declining Live Music Audiences

Glass Animals at SYD HIFI Image Credit: Victoria Tesoriero
Chris Bowen
| July 4, 2017

Music Australia’s Roundtable conference will call for decisive national action to boost live music attendances in August. Recent data shows an alarming decline in live music attendances and revenues. If left unchecked, this could reduce public access to Australian popular music, and damage Australia’s multi-billion-dollar music sector. We call for national leaders and new programs, to complement and boost the many positive initiatives offered by local and state governments.

Two sessions dedicated to audience development of live music and a regional music forum will be held at the Roundtable Conference in Sydney, from 1-3 August.

The Australia Council’s latest National Arts Participation Survey, shows the proportion of Australians attending live contemporary music dropped to 32 percent in 2016, down from 39 percent in 2013. This is reflected across the country and age groups, with declines in metropolitan and regional attendance. This follows a 2 percent decline in the four years to 2013. Industry trade body Live Performance Australia has identified a similar trend, with contemporary music experiencing its biggest decrease in five years with attendances down 13 percent, and an even larger revenue decline. The Australia Council study also reports that music has seen the biggest drop of any artform in participation rates, from 20 to 15 percent over the past four years.

Both reports acknowledge the music sector’s volatility, where high profile international tours can skew the data, and the LPA identifies “weaker consumer confidence across Australia” as a key factor. However, the declining trend is clear, with the pressure more pronounced in popular than classical music. This is consistent with Music Australia research that market failure has spread into many facets of the live music sector. Causes include higher exposure to commercial and regulatory pressures, changing audience behaviour, and lower levels of government support.

This situation requires immediate action.

And the case for support is solid. There is considerable dynamism in the live sector; boutique festivals enjoy loyal audiences, with new niche events; several states including South Australia and Victoria have well-developed programs and policies, as do cities including Sydney and Geelong, and NSW and Victoria have sophisticated youth engagement programs. These are all specifically designed to foster a dynamic contemporary sector, boost venue based live music in key markets, build public engagement, and to apply regulatory reform to roll back barriers such as lockout laws.

And live music is fundamental to the whole music sector. It is where musicians earn most income, build a fan base, hone their craft, and develop export capabilities. A suite of national policy and investment measures and regulatory reform could do much to turn this situation around, so music can return to what it does best, strengthening its contribution to national life.

The missing piece in the puzzle is at a national level, where funding cuts have taken their toll and there is a paucity of policies and targeted initiatives to stimulate demand.

In contrast with state and local governments, federal agency the Australia Council has dismantled a suite of effective international music programs (International Pathways, International Markets — Music Managers, and Live on Stage), has no dedicated presenter programs (unlike their UK and Canadian peers), and offers only one contemporary music program. Strategic initiatives such as The Live Music Office and export office Sounds Australia have also been impacted (although industry lobbying delivered Sounds Australia a funding reprieve in late 2016).  Rationalising funding programs in 2015 may have helped the Australia Council, but it hasn’t helped music.

Music is also under-represented in national touring funding. Of the $6 – 7 million granted annually for performing arts tours, Music Australia estimates only 10% on average finds its way to contemporary music. This is despite similar cost dynamics and barriers that apply to all live touring with the exception of headline acts.

So what are the public policy and investment solutions?

  1. A clear music policy framework to guide federal government music investment decisions. The 2012 Music Sector Plan was a good example, it’s time for another
  2. Restore Australia Council funding and underwrite targeted new investments, including:
  3. Reinstate in full the previous suite of Australia Council investments in music export
  4. Establish a dedicated regional touring grants program – Playing Australian Music
  5. Instigate a National Youth Music Development program to foster live music engagement and attendance
  6. Roll out tailored investment programs, including to encourage venues to present live music

These are key measures to boost live music, and are all contained in a broad policy and investment framework produced by the contemporary sector in 2016: the National Contemporary Music Plan.

With demonstrable evidence of the benefits music delivers to social cohesion, tourism, and our creative industries, this investment will return social, cultural and economic dividends many times over.

Join us at the 2017 Roundtable to debate and advance these and other key contemporary music issues!

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