‘Young people have the answers’: The path back for live music

Natural State is ready for the music industry to open up again. Picture supplied
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Young musicians have been hard hit by COVID, but the resilience they have shown in these uncertain times highlights how important young people are for the future of the music industry. Millicent Spencer reports

As the local music industry begins its recovery, young people are ready to take the lead.

Kate Duncan, CEO of Victorian youth music organisation The Push, says young people are going to need the support of both state and federal governments to elevate their voices as the sector reopens. 

“I think that young people have all the answers to what a COVID normal contemporary live music sector needs to be,” she says.

We need to have our governments listen and provide meaningful ways in which young people can contribute to and be a part of this recovery phase.

“We need to provide the avenues, the programs and the structures to ensure an equalisation of opportunities and allow young people to be involved.”

One of the most frustrating things is the creation of taskforces that are made up of veterans of the industry who fail to reflect the unique interests and needs that young people present, Duncan says. 

Kate Duncan. Picture: thepush.com.au

“There was a point this year where I was told ‘we can’t consult with young people because it’s too hard’ – that was with a government body.”

Duncan says that young people are wanting to raise their voices and make an impact. “Young people’s voices are really powerful.”

“There are so many young people out there in our community who now more than ever are really wanting to make an impact on their futures and on their communities and work collaboratively with government and with the sector.

“I see these moments in time as real opportunities for us to celebrate the role that young people play in our community more broadly and support young people to have their say and have their input.”

The impact of COVID-19 on the music industry has been immense. Data-captioning program I Lost My Gig estimates that $340m has been lost through industry cancellations and postponements because of the pandemic. 

An ABS survey done March 18-23 showed 73 per cent of arts and recreation businesses had been adversely affected by COVID. 

The first to go, the last to return

“The live music industry and the live performance sector was the first to be hit by COVID and will be the last one to return,” says Duncan. 

“Thirty per cent of Australia’s arts and recreation industry workforce is made up of young people, so we know that young people have been incredibly disadvantaged during this time.”

Natural State vocalist Mikhala Grubb. Picture: Ignacio Melgarejo

COVID-19 is not the only challenge facing young musicians. After announcements from the Federal Government regarding fee hikes for Arts and Humanities degrees, young creatives have chosen to leave the sector, Duncan says. 

“Young people in the creative industries have demonstrated incredible resilience and determination at a time where [they] have been disproportionately impacted,” she says.

“These things are compounding against the way that our young people are wanting to go and work in the creative industries.

“It’s been quite unfortunate to see many young people in our community choose to leave the sector for other industries or other employment that that can offer them income right now.

“Those that have been resilient and found the strength to keep going among all this adversity have really excelled in this time.” 

A time to write new material

Melbourne-based band Natural State have experienced the COVID blues, but have moulded them into a feel-good ballad, one that highlights their continued resilience amid the trials and tribulations of 2020. 

The band formed when guitarist Ignacio Melgarejo, drummer Zephryn Williams and vocalist Mikhala Grubb met in high school. 

As a result of COVID the band had to hit the pause button. However, Grubb says putting the band on hold is not a big deal, because their goal was never to become successful, but rather, to express a shared interest in music.

Guitarist Ignacio Melgarejo. Picture: Mikhala Grubb

“It’s quite a good opportunity to get more material, write more stuff, and get life experience from what’s happening. Then come back when we can and be really inspired to continue creating music as a band,” says Grubb.  

“We’ll always know that we’ll come back to it eventually because there is that intention and honesty between us and in a way, I think that is a sort of resilience.

“There are many aspects of my life at the moment that have, in a sense, been put on pause. But again, I don’t see that as something that’s being taken away from me, it’s just a different experience. It’s a good opportunity to focus on other aspects of things.

“I think a lot of people at the moment have been feeling more introspective and they’ve been focusing more on themselves … and you know what it’s like to have all this time to yourself and not be swimming in life outside of home.

And I think, again, it’s a really good opportunity if you take the time to really seize it, to learn more about different parts of yourself and your life.

Melgarejo agrees. “I’ve always seen the band as an idea. So, you can’t really kill an idea. For me, every time there’s been a pause, I’m like, cool. Like that’s always in the back burner and I go and do other things.”

Each time the band has hit the pause button, they’ve “learnt something more about the world. I feel like we all just go out and learn something else and bring it back,” says Melgarejo. 

Viewing these periods of hiatus as an organic part of life, Natural State has been able to flourish during the pandemic. 

Williams says taking time off making music together allows for the band to grow as individuals.  

“When you come back to them, you may have different experiences, you may know different things, you may act slightly different, but you’re still the same person,” he says.

Drummer Zephryn Williams. Picture: Ignacio Melgarejo

 Whether the band pause their music production again, or even stop talking to each other for select periods of time, Williams has no doubt that Natural State will continue making music together. Even if their production process and execution is a strikingly different than what it used to be.

“As long as we’re able to achieve our own goals as individuals, then the band will be there to support and push our lives to higher limits, [towards] more happiness in general.” 

Moving towards a recovery

When the music industry finally begins its recovery, Grubb predicts that there will be heightened public interest in live music and events. As a musician, she is keen to experience this reaction. 

“When everyone has been stuck inside for so long, including us, it’s going to be such a good opportunity to be able to get back out there right when it’s what people are wanting.”

“I think that feeling of being in a really energetic environment with music and lots of people enjoying themselves, is something that people have been really missing at the moment.” 

While Melgarejo says that when it comes to the gigs, the band miss being around people who are there for the exact same reason they are. 

“You go to a gig for the randomness of what could happen, I think, and having all those people there really makes the vibe. So, it’s gonna be weird. I have no idea how [we will] keep social distancing while trying to get that vibe back.”

While young people may not be gigging at the moment Duncan says they are still connecting with the community and making music.

“They’re engaging with audiences across the globe in ways that maybe concert artists have just not embraced.

And so, we need to be ensuring that these new ways of thinking and operating are elevated and taught to the rest of the sector, so that we can learn from the new ways that younger people are consuming music, creating music, and engaging with audiences

“One of our board members actually works for triple j. She was telling me yesterday that during COVID they are seeing more uploads to Unearthed than at any other time.

“I think that’s a true testament to how creative and resilient young people have been during this time.”