Australia 2016: Market Down, Festivals Dominant

Through 2016, Australia’s live music sector continued to be sustained by an audience that wanted new experiences, was supportive of fresh talent and happy to travel long distances to catch acts. But uncertainty about the Australian economy saw the last Ticket Attendance and Revenue Survey from peak body Live Performance Australia (LPA) indicate the overall live entertainment market has shrunk 30 percent in the past two years.

LPA estimated the sector’s current worth at A$1.41 billion ($1 billion) and a yearly attendance of 18.38 million. Contemporary music, the largest sector generating 34 percent of revenue and 30.2 percent of attendance, saw a significant 21 percent decline in revenue, down 13 percent in attendance and down 10.4 percent in the average ticket price.

The “Economic and Cultural Value of Live Music in Australia” study by the University of Tasmania and Live Music Office set its value contribution to the Aussie community in commercial, individual and civic benefits at A$15.7 billion ($11.3 billion). The most marked trend through 2016 was festivals overtaking venues as where more music fans see their first live shows. It was in pubs and clubs where, in the 1970s and 1980s, AC/DC, INXS, Midnight Oil, Divinyls, and Cold Chisel cut their teeth for export-ready status and developed loyal audiences.

Artsfacts estimated there were still 6,003 pubs and club gigs per week around the country. But these were not only affected by the changing music habits of millennials. Also in play were a drop of up to 40 percent foot traffic as a result of lockout laws in Sydney and Queensland introduced to combat alcohol-fueled assaults in entertainment precincts. Other factors included red tape, high rent and noise complaints as inner city areas become gentrified.

By the end of 2016, two more states were considering lockout laws while venue owners in Adelaide and Canberra were facing the possibility of higher license fees for staying open later. It was a different story for festivals.

A mid-2016 survey from ticketing platform

Additionally 48 percent preferred smaller niche events catering to their tastes over mainstream ones, while 41 percent noted they preferred to try out a festival for the first time over one they’d previously attended.

Festivals continued to adapt to shifts in consumer behaviour. As reflected in other countries, music increasingly became just a part of the overall experience, and special stages were added for new acts. As a result, major festivals such as Bluesfest, Woodford Folk, the four-city Falls (which this year Live Nation bought a majority share of) Groovin’ The Moo, Splendour In The Grass, Mofo and Meredith Music continued to draw significant numbers. But LPA figures revealed that a 14 percent drop in average ticket prices led to a 17.3 percent decrease in revenue.

Taking advantage of 2016 being an election year, the music and arts sectors successfully pressured the government into restoring major savage cuts to grants funding and to continue funding for Sounds Australia, the music export body that helped raise the profiles of acts and businesses in 152 global trade events. Citing its billion-dollar contribution to the economy, 3:1 benefit-to-cost ratio and generating of 34,000 full-time jobs, LPA demanded the government commit to greater investment in the industry.

In August, the National Contemporary Music Plan, a result of last year’s inaugural National Contemporary Music Roundtable in Sydney, further urged more government funding for young talent, international touring, and more marketing and incentives for venues. The industry’s forging of closer ties with state and local councils was rewarded with a number of initiatives.

These included providing grants to soundproof venues, funding for under-18 shows to foster a pattern of supporting live acts, partnerships with the Live Music Office for gigs to showcase local bands, plans to turn empty council buildings to free or cheap rehearsal and recording spaces for young acts, the snipping of red tape for more bars and cafes to present live music, and a push to appoint night mayors to spark nighttime activities.

Australian acts including AC/DC, Sia, Keith Urban, 5 Seconds Of Summer, Vance Joy, Tame Impala, Empire of the Sun, Flume and Iggy Azalea continued to cast shadows on the global music markets.

Through 2016, Australia’s reputation as a strong touring market continued to draw acts with the profile of Prince, Coldplay, Madonna, Iron Maiden, Nelly, Pentatonix, Garbage, Simple Plan and Shawn Mendes. The first half of 2017 already has confirmed Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, Adele, Justin Bieber, Guns N’Roses, Don Henley, Green Day, Dixie Chicks, and the