Backyards calling

Band, Orsome Wells from left to right: Steven Angell, Micheal Stowers, Justin Price, Matt Manders, Nick Toohey. Photo Shaun Perry.
With a recent study showing few musicians earn more than $10,000 per year, some are seeking innovative ways to make ends meet. Shaun Perry reports.

The Australian music scene’s heavy reliance on live gigs sees venues “squeezing” musicians dry with exceedingly expensive overheads, says Glenn Luck, co-founder of an initiative that arranges performances in lounge rooms or backyards.

The Australian music scene has had physical sales plummet in the last decade in large part due to digital music platforms such as ITunes, Spotify and Pandora.

“They are great for exposure, but exposure doesn’t pay the bills,” says Parlour Gigs co-founder Mr Luck.

“It’s easier to get music out. Harder to get people to listen, impossible for people to buy it,” says Kelly Watson, lead guitarist and vocalist for Melbourne band, The Braves.

He says the popularity of vinyl is the only saving grace for his band. “It’s kind of the perfect medium, it sounds good and it’s tangible enough for people to spend the money on it.”

However physical sales in total have plummeted. “They have dropped considerably because of streaming services, which means artists rely on playing live to make money,” says Mr. Luck.

But when artists play in bars and pubs, venues take a higher percentage of ticket sales due to overheads.

“By the time they have paid the sound engineer and the security, they’re lucky to break even,” says Mr Luck.

Steven Angel, the lead guitarist from Melbourne based band Orsome Welles, says a sound engineer can cost up to $150.

“I’ve played gigs in front of people that has cost me more to play than what we were paid,” says Mr Angel.

He says it comes down to how you negotiate with the venue.

“In general, most venues will pay bands what they think they are worth. What you think you’re worth, and what you negotiate with the venue is the most important thing.”

Carl Lindeberg, bass player for the band Wvrbvby and a sound engineer, says he won’t accept any gig where you have to “pay to play”.

“I try to negotiate what’s reasonable for both the venue and the performers. Clear communication and working together is what will make for a pleasant evening, instead of seeing the venue as someone you’re working against,” says Mr Lindeberg.

Backyards calling
Northcote Social Club. Photo Shaun Perry

A study released by Music Australia in 2016 revealed most full-time musicians earn under $10,000 per year from their creative endeavors. Glenn Luck, head of marketing at Parlour Gigs, says people see playing music as a hobby and not a viable career.

“I hate to imagine what music we’re missing out on because it’s too much of a financial risk for people to pursue.”

Through Parlour Gigs, Mr Luck and founder Matt Walters aim to remove the heavy overhead costs of venues.

“Music is such an incredibly important part of our lives, it’s time we stop taking it for granted and pay the artists what they deserve,” says Mr Luck.

Parlour gigs has quickly gained popularity.

“You can book an artist to play at your house and sell tickets to your friends. It’s an amazing way for music fans to experience music,” says Mr Luck.

This new approach has been successful over the last four months. “We’ve been hitting 20 gigs per week around the country.”

Not only has Parlour Gigs given fans the opportunity for a more intimate concert experience, but it sets out to help Australian musicians as well.

On average an artist receives $650 per show, which is a whopping 80 percent of the ticket sales and with very little overheads.

“We’ve done tours where artists have played 15 shows around the country and walked away with over $20,000 profit, not including merchandise sales.”

Mr Lindeberg of the band Wvrbvby has been involved in a few Parlour gigs and believes they are a great addition to the Melbourne music scene.

“They’re super enjoyable, relaxed and a great way to put on an intimate show. It seems quite fitting for singer/songwriters,” says Mr Lindeberg.

However, Kelly Watson of the Braves is sticking to the traditional venue system.

“It may be an expensive operation but playing in a venue is even on a good night.”

More recently the popular Australian band, Boy & Bear joined Parlour Gigs as part of a competition it ran late last year.

“They played a Parlour Gig at the end of their regional tour and it was incredible to see those guys in a house concert setting, it’s really exciting times,” says Mr Luck.

Parlour Gigs will expand into New Zealand later this year and plans to venture to the United States in 2018.