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Let the music play on

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A vibrant live music scene adds zing and zest to a city’s cultural life.

It attracts a diverse mix of people, provides entertainment options, generates jobs and provides many small businesses with valuable income streams.

Music plays a central role in the cultural life of the national capital. Around a quarter of all Canberrans are creative participants in a musical activity – the highest of any art form.

For every dollar spent creating live music, three dollars are returned to the local community. When audiences attend live music, they also splash their cash on travel, hospitality, accommodation, other entertainment and merchandise.

While there are many opportunities for musicians within the capital, a new action plan developed by the Live Music Office and Music ACT, Cool Little Capital, argues that the local music scene is missing many opportunities through red tape and poor alignment of regulation.

For example, liquor permits – an essential element in the live music scene – can take up to three months to obtain, demanding the completion of a 60-page application. This, the Live Music Office notes, stifles organic activity.

Noise regulation in the ACT also needs updating to take account of changing land and building use and community expectations. A single complaint can cost music venues thousands of dollars. In some cases, conflict between residents and venues only abates when the music has been switched off permanently.

As our city evolves, we need to come to grips with this issue. Larger houses are being replaced by town houses and units, bringing neighbours closer together. Commercial and industrial areas, such as Braddon, are being rezoned for residential development. 

Investment in sound proofing is an obvious solution, and we may need to look at financial support for smaller venues to help them upgrade their acoustic treatments. But there are other solutions too.

We need to urgently revisit regulations that are more suited to a provincial town than the seat of the nation. Cool Little Capital points out that ACT Government regulations currently demand all music cease at 11pm. After this time, events are not allowed to emit more decibels than the equivalent to a soft whisper.

“The ACT could never have contemporary activations like Melbourne’s White Night or even a concert in the city after 11pm,” the action plan states.

“This meant Art, Not Apart’s successful event at Westside, which had no incidents or noise complaints, closed at 11pm with over 1000 people cheering for more.

Live music brings vibrancy and vitality to our cities, and adds heart and soul to what would otherwise be bricks and mortar. As the Live Music Office observes, a throng of retail shoppers is nothing more than a gathering of individuals, but those attending a concert become an audience – a community. 

And this is why, as a community, we need to work together to ensure live music and performance has a vibrant future.

Image of ‘Royksopp performing…’ taken by Nikola Spasenoski via Shutterstock

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