Australian Artists On What's Next After The Pandemic

As a semblance of normality returns to Australia’s live music scene, we ask six local musicians how they’re feeling, where they’re going and whether the music industry will ever be the same.

It's been a rough ride so far throughout the pandemic. We've experienced how devastatingly fragile the music economy is – not just for artists, but for backstage workers, production crew, hospitality staff, managers, booking agents, and more. At the time of writing, I Lost My Gig reports more than $345 million of combined income has been lost from arts sector workers.

But with the coronavirus vaccine slowly rolling out around the globe, some light – no matter how dim or far away – can be seen at the end of the tunnel.

After a series of episodic lockdowns, Australia has partially returned to a form of surreal, relative normalcy – including the return of live music and artists giddily embarking on domestic tours. Pubs and venues have flung their doors open, countless Facebook events have cropped up over the past few months, and festivals both old and new are selling out in the blink of an eye.

Needless to say, we can definitely consider ourselves incredibly fortunate here – tucked away in our little corner of the world. Our Aussie artists know it too, and while they're raring to get back to playing gigs, many of them still can't believe their luck. MTV Australia spoke to a number of musicians on their thoughts on their immediate future, what's to come, and whether the landscape of live music will ever be the same again.

Angie McMahon

How have you been coping since Australia has been somewhat returning to a state of normalcy?

Up and down! We had months of serious lockdown here [in Melbourne], so now being allowed to travel to a studio and write, or drive to a body of water again, my gratitude is so fresh. But there is a lot to process and adapt to still, and I'm having some flat days. Rollercoastering through, looking for some balance. The basic wellbeing things like writing, eating good food and vitamins, yoga – they are just so important at this point. Like they stand at my door and wave at me and if I ignore them then I have a really crap time!

How do you feel about playing/attending local shows in Australia when other countries are still dipping in and out of lockdown?

When I go to a gig and watch someone sing now, I just start crying. It is such a relief to be able to watch shows, and I'm excited to play my first one next week! It's just a give and take cycle across the world, we watched gigs happen from afar while we were locked down, and as we went into summer, the northern hemisphere went into winter and I think they started experiencing some of what we had. It's such a challenging time, and gigs are a gift. I'm in awe of the venues and industry folk behind the scenes who have been able to organise safe shows and spaces for us amidst all the challenges. Heroes!!

When do you expect international touring to resume?

It's easier on the heart to set that expectation far away in the future so we don't have to be let down. I reckon at least a year.

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With a light at the end of the tunnel in sight, how do you feel about your career looking forward into the next few months/years?

Pretty positive. That's the best option I have, focus on the light. I get time to write, to hopefully record, to get ducks in a row or whatever the saying. Slowness works for lots of things, and it works for me in terms of making a record, so I'm just going to keep working on that. I hope the time comes when we can release and tour a new record. I don't think people will stop wanting good songs, and I still want to try and make them. There will definitely be more obstacles but my purpose kinda hasn't changed.

On a global scale, do you think the landscape of the music industry has been altered forever? Do you think it'll ever be the same again?

I don't really know about the global scale...I'm just in my little Melbourne corner. To me, some parts of the music industry are like a big beast with lots of heads, and maybe it can be tamed and refined a bit by having to slow down. Maybe it can be better. 

Obviously, firstly, there are so many people and places who need protecting, that's the worrying part, all these small venues, businesses, roadies, freelancers, all the people who make shows and records happen, they're adaptable, but they need work and I hope the landscape goes back to normalcy for their sake.

But then there are big companies and big bosses who seem more interested in money than in good music and good people, and I hope that they are learning from the things that have been going on in the world. I hope the survivors are more "music" than "industry". We're all pretty sick of having mostly powerful white dudes at the top, to be honest. I'm excited about the voices that are coming up in the world.

Nick Kearton, Cool Sounds

How have you been coping since Australia has been somewhat returning to a state of normalcy?

We've been doing pretty well. It's a relief to be able to function with a degree of normality and we've been enjoying being able to play some music together again. We're not career musicians and all work / study, so Covid didn't affect us too badly on that front, however it has certainly been a really big part of our social lives for a long time, so we really missed seeing each other regularly and are pleased to be able to do that again.

How do you feel about playing/attending local shows in Australia when other countries are still dipping in and out of lockdown?

As weird as shows are at the moment, with reduced capacities and seating etc, we are pretty fortunate to be able to do it at all. Playing and attending shows is the most fun part of being involved in a music community and as much as I appreciated the effort people made with live streaming, it's no replacement for being in the same room as your friends.

Instagram, @osborneagainmusic

When do you expect international touring to resume?

No idea. It's all contingent on the success of vaccines I suppose, but I'm not getting my hopes up of it being a possibility any time soon. We had plans to go back to Europe and would love to do that again, but we won't be booking flights ín the foreseeable future. We've got shows lined up in Brisbane and Thirroul, which are the next best things.

With a light at the end of the tunnel in sight, how do you feel about your career looking forward into the next few months/years?

As I mentioned previously, we're not careerist musicians and we try to just enjoy playing music and spending time together. While we lost some shows and touring this record is going to be a bit more difficult than it would be otherwise, we still get to indulge our hobby and punish our friends to come and watch us play, so things are fine. 

On a global scale, do you think the landscape of the music industry has been altered forever? Do you think it'll ever be the same again?

Probably not, but the music industry wasn't such a wonderland for small indie bands prior to covid, so it's hard to be overly concerned. Hopefully it results in some positive change and people start to support indie artists and labels more directly.

Nat Vazer

How have you been coping since Australia has been somewhat returning to a state of normalcy?

Feels like going from zero to 100. I was living like a social recluse in a cave and now I'm suddenly at backyard BBQs and gigs. It's taken a while to calibrate but I'm just slowly finding my pace again, much like everyone else.

How do you feel about playing/attending local shows in Australia when other countries are still dipping in and out of lockdown?

I feel incredibly lucky to be playing gigs and festivals again, but that feeling is hard to reconcile with the music scene in so many other parts of the world still struggling to recover. I'm just trying to make the most of the shows happening now and trying to remember not to take it for granted because who knows what'll happen tomorrow. It's heart-warming to see people coming out to shows again and pretty cool that production crew and event organisers have been able to make festivals and things happen during this time.

When do you expect international touring to resume?

23 May 2023. That's the date I saw on my plane ticket in a recent dream. Hope I'm wrong – I hope it's sooner.

With a light at the end of the tunnel in sight, how do you feel about your career looking forward into the next few months/years?

The light at the end of the tunnel is something I take with a grain of salt, but I feel hopeful about what the future holds. There's a lot to look forward to. In the next few months, I have a full band tour planned so I'm pretty excited about that and happy to just be taking it one step at a time for now.

On a global scale, do you think the landscape of the music industry has been altered forever? Do you think it'll ever be the same again?

I think the music industry was already heading for a sea change and maybe Covid accelerated all that. I don't know if it'll be the same again, but I do believe it will return in a big way.

Carla Geneve

How have you been coping since Australia has been somewhat returning to a state of normalcy?

I've been feeling great, not touring as much has allowed me to get into a way better routine. In WA we have been lucky enough to be doing a fair few gigs too, so I haven't much to complain about!

How do you feel about playing those gigs while other countries are still entering various states of lockdown?

Incredibly lucky and appreciative. It's easy to forget when you're comfortably trapped in the bubble of our relative safety, but during our first lock down I did a lot of thinking about why I love music, and more specifically performing and watching live music. I try not to let it pass me by anymore and be really aware of how great it is we still get to share those experiences and moments.

When do you expect international touring to resume?

I have no idea. The pandemic has really got me to come to terms with being happy with whatever happens and being at peace with the inevitable. Or at least trying to be. That's easier said than done.

How do you feel about your career looking forward into the next few months or years?

Very excited. We may not have been touring but I've been writing a lot. I don't see how anything like this can get in the way of my creative output, when what it means is that I'll be sitting at home with my guitar all day. I've also had a lot of time to put effort into improving my music knowledge and skills which has been really inspiring.

On a global scale, do you think the landscape of the music industry has been altered forever? Do you think it'll ever be the same again?

I feel like something changes the global music industry every other week at the moment. Things like streaming, TikTok, concerts on Minecraft...the pandemic seems to have just given everything a nudge in the direction it was already going – the way of online, physically-isolated interaction with art. I don't think that anything in the world will be the same, because this thing has affected us all to that extent. If we've all changed, then it makes sense that music and the way we share it will change with us.

Hachiku

How have you been coping since Australia has been somewhat returning to a state of normalcy?

I'm probably maybe the busiest I've ever been – trying to organise two upcoming Australian tours, applying for four grants at the same time, rehearsing with Georgia our guitarist who's just returned from a year-long NSW-escape-COVID-moving-in-with-my-parents hiatus. (Anyone out there want to manage us? Lol I'm getting a lot of grey hairs.) I've also just started the NEIS business program for a mixing and production studio, watering the garden everyday for little baby eggplants, and am somehow eating my way through this season's 80 zucchinis. Quite fun, quite stressful, quite lucky and grateful we get to have a return to semi-normality.;

That sounds pretty hectic. Speaking of normality, how do you feel about attending gigs in Australia while other countries are still under lockdown?

It does feel weird, particularly with my family in Germany where the second wave of COVID unfortunately hit pretty hard. I feel quite guilty actually – being able to go to and announce shows on our socials when the rest of the world is still in shambles and my friends overseas are enviously watching us have fun New Years parties and mini-festivals. "Stretching their noses long" is what we'd say in German. I don't want to jinx it though – winter is coming and it's not like Australia has spontaneously developed immunity.

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When do you expect international touring to resume?

Don't make me sad… I have flight credit to the U.S. with United Airlines because of the cancelled SXSW last year that expires March 2022. We also have been offered some shows and festivals in Germany this September. Optimism? Utopia? Madness? Time will tell.

With a light at the end of the tunnel in sight, how do you feel about your career looking forward into the next few months/years?

Mhm, I think I am the sort of (rare?) personality type that feels ultra relaxed when something gets cancelled due to circumstances beyond my control and I can get away with not doing it – who wants to do anything, really? Flying overseas is exhausting, leaving your house quite the hassle and having a pretty valid excuse to focus on planting flowers and vegetables in your garden while wearing the same pyjamas for 4 days brings me joy. That's me being lazy though - deep down I'm a very ambitious person with great plans for future Hachiku.

In my oblivious mind, we'll do 2x Australian tours this year, finally play SXSW 2022, make use of our new US, UK & German booking team to play 83 overseas headline shows, write a second album that will be a collaboration with Lady Gaga, Rihanna and a string ensemble. No fun focussing on the negatives! In my nihilistic moments, COVID will be the perfect excuse to tell my grandchildren: "Look, I almost became a really successful career musician but then right as we were getting started this thing happened and I had to just become a stunt double!"

On a global scale, do you think the landscape of the music industry has been altered forever? Do you think it'll ever be the same again?

Sure – I mean, has anything ever been the same to what it was before? I feel like Einstein and some sort of space time continuum that I definitely don't understand is telling me that we'll be just fine, just different. The human species is very adaptable, but evolutionary theory will put us in our place in the long run. I feel like we can't outsmart the destruction we have caused on this planet and running away to Mars is a bit of a cop out – if you set your house on fire on purpose, you'll probably also set your next house on fire.

This is probably a bit of a meta-physical answer to the question regarding the music industry, but who am I to know! I do think if we want venues and small businesses and artists and culture to survive and thrive, we need governments across the world to pump money into our cultural enterprises and value them for what they're worth. Otherwise, here comes my mining and farming and sports career.

Jess Locke

How have you been coping since Australia has been somewhat returning to a state of normalcy?

It's been a little bit crazy, it feels like we've gone from zero to one-hundred overnight. It's great to be playing so much again and I get the feeling that everyone really appreciates it, especially with that feeling that it could all be called off at any moment. But things feel really positive and it's been great to see so many people so excited to come and see live music again.

Speaking of which, how do you feel about playing/attending shows in Australia when other countries are still in and out of lockdown?

It's definitely a reminder of how lucky we are here. It was a tough year last year, especially in Victoria but I think we are all seeing the long term pay off now for that sacrifice. Just being able to work in the music industry at the moment is something I am incredibly grateful for.

When do you expect international touring to resume?

It almost seems silly to speculate, it's really not anything I have any control over. I think the most important thing is for communities everywhere to recover a sense of normalcy. When it's safe enough to expand on that and travel more then of course I would love to be touring overseas, but we just have to wait and see!

In light of that, how do you feel about your career looking forward into the next few months/years?

I think this industry has always been a fickle one and at the best of times there are never any guarantees for life as an artist. Times are tougher now but I don't think my overall attitude has changed that much. I didn't get into this industry for job security! I'm always going to make music. That being said, I'd like to think we've seen the worst of it here and I can only hope things will go well from here. It's much easier for me to make a living when I can tour. But again, I think the overall lesson here is we just don't know. Nothing is set in stone. We need to be adaptable.

On a global scale, do you think the landscape of the music industry has been altered forever? Do you think it'll ever be the same again?

It's definitely been altered in a big way. But forever? No. In the scheme of things, this past year is a very small amount of time as tough as that one year has been. While I think we will probably hang onto some ideas and skills like live streaming, I don't think you will ever replace the experience of being in a room where people are making music. Live concerts are a social experience, people want to be out there amongst it.

If anything, I hope the last year has made people think about how they value music and the arts in general. It can be a contentious topic, but I really think the future of the industry depends a lot on the level of support it receives from the community, whether that is directly from fans or from government support. In terms of international travel, things will probably be different for a little while, and touring overseas is more expensive. But our economies are all so intertwined. It makes sense for artists to tour overseas, especially Australian artists. Unless our global economy changes drastically overall, I imagine long term, the music industry will do the same as what most other industries do and export to international markets.

Written by Eddy Lim, a Melbourne-based music, arts and culture writer with bylines in MTV Australia, NME, VICE, etc. Send him free guitar gear Follow him on Twitter @noteddylim.

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