Op-Ed: Melbourne Venue Owner James Young's Plea To The Victorian Government - Noise11.com
Cherry Bar Owner, James Young at the unveiling of the Bon Scott Sculpture in AC/DC Lane Melbourne. Photo by Ros O'Gorman

Cherry Bar Owner, James Young at the unveiling of the Bon Scott Statue in AC/DC Lane Melbourne. Photo by Ros O'Gorman

Op-Ed: Melbourne Venue Owner James Young’s Plea To The Victorian Government

by James Young on April 29, 2020

in News,Noise Pro

When the proposed Victorian Lockdown Laws were initially proposed it was the live music sector that was hit first and hit the hardest.

We were told (back in early March) that we could open provided we reduced our capacity to where people had four square metres to themselves. This meant a reduction in capacity for must venues of 90%. Running a live music venue at 10% occupancy is untenable, so we voluntarily chose to close.

When we do come out of Lockdown the live music sector will be the last to be re-opened. But why?

With Michael Gudinski declaring that there will be no International Tours till at least April 2021, his words were encouraging for the Australian music scene when he said that “local music and small indoor venues would be the winners.”

Quick aside: Given that local artists can’t perform at the moment and are really doing it tough it would show great leadership if mainstream radio stations were to start playing 80% local content, instead of burying their mandatory 17% during their graveyard shifts when everyone is asleep.

Such a wonderful opportunity to help Aussie artists and to introduce listeners to quality local music that, in time, they could embrace in a live environment as well. It’s a no-brainer for me.

The terrifying news is this:

Insiders in politics, music and the pub scene are now whispering that the Victorian Government will not re-open venues until September!

And that these venues will have to comply with social-distancing laws, i.e. 4-square metres per person, reducing capacities by 90%, meaning almost every venue will be forced to remain closed.

The removal of social-distancing rules, in other words, the return to “business as usual” is tipped to be in January 2021. Mike dropped in horror.

Meanwhile shopping at Chadstone, going to any crowded beach and eating in any food court will all be totally legal very soon.

Bars cannot survive earning not one cent, but having to continue to pay minimum 50% rent plus all insurance, utilities and other regular costs of business.

And remember that most bar owners, like most struggling musicians, slip through the JobKeeper cracks (because they have never drawn a regular salary) and are living off their credit cards presently. But for how much longer?

The informed opinion of most fellow bar owners (and please remember we don’t own the freehold, we just own the business and pay the very steep rents that are attracted by licensed venues) that I am speaking to on a daily basis is:
We can manage to go in to debt for two to three months during Lockdown, and then we will spend the next 12 months repaying that debt, if we can return to normal trading levels.

However, if we are not permitted to open and trade as per usual in June at the latest, then we will go broke and there will be no live music venues when things return to “normal”.

But, let’s not just bring a trouble to the table here. Let’s bring a solution.

Melbourne has the highest number of live music venues (583) per capita of any city in the world. This is why we are known as “The Live Music Capital of the World”.

And with that leadership status comes the responsibility to lead the sector.

Melbourne, Victoria has an obligation to lead. An obligation to save our live music venues and protect our artists and their livelihoods.

So, what needs to be done?
1. The Vic Government needs to accept the $70M “live music rescue” package tabled in Parliament last Thursday via our peak body Music Victoria to help save our live music venues.

In my opinion, while $25 Billion Govt. “loans” are being discussed, we need to recognise that $70 Million is a drop in the ocean of Government spending to save an entire industry.

This is the industry sector that contributes like no other to the vital social, creative and business economies of this State. And it ripples through other sectors: hotels, transport, food and beverage, fashion, equipment hire, etc.

2. When we let Chadstone Shopping Centre re-open then we should let live music venues open at that time too. With some important restrictions of course:
a) At first, venues to host a maximum of 300 punters
b) Every person to be tested with a forehead thermometer before entry (no admission to those with a raised body temperature)
c) No cash transactions. Card only.
d) Hand sanitizer applied upon entry and available throughout the venue
e) New “hygiene officer” roles created, where an employee is cleaning bar surfaces, etc. on a full time basis

Please note that these draft proposed “restrictions” will not apply at Chadstone Shopping centre or at crowded beaches or at food courts, so these small live music venues will be pro-actively offering more care and security than other industries with similar “exposure”.

Given that, in the example I am using, Chadstone Shopping Centre is tipped to re-open in full “normal” conditions on 1 June, then what I am saying, what I am imploring to our State Government is to please save our live music sector and allow us to re-open on 1 June as well.

It just makes perfect sense.

And another quick aside, we’ve got the coronavirus largely in check in Victoria (and of course I understand and support the important notion of constant vigilance), but there is a far worse pandemic of child abuse, domestic violence, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, gambling abuse, irreparable financial devastation, anxiety, depression and suicide which is running amok underneath the hideous black “Lockdown” blanket, as we speak.

The Government MUST set us “free” as soon as humanly possible or this festering “Lockdown” cancer is going to blacken our lives in a far more devastating and long term fashion than any virus ever could.

TODAY, the Victorian Government should ease our strict Lockdown Laws (by far the strictest in Australia) by allowing fewer than ten friends to meet privately and socialise whilst respecting distancing and hygiene etiquette.

Let bands rehearse and record their new songs. Release the pressure cooker and unleash the creative spirit. It’s such a tiny concession that will have such huge benefits. Do it. Now.

“Oh oh, Daniel my Premier you are older than me
Do you see the pain of the scars that won’t heal?
Your eyes have died, but you see more than I
Daniel you’re a star in the face of the sky…”

Please Premier Daniel Andrews heed this plea from the Victorian live music sector.

Please. Listen. Act. Save.

Sincerely yours,
James Young
Co-Owner and Booker
Cherry Bar (Melbourne)
Yah Yah’s (Fitzroy)
Westwood (Footscray)

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