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Australia’s Music Industry Shut Down Indefinitely Due To Coronavirus Bans

Banning large gatherings has crippled Australia's music industry, forcing venues to close, bands to cancel shows and fans demanding millions in ticket refunds.

The COVID-19 outbreak has had a major impact on the events industry nationwide.

All of the countries major festivals including; Bluesfest, Groovin The Moo,  Download, Splendour In The Grass, Melbourne International Comedy Festival, Sydney Film Festival, Sydney Royal Easter Show, Vivid Live, Festival Of Dangerous Ideas and Dark Mofo have been cancelled or postponed.

Live Performance Australia forecast this week that, if the government's ban on large gatherings -- including concerts -- continued for three months, the impact on the entertainment industry could stretch above $540 million.

I Lost My Gig, an industry project tracking of cancelled Australian concerts, said the impact of coronavirus had already reached $150 million.

Some musicians, like Melbourne's Alex Lahey, have called for government support for those in the arts who are now unexpectedly losing income. Arts minister Paul Fletcher held a roundtable with industry on Tuesday, which heard calls for payments to those affected by the mass gathering ban.

Labor's arts spokesman Tony Burke has also called for the entertainment industry to get help similar to that given to the tourism industry.

Venues Closing Doors

On Tuesday, the day before the federal government announced a tightening of the ban on indoor gatherings from 500 people to 100, Tyla Dombroski announced the closure of her live music venue -- Crowbar Sydney -- for at least two weeks.

Crowbar hosts a wide range of music from metal and punk to indie -- but it, and its sister venue in Brisbane, have been forced to cancel dozens of shows due to the ban.

Crowbar has closed its doors for at least two weeks in response to the mass gathering ban. Image: Facebook

"This week, we’ve had 30 upcoming shows cancel or reschedule," Dombroski told 10 daily.

When Download was canned, Crowbar offered to host replacement gigs for bands that had already booked travel to Sydney. But on Tuesday, Dombroski said she made the "super hard decision" to close for two weeks.

"Staff and public safety are paramount and we couldn't continue with the current climate and government recommendations," Crowbar announced on Facebook.

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It joined other large venues nationwide -- including Sydney's Enmore Theatre and Hordern Pavilion, and Melbourne's Forum and Palais -- in announcing doors would shut for at least a fortnight.

"We're a 500 capacity venue in the band room ... opening and limiting it to 100 people isn't viable, doesn't even cover our costs," Dombroski said.

"We had a choice of staying open and giving staff some shifts, but it's about public safety. It's not a risk we want to take, of someone getting coronavirus here."

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She said Crowbar employs at least 30 staff across two venues, plus contractors for security, lighting, sound and more. Those staff are now without jobs.

"We don't know how long the ban will go, but six months would be ridiculous for us. We can't keep our doors closed for that long," Dombroski said.

"Even two weeks is scary now."

The Banned Bands

Adelaide band Bad Dreems had just started their first European tour when borders started shutting. After just three shows, they called it quits and returned home.

Bad Dreems had a nightmare first tour of Europe due to COVID-19. Image: Facebook

"People who bought presale tickets were not showing up ... people were still coming, but the vibe was strange," guitarist Alex Cameron told 10 daily.

"It was obvious continuing was untenable ... it would have been irresponsible for us to encourage people gathering at a gig."

Band frontman Ben Marwe penned an acoustic song while in isolation -- it has since viewed more than 35,000 times.

While Cameron said the band hadn't planned to make a profit on the tour, the coronavirus crisis will still hurt his bandmates. He said some members work in hospitality, which will be affected, as well as music festivals -- where they expected to earn decent money -- being cancelled.

"We can hopefully recover some of this. We will lose a lot more from the cancellation of upcoming Australian festivals," he said.

Jordan James' band Disentomb was to play Download Festival.

Despite his band losing thousands on pre-booked flights and accommodation for the festival and an upcoming -- cancelled -- European tour, he agreed that playing gigs was "irresponsible".

"It's disappointing that live music is being wiped out, but this is what needs to happen. I don't think anyone should put music before public health," he told 10 daily.

"It’s tragic and we’re seeing a lot of bands significantly hit, but it’d be irresponsible for gigs to continue under the current situation."

Download Festival was among the festivals cancelled. Image: Getty

He called for venues and bands to reconsider hosting concerts.

"It shows a lack of understanding when you have bands encouraging people to congregate when it flies in the face of medical advice," James said.

Struggling To Manage

Jeb Taylor runs Wollongong record label and booking agency, Farmer and the Owl.  Bad Dreems is on the label, but Taylor said the effects of cancelled gigs would ripple beyond musicians.

"For venues and bookers, their income stream has dried up overnight," he told 10 daily.

"Sound engineers, tour managers, techs, lighting people have all lost their jobs, then you have people that own and book venues, work at the bar, sell merchandise. Most are casual workers, and their whole calender of shifts has just disappeared."

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But while gigs may be cancelled for some time, Taylor said fans could still support musicians -- even while stuck in self-isolation.

"The best thing everyone can do is jump online and buy shirts, records, CDs and tapes ... [or] jump on your favourite digital service and stream their music," he said.