Editor’s note: This is a sponsored article created in partnership with Visit Victoria, Australia’s home of live music.
Early on in the pandemic, we were warned the live music industry would be one of the last to bounce back. Now, 15 months in, that has unfortunately remained the case. Due to an entire array of factors, the live music scene is consistently finding itself up against a string of obstacles as the world around it is seemingly already returning to how it was before.
No music venues know this struggle better than those in Melbourne, who spent the majority of last year closed due to the city’s months-long lockdown. The lockdown was brutal on all of those within the city, but it inevitably led to the ability for these venues to be able to open back up in the first place. But, given the uphill battle these venues are facing, they need all the help they can get from us – live music lovers – to boost them back to the glory they deserve.
One such venue is The Old Bar in Fitzroy. One of the venue’s owners, Liam Matthews, spoke to MTV Australia about how they’ve managed to overcome one of the biggest challenges they’ve ever faced..
“We have really been able to reflect on the way we were running the business in the past and how we were prioritising things,” Matthews said.
“When you run a venue that has shows seven nights per week there isn't a lot of time to look backwards or forwards so you find yourself just surviving. Now that we have had this pause after 15 years of running venues we have been able to implement many changes and it seems as though The Old Bar is much better off for this.”
Gigs are popping up in major cities around the country every week, so fans are not hard done by as far as choice goes. In fact, Melbourne has a notable and iconic plethora of venues that are famous Australia-wide: from smaller and more intimate places like 170 Russell and Northcote Social Club to the larger stages of Palais Theatre and the Forum.
All these places have had to adapt to an unpredictable timeline in various ways – social distancing, masks when necessary and limited capacity set-ups. The biggest task for Matthews and The Old Bar, however, is prepping in case of another lockdown.
“We are being extremely cautious with our money and just always keep the idea in the back of our minds that it is still out there and we may have to close down again,” Matthews said. “We learned a lot of alternative ways to keep some kind of a turnover coming through the business so having the ability to switch them on at any time is what could make or break a business like ours.”
That caution echoes a larger message punters should keep in mind: these venues could be closed down once again with little notice. The pandemic caused the cancellation of NSW’s Bluesfest less than a day before it was supposed to open. That unpredictability, while scary, should be a huge motivator into getting out and supporting your fave local bands and artists and the venues they play at.
There were fears that the live music industry wouldn’t bounce back at all, but Matthews is adamant they will – with our help. “The arts is a super-resilient industry and will always be strong in this country but what needs to be remembered is that it is not just an industry,” Matthews said.
“These are people that have given everything to provide this art ... and we need to consider the human element here.” That human element is probably what’s most important. Beyond the fact that there are so many incomes in the industry that have been impacted by the pandemic, live music venues have always been a place for us all to connect – with artists, with our city and with each other.
A growing list of Melbourne venues have registered for the “No QR Code, No Entry”, including The Old Bar, which aims to reach 100% QR code compliance in an effort to return to normal sooner rather than later. As live music venues continue to vye for their future, it’s up to us to make sure that they thrive as much as possible. In other words, go to gigs!
This article is sponsored by Visit Victoria, Australia’s home of live music. Visit Victoria is MTV Unplugged Melbourne’s exclusive partner. The piece was written by music contributor, Jackson Langford.
Check out MTV and Visit Victoria’s very own gig: Tash Sultana’s MTV Unplugged set, which airs exclusively on MTV on May 23. More details here.