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 Bek Moore

Lost In The Void: Why does the void even exist?

Lost In The Void: Why does the void even exist?
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By Bek Moore

OK, so I promised you stories of hope, genius and fighting against the power. Of people on the edge who are doing amazing things despite the roadblocks that exist in the multi-national machine that is the modern music industry – and they will come. But first let’s examine exactly why it is that these people have to struggle – have straight jobs – often more than one to give the music and art they admire a chance to breathe and exist in a hard form.  Alternatively they can live on the pittance that is the dole to devote themselves to creative enterprises only to find that yes they can present it to the public – but only in a free format. In fact, if they want to play live not just upload to Soundcloud then maybe make a little cash of Bandcamp, there is a system in place in this city – Brisbane, whereby artists are forced to Pay to Play! WTF? Evil; NO DOUBT but does it foster a completely sublime level of community and creativity – yes if you’re prepared to do the hard yards…

So I grew up in Brisbane. I played in bands in Brisbane before the pokies were made legal in Queensland. The culture was fundamentally different from an entertainment in the hotel industry’s point of view. Every second pub had a full p.a. and a stage at the bare minimum. Whether they put on bad covers or tribute bands, metal, grunge (it was the 90s), commercial pop ,punk, hardcore, country – it didn’t matter. Live music was part of the landscape. There were TWO pubs in the bottom level of the Myer Centre that regularly put on bands! So you could be a very mediocre band but still pick up gigs and learn your craft and make a little pocket money on the way. You never got paid less than $100 for a show, and unless it was a benefit gig or you were truly terrible you most often got paid a higher guarantee or a guarantee and a door deal. It still wasn’t a lot of money, don’t get me wrong, but it covered petrol, you could save it to record in a home studio (bear in mind that computer software wasn’t quite the ferocious animal it is now, analogue world meant either you knew someone with mics and a 4 or (WOW) 8 track or you paid someone to record you with the amazing 16 track home studio they had that had real equipment and a sound proof room!) Often in the converted garage or under their house – a lot of us used Mick from Vibrafeel in Inala, he had a mullet, lived in Inala but you could multi-track there properly and he had Super Mario Kart in the non-soundproof room while you were waiting for the guitarist to finally be happy with their million takes. Ugh guitarists!

But then you would get it pressed and release it, after saving money from lots of shows – and in your hand would be a nice piece of vinyl (or a CD if you were that way inclined) that you could then put in the multitude of record shops that existed back then, send to college radio and indie labels around the world and stamp your identity on things. What feels better – to see and touch the product or just download the song. Do you want to know about the band, read liner notes and look at artwork or are you just happy to groove along to a catchy tune even if it has Nazi undertones? I like to get a gut feeling about the band myself, have a hard copy of their music and art in my hands.

So I guess there was a symbiosis in a way. Bands relied on pubs to pay them so they could afford to release independently and ignore the major labels if they weren’t prepared to compromise their sound, and pubs relied on bands to do so and still release albums and singles that would get more people to their shows and drink more beer! BUT THEN IT ALL CHANGED…

These days there is this insane trend in the few venues that are still prepared to put on live music to have a fee that you have to earn through the door before you can even consider paying the bands. You have to cover “hire of the p.a.”, (I’ve used the same p.a. at all these venues a multitude of times?), an engineer (you can’t get a qualified engineer whom you know and who knows your band’s sound to touch this apparently hired equipment), a door person (NO – you and your friends cannot take shifts at being door bitch) and security. Depending on which licensed venue you have booked for the show this fee can vary from $180 to $600 – and all the while people are buying drinks at the bars that have an average mark up of 400 per cent. Pubs used to appreciate the fact that on a quiet Thursday night you got an extra 30+ people through the door buying alcohol or that on a Friday night their bar profits were minimally doubled because they had live entertainment drawing people to their door. So they happily paid bands, happily paid someone to book the bands and the symbiosis worked for all concerned… Until the gambling licensing laws changed anyway…

The upshot of this is DIY venues. Places that don’t have liquor licenses so they are BYO, and they charge a low fee for use of the room and equipment. Musicians that are pioneering but perhaps still developing have an opportunity to share their work with the community in a live setting. The question remains though – should we be providing disincentives for accomplished musicians to experiment with sound?  o the hours of work they do to provide entertainment for an audience remain uncompensated? IS UNDERGROUND MUSIC BEING TAKEN FOR A RIDE LIKE NEVER BEFORE?

I love playing music, I love seeing live bands. But when I hear that I paid to get into a show somewhere and bought beer and the band was paid nothing as they did not cover all the extraneous costs – well to be frank, it gives me the shits! And bands in Brisbane just accept this as part of the deal. Music is becoming a side-project for many a talented genius – cos let’s face reality, you need to pay the rent and music costs you money and the dole doesn’t pay you enough to actually live on…

So why the hell do we still have people striving to put on shows that are not going to make them any money? Why are there still a bunch of bands that will never make the Top 40 (thank the spaghetti monster in the sky) playing for free? Why are some of our most innovative creators persevering? Because they must. Where does commercial art come from? Generally a co-opted underground – unless you’re Andy Warhol or Malcolm McLaren and know how to manipulate the majority, and know how to create an underground ripe for co-opting. But let’s face it; those guys lived in a world without social media. Manipulation was easier purely because the amount of information and stimulation the general public received was much more contained! They were so ‘way out there’ for their time that it was bound to garner attention. How do we escape the void in this age of over-stimulation and an excess of information? How do we make pubs appreciate the work that goes into an artist’s or band’s performance? Or should bands be writing and creating and practising – putting hours of work in every week just to play gigs to over 100 people for free and just be grateful for the chance to actually play live?

I say NO! I endorse all the unlicensed art galleries, studio spaces, houses and other unlicensed venues that support independent music in Brisbane. They can’t afford liquor licenses and the associated cost and sometimes charge a small fee for use of their rooms. I support the couple of venues left in Brisbane that have a budget for bands, mostly on the independent side of the music industry like the Chardon’s Corner Hotel (yes it’s in Yeronga, but there’s a bus straight there and this Friday night it’s free entry to see six bands including awesome interstate act The Paul Kidney Experience and one of Collapse Board’s favourites – Screaming Match), I support the Rock n Roll BBQ at the Mustang Bar who at least have no cover and a budget to pay the bands. I just wonder why these ‘licensed venues’ can afford it (with their multitude of pokies to back them up) and licensed venues without pokies aren’t considering bands good enough to be paid, just good enough to play and increase their bar takings.

But really this is a cliff hanger… cos the follow up will start with the people who have the passion to take the risks and support new and interesting music… So keep reading cos’ there’s more of the saga to come. Who is invigorating the scene despite the constant dissin?

2 Responses to Lost In The Void: Why does the void even exist?

  1. Charles Neville July 5, 2013 at 9:32 am

    Looking forward to the next chapter.

  2. Alex July 5, 2013 at 2:51 pm

    Nice article.

    I remember Kim Salmon’s article a few years back, lamenting the fact that the security at venues usually earns more per hour than he does. At the time I was inclined to think that this is just down to the “free market”: attention, kudos and eventually profit will flow if the art has merit.

    But make the good point here that the market if not “free” at all – in fact it is highly regulated. Liquor licenses, sound restriction and security laws all discriminate against live music venues. So there is essentially a tax on musical expression that is anywhere left of the kind of schlock pumped out at GPO or similar super pubs.

    Anecdotally, everyone knows that people drink less watching live music and there are rarely episodes of violence or other criminal behaviour. Surely this type of social activity should be thoroughly supported cf. discriminated against

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