A completed PhD investigating the geography of live music in Sydney and Melbourne between the 1980s and 2000s.
As mentioned in my preceding post, I have recently passed my thesis. I am very happy indeed to have reached this milestone. Superlatives fall short, so I can best say that it’s a successful-completion-of-task feeling turned up to 11, without clinical side effects!
Well, one minor but lasting side effect is the uncanny feeling of having spent an extended period of time reading and writing about people making life-changing music and friendships and getting out there and carpe diem-ing, while I was sitting alone at a computer contemplating whether I should get another 711 coffee or whether that was just too hard because I’d have to stand up and go across the street and try to look normal. The irony of this was not lost on me.
Of course, while I spent an uncool amount of time sitting alone, I was not really alone. The acknowledgements from my thesis are included verbatim below. All these people helped tremendously with the research project.
All of the above sounds very past tense, so where does this leave the blog site? As I understand it, the most common New Year’s Resolutions are “exercise more” and “lose weight”, despite the fact that year-on-year weight gain and increasingly sedentary behaviour are as certain as death and taxes for the great majority of the Western world. I suspect that “I will post more on my blog” has some of the same flavour. Hence, I am leery of promising to post more on this blog. But I definitely do not intend to cease posting here.
In fact, post-thesis-completion, it’s important to me that I catch up on a backlog of potential posts, in particular to do justice to the wealth of material gained from interviews. This interview material was, and is, a gold mine that was simply “Too Fat To Fit Through The Door” of a single thesis. I do hope to share more of it here, and hope you enjoy it too.
Future blog posts will include:
Plus maybe I will have an opportunity to use more of these fancy photos! Thanks RMIT.
I am very thankful to my supervisors, Colin Arrowsmith and Nicole Cook, for taking on an unusual, cross-disciplinary project. Colin steered a steady course to thesis completion, and Nicole gave in depth feedback on many long drafts. I benefited greatly from their different areas of expertise, and from their commitment to the project.
Thanks to Liz Taylor for her third-party, no-nonsense advice on when the thesis could (and should) be handed in.
Thanks to the many music scene participants who gave their time to the project. The gallows humour of musicians is hugely entertaining, and their personal stories were a joy to listen to —although I would prefer not to have to listen to my own voice on the recordings!
Particular thanks to Merry Prain and Kate Tucker for helping to spread the word on interviews, and facilitating blocks of back-to-back interviews. These were enormously helpful.
David Nicholls provided pivotal assistance with introducing standout Sydney contacts, and giving expert advice on sources for Australian music history.
Thanks to Jeanette Wall for professional proofreading.
Thanks to Liz Taylor for unpaid proofreading.
Thanks to Steven for help with school pickups, piano lessons, and patience.
Thanks to Judy and Lenno for epic amounts of childcare and house help.
And finally, thanks to Juliette, who at the age of six offered the almost-inspirational advice that: “I hope you finish your PhD, but if you don’t, I will still love you.”
Below is a copy of the text from the final chapter of my thesis:
Taylor, S.J., 2016, Geographical Information Systems for applied social research: The case of the live music industry in Sydney and Melbourne, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD Geospatial Science), Mathematical and Geospatial Sciences, RMIT University.
I hope this gives some idea of what I have been up to of late, and what I intend to bring more details of into publications in the future.
“It seems I moved from the country at the very worst time
Noise restrictions were coming in and the music venues were falling in line
I moved in next door to the Empress with cheeky idea
That I could avoid the cover charges, and paying for over the counter beer, but
This neighbourhood’s not noisy enough, no
This neighbourhood’s not noisy enough.”
This research project has analysed patterns of growth, decline, clustering and dispersal of live music in two Australian cities, Sydney and Melbourne, between the early 1980s and mid-2000s. During this time frame the apparent decline of Australian live music venues gained profile as a matter of community concern and public policy. The vulnerability of live music venues to external forces including noise complaints and liquor licensing became a particular focus of concern by the early 2000s.
To better understand this period of change in live music, the research methodology combined Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and interviews with music scene participants. The project developed a novel historical geodatabase of live music dates and locations, making it possible to quantify and geovisualise patterns in live music over time. Interviews with live music scene participants helped generate new evidence regarding factors influencing patterns in the location of live music.
The historical geodatabase was built incrementally to adapt to the format of the historical data. Its structure maintains a one-to-one relationship to primary sources from different publications, thus allowing for quality checks, but can produce normalised outputs that make it possible to separately analyse patterns in live music venues, performances, and bands. Outputs from the geodatabase facilitated the quantitative analysis and geovisualisation of live music data over the study time frame in Sydney and Melbourne.
An important concern was that quantitative analysis ought to be developed with reference to, and informed by, the everyday realities of live music scenes. The quantitative analysis was combined with interviews with music scene participants (live music organisers and musicians). Through their learnt knowledge of locations and issues, participants generated new insights into factors influencing the patterns of live music found in the quantitative results.
The research project demonstrated the use of historical GIS, in combination with interviews, as an effective methodological approach for better understanding cultural industries. It formed a practical example of applied social research with GIS, taking inspiration from previous research that has leveraged GIS for “representing the spatiality of social processes, for facilitating critical thinking throughout the entire research process, and for building theory that is grounded in both quantitative and qualitative data” (Kwan & Knigge, 2006, p. 2001).
The research questions were:
Research Question 1
What are the key patterns of growth, contraction, clustering and dispersal of live music in Sydney and Melbourne from 1981 to 2006?
Research Question 2
What are the key factors shaping the concentration and dispersal of live music in Sydney and Melbourne from 1981 to 2006?
Research Question 3
What are the existing sources for live music performances in Australia?
Research Question 4
How can different geovisualisations add to understanding of live music?
The thesis proceeded as follows:
In Chapter 1, the background and outline of the research project were established.
Chapters 2, 3 and 4 introduced three sets of literature which do not often overlap but which could work together to further understand patterns in live music.
Chapter 2 introduced diverse literature connecting music and place. This helped to set accounts of live music in Melbourne and Sydney within a broader context. Music is both a cultural and economic entity and has come to the attention of researchers for different reasons.
Chapter 3 introduced literature of GIS in social research. The methodologies described in Chapter 3 were very influential on the approach taken to live music for this research. Such research has emphasised that GIS can facilitate mixed methods research and support critical thinking about social processes. Chapter 3 also emphasised that working with GIS and historical data means working with data which is not collected for research, and which is often imperfect and incomplete.
Chapter 4 traced currently available evidence of growth and decline of Australian popular music over several decades, with a focus on the status of live music in Sydney and Melbourne. Particularly since the early 2000s, live music scene participants have expressed concern about venue closures.
Chapter 5 set out the basic components for the mixed methods approach applied in this thesis, showing how GIS and interviews would be integrated.
Chapter 6 described the development of the historical geodatabase of live music data. This geodatabase ultimately incorporated over 20,000 live music listings and over 2500 geocoded venues, sourced from different archived publications.
Chapters 7 and 8 presented and analysed quantitative results produced via the historical geodatabase. The chapters were divided into non-spatial and spatial approaches.
Chapter 7 presented descriptive statistics of growth and decline in different measures of live music activity — bands, performers, and venues — and the ratios between these. It compared trends between the two cities over time and between two key data sources (newspapers and street press).
Chapter 8 extended the quantitative analysis by leveraging the spatial data available in the geodatabase outputs, producing a set of spatial and geovisual analyses of patterns of clustering and dispersal in live music activity.
In Chapter 9, participant interviews were described. Interviews with people who were active in the live music scene during the study time frame in Sydney and Melbourne helped to explore factors shaping patterns in the distribution of live music. These included factors internal and external to the music industry.
Establishing data sources for Australian live music was an important but complex step in the research process. The details of investigating sources were described in Chapter 6. There was no single source with which to describe growth and decline, clustering and dispersal in live music in Sydney and Melbourne between 1981 and 2006. After investigating two main potential sources, gig listings and APRA Live Performance Returns, gig listings were ultimately decided upon as the main source for the historical geodatabase. Other potential sources of Australian live music data were also described.
Gig listings are publicly available listings of upcoming live music performances. Their accessibility, longevity, and inclusion of dates and locations, meant that gig listings could be used to identify patterns in a flexible sampling frame. However, gig listings also presented practical challenges, including the fact that no single publication contained continual coverage across the time frame and that there was no digitisation of earlier sources.
In addition to categorizing the details of the different gig listing publications, a hierarchy was established regarding the fitness for purpose of these publications for the research questions. This was informed by feedback from the first group of live music scene participant interviews, and by investigation of the features of the individual publications. Preference was given to publications that were publicly available, which were used by music scene participants, included a dedicated gig guide page, enabled long-term comparisons, and which had a roughly comparable equivalent in Sydney or Melbourne at the time.
A substantial part of the research project comprised the development of a historical geodatabase. The geodatabase was built to leverage the spatial and temporal data embedded in the historical live music performance listings sourced from the selected archived publications. It was built incrementally to adapt to the format of the different historical data. The structure maintains a one-to-one relationship to primary sources from different publications, but can produce normalised outputs that allow live music venues, performances, and bands to be analysed separately.
In Chapter 7, the two main sources of gig listings — street press and newspaper listings – were compared. The analysis showed that the street press listed an increasing proportion of venues than newspapers from the mid 1980s to mid 1990s. The lag was shorter for the Sydney street press, as the first street press publication in Sydney (On The Street, 1982) began publishing several years before the first street press publication in Melbourne (Beat, 1986).
Using outputs from the historic geodatabase, the thesis examined quantitative patterns of growth, decline, clustering, and dispersal in music activity. These were described in Chapter 7 and Chapter 8.
It found little quantitative evidence of aggregate decline in live music venues, performances, or bands. The quantitative analysis showed the number of live music performances increasing over the study time frame in both Sydney and Melbourne, but with more growth in Melbourne. In both cities, the number of venues did not decline, but also did not keep pace with the number of live music performances. The number of bands increased in both cities, but more so in Melbourne.
From the basic aggregate totals there was very little evidence of decline, but variations in the growth rates between performances, venues and bands suggested the possibility that different trends of growth and decline would be seen in changing ratios. The analysis supported this idea. The number of performances per band declined consistently. Patterns in performances per venue showed differences between cities, with greater concentration into particular venues in Melbourne, and greater homogeneity in Sydney.
On average, bands in the 1990s and 2000s were much less likely to perform multiple times per week than in the 1980s. However, the diversity of bands increased: in the sense that the top bands had a decreasing share of the total performances. The standard deviation of performances per band also declined over time. So, too, did the five-firm concentration ratio of performances per band. This indicated that the declining average number of performances listed per band was a downward trend affecting the majority of bands, in both cities.
Varying trends in venue concentration between Sydney and Melbourne were evident. The average number of performances listed per venue showed different trends in Sydney and Melbourne, and (unlike performances per band) showed few signs of decline.
In Melbourne, the average number of performances listed per venue grew steadily over time, particularly for street press listings (1986—2006). The standard deviation of performances listed per venue grew steeply over time. The five-firm concentration ratio of performances listed per venue increased over time to a peak in 2001, when 25 per cent of all performances listed in the Melbourne street press were located in one of the top five venues. Together, these results suggested that the increasing average of performances listed per venue in Melbourne was attributable to a divide developing between venues, with some ‘super venues’ emerging.
An increase in the concentration of Melbourne live music listings in particular suburbs was also noted. Over the study period, the location of live music performances in Melbourne became increasingly less diverse. But this did not appear to have been the case in Sydney. In Sydney, the five-firm concentration level of performances per venue peaked in 1991, and declined until 2001. The average number of performances listed per venue in Sydney showed little change over the entire time frame. There was little change over time in the standard deviation of performances per venue in Sydney. These measures all suggested an absence of ‘super venues’ in Sydney.
Overall, Melbourne and Sydney showed opposite clustering trends throughout the late 1980s and 1990s, with Melbourne becoming more clustered overall, and Sydney less clustered overall. However, in 2006, Sydney began to be more sharply clustered, like Melbourne. Melbourne live music clustering patterns were sharper than those in Sydney; with a “northward drift” and with activity growing disproportionately in small areas and in high profile venues.
The research project deployed a selection of statistical and geovisualiation techniques. These were presented in Chapter 8. Spatial statistical methods augmented quantitative analyses by testing for statistical significance of spatial patterns. Geovisualisation helped to communicate where live music patterns occurred in Sydney and Melbourne.
Different geovisualisation styles have respective advantages and disadvantages, and are always affected by choices of scale, symbolisation, and projection. Accordingly, the thesis applied a set of six geovisualisation styles for the live music data, namely: graduated symbol sizes; graduated label sizes; point density maps; 3D visualisations of performances per venue; choropleths by suburb; and cartograms by Local Government Area. These different geovisualisations conveyed that live music data, and the nature of change seen within this data, is spatially uneven. Large areas of both Melbourne and Sydney remained “off the map.” Other areas could be seen coming in and out of prominence over the study time frame.
The geovisualisations suggested a general trend toward clustering and de-suburbanisation, particularly in Melbourne. Decline of live music in outer suburban areas, and concurrent inner city clustering, was apparent in almost all geovisualisation styles. However, the inclusion of multiple geovisualisation styles — while only presenting a small proportion of the many available choices — reduced reliance on interpreting trends from a single style, and also emphasised that there was no single trend. Rather, these trends exist concurrently.
The key themes identified through geovisualisations included: concurrent clustering and dispersal; disproportionate clustering in Melbourne; some areas that persistently hosted live music; other areas which declined, even when they were not far from growth areas (i.e. “hollowing out”, particularly on the inner north shore of Sydney, and the inner eastern suburbs of Melbourne); and changing venues, even if some areas continuously hosted live music.
Interviews with people active in the music scene over the study time frame in Sydney and Melbourne explored possible factors shaping patterns in the distribution of live music identified in quantitative analyses and geovisualisations. Interview data was presented in Chapter 9.
Existing research into live music in Australian cities has emphasised the role that urban development and gentrification in music venue closures. The qualitative analysis presented in this thesis adds context to this research by suggesting that, while patterns of change were influenced by external factors, above all these factors served to exacerbate tensions within the live music industry that were already underway. Factors largely external to the music scene, but impacting in this way, included: i) noise complaints; ii) poker machines introduced to Sydney hotels in 1997; iii) property prices (with a threefold impact on audiences, musicians, and venues); iv) drink-driving enforcement. Overlapping external factors served to — coincidentally, but effectively — undermine the viability of previous live music structures, encouraging inner city clustering and producing different outcomes between Melbourne and Sydney.
In addition, factors internal to the music industry identified in interviews included: i) declining access to music scene infrastructures (including media, managers, agents and record companies) which would previously have increased the ‘push’ or ‘reach’ of bands beyond friends and family; ii) a reduction in recording costs meaning fewer formal ties to record companies, booking agents,and suburban touring circuits; iii) an associated redirection of booking agents toward top-tier, established artists; iv) the growing prominence of particular venues as public address systems were installed permanently in venues; and v) the interstate migration of musicians to cities, with Sydney attracting migrants in the 1980s and Melbourne attracting migrants in the 1990s and 2000s. A confluence of factors made Melbourne a more appealing location for musicians as the wider music scene restructured. In particular, greater visibility and sociability in commercial venues helped to compensate for other forms of decline. In Sydney, factors such as poker machines in pubs helped to produce ambivalence about commercial venues and direct interest to informal venues.
A key overall finding of the thesis is that the restructuring of traditional music scene infrastructure can be seen to intersect with both technological changes in music production, and with external processes of urban change. Rather than an aggregate decline in music performances or venues, the thesis argues that music scenes in Sydney and Melbourne over the 1980s to mid-2000s became increasingly characterised by informality and reliance on social capital, contributing to a sense of decline. The hollowed out structure of music scenes by the early 2000s placed pressure on venues to support music scenes in lieu of other infrastructure, at the same time that they were facing greater pressure from land use conflicts (noise complaints, property prices).
Musicians, who operated on an increasingly do-it-yourself basis, relied more on venues in lieu of access to other infrastructure (such as agents, media, or record companies). Much of the infrastructure active in the 1980s had not been particularly fair to musicians, and hence was not immediately missed. However, in the absence of other push factors replacing them, social contacts and proximity were increasingly important to musicians, and some locations emerged as being better suited than others for adapting to the changed conditions.
In Melbourne particularly, top venues accounted for a greater share of performances. The prominence of such venues helped to provide a visible music scene attractive to musicians working in increasingly individualised ways, but also meant their exposure to external pressures and potential closures was more keenly felt. For example, the peak of concentration in the Melbourne samples (2001) preceded tension about noise complaints (Tomazin, 2002), and the “Fair Go 4 Live Music” activism (Webb, 2003). Meanwhile, it is likely that the lack of key ‘super venues’ in Sydney, in combination with the decline of independent records stores (previous hubs of Sydney music activity) and the presence of poker machines within music venues, felt like being “scattered to the wind” (Sydney musician Tim Freedman, quoted in Carroll & Connell, 2000). The experience of sharing venues with poker machines, increased Sydney musicians’ ambivalence about formal venues, and increased their inclination to participate in informal, do-it-yourself performances which were less visible but more sociable.
The primary contribution of this research is in in the combination of methods (mixed methods GIS and historical GIS) to the subject of live music. It is a cross disciplinary project with novel outputs that can engage with music scene participants and inform current policy discussions and decisions. The research also harnesses a rich data source of live music performances — “gig listings” — that have been underutilised to date.
The thesis adds to the relatively sparse set of implemented examples of combining GIS and cultural studies, which Gibson et al. (2010) describe as being low in uptake in spite of the potential benefits. Combining digital technology with social research, it also joins the broader, burgeoning field of digital humanities (Schreibman, Siemens et al., 2008, Berry 2011).
The research process has served as a working example of how GIS can act as a “catalyst” for combining quantitative and qualitative data (Brown & Knopp, 2008: Gibson, Brennan-Horley et al., 2010), “glue” (Knigge & Cope, 2009). But it has also confirmed that, while the insights are novel, the challenges are real. The description of building the historical geodatabase does not conceal the complexity of handling historical spatial data and the risks of becoming “lost in space” (Gordon, 2011).
In a broader sense, the research contributes to work which explores the relationship of popular music to geography (Cohen, 1991; Connell & Gibson, 2003; Bennett, 2004; Whiteley, Bennett et al., 2004; Krims, 2007; Cohen, 2012). Detailed examples of local music scenes are highly valued in this area of research (Finnegan, 1989; Cohen, 1991; McLeay, 1994; Shank, 1994; Mitchell, 1997). So, too, are descriptions of music scene decline and long-term change, as these are comparatively rare (Shank, 1994; Anderson, 2009).
With existing research tending to focus either on large scale national trends, or on fine-grained ethnographic studies, the dynamics of growth and decline of live music scenes over time at the urban or metropolitan scale have been relatively poorly understood. This thesis developed an understanding of long-term change in live music in two cities over time; and in so doing demonstrated a new geodatabase whose content and design can be applied to additional research in music at this scale.
This research provides an intra-city, inter-city and long-term perspective to a contemporary policy issue. Live music is embroiled in contestations over uses of urban space (Homan, 2003; Gibson & Homan, 2004: Shaw, 2005; Lobato, 2006; Burke & Schmidt, 2009; Homan, 2010; Burke & Schmidt, 2012, Shaw, 2013). Live music scene participants have expressed concern about live music decline, particularly venue closures (Button, 2004; Purcell, 2009; Levin, 2010; van der Dungen, 2012; Walker, 2012). Detailed reports on live music have periodically been funded by government agencies in response to concerns about decline (Ausmusic, 1994; Carbines, 2003; Johnson & Homan, 2003) or hopes for economic and social gains (Flew, 2001; Homan & Newton, 2010; City of Sydney, 2013; Parramatta Road Live Music Zone Taskforce, 2014).
However, these different sources of live music commentary can be difficult to synthesise, as they describe live music as both booming (Arts Victoria & Deloitte Access Economics, 2011; Ernst & Young, 2011, Music Victoria, 2012, Ross, 2013) and declining (Salmon, 2011; Newstead, 2013; Doman, 2014).
This thesis has added to the understanding of patterns of long-term change in Australian live music, providing important geographical, historical, and human context for existing accounts. This contributes to policy discussions and decisions around live music. In addition, the range of identified gig listing publications detailed in Chapter 6 and in the Appendices to Chapter 6 provide a resource for potential further research on Australian live music.
A substantial part of the research project comprised the development of the historical geodatabase, leveraging the spatial and temporal data embedded in historical live music performance listings (‘gig listings’) sourced from archived publications in Sydney and Melbourne. This geodatabase ultimately incorporates over 20,000 live music listings and over 2500 geocoded venues. The geodatabase structure allows further for further research on aspects of live music in Sydney and Melbourne over the study period. In addition, the geodatabase structure allows for the integration of additional primary data in response to future research interests.
Ethnographic research on creative workers has pointed to increased casualization and antagonism (McRobbie, 2004; Rogers, 2008; Umney & Kretsos, 2013; Umney & Kretsos, 2015). There are also more positive accounts of musicians leveraging technology and personal networks (Gallan, 2012; Hracs, 2012; Tironi, 2012). Whether positive or negative, creative cities and creative workers are subjects of research which are often at odds. In bringing mixed methods GIS to analysis of creative workers, the research has been inspired by pioneering work from the University of Wollongong (Brennan-Horley & Gibson, 2009; Gibson et al., 2010). It extended on this by incorporating historical data (thus engaging with experiences of change over time) and with a geocoded point dataset (thus enabling greater possibilities for cluster analysis). The thesis research has demonstrated different ways in which growth, decline and clustering can be manifested in a creative industry. Connecting this to qualitative data helped understand how growth and clustering can also be felt by participants as aggregate decline.
The research has a number of limitations to which place caveats on the findings. These include:
The methodology for leveraging historical data was time intensive. As such, the sampling frame was made small to cover enough of the study time frame. There is much scope to include more data and to confirm if the patterns are consistent in a wider sampling frame: particularly in gap years for street press, and in different seasons for each year.
The quantitative data includes only publicly listed live music performances. Wedding functions, religious music, private parties, underground venues, and so forth, were discussed by participants but only sometimes included in gig listings. At the very least, building a geodatabase provided a robust frame around which to conduct interviews. But public listings could not possibly capture all variations of live music.
For the most part, the participants presented a mix of organisers and musicians from the middle rungs of the live music scene. They had been personally involved in live music, and in many cases made a living from this, but were not from the top tier of the industry, nor entirely on the outside (given that, to participate, they needed to have performed in public several times). Hence they present a “view from the middle” rather than a “view from the top” or a “view from outside”, the live music scene.
All quantitative analysis cropped data to the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2011 definitions of Greater Melbourne or Greater Sydney. It is possible that the patterns and factors in different cities, and rural and regional areas would be different to those identified within these areas.
Festivals are seasonal by nature, often staged only once per year. In addition, they are also often staged in regional areas, outside Greater Melbourne and Greater Sydney, while still advertising to a metropolitan audience. While they are connected to the live music scenes in Melbourne and Sydney and described in the interviews, festivals were rarely included in the quantitative analysis, either because they were located outside Greater Melbourne or Greater Sydney, or because they were not staged within the relatively small windows offered by the sampling frame.
Audience numbers and venue capacity are important features of the live music scene. These were a key part of interviews but not made available in gig listings data. Data collection on audience sizes and venue capacity, in a historical GIS format, would add much to understanding of music scenes. From this, similar quantitative analyses could be applied, particularly with spatial association: for example, checking whether or not large audiences cluster together.
The development of geovisualisation styles that include multiple attributes, multiple scales, and change over time in one map, rather than many different maps, would be worth exploring. For example, visualising multiple attributes and change over time in one image (Davidson, 2011; Davidson, Arrowsmith & Verhoeven, 2011). An interactive map in which viewers could zoom in and out to particular areas, scroll through different attributes, and adjust time frames, would address some of the limitations of the geovisualisations.
Building the historical geodatabase from scratch imposed practical limits on the amount of primary gig listings data collected and processed. There is scope for expanding the input data to cover a wider range of years, sources, and samples. Achieving this with older data would be more realistic by using text scanning tools or additional human resources. Accessing more recent web gig listings would not require text scanning, but would require building relationships with the custodians of data from companies such as The Music and The Brag. There would be value in widening the data to include other geographical areas — particularly Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth, Australian cities which have also experienced both successes and disappointments with local live music scenes (Ballico, 2011; Brabazon, 2005; Elbourne, 2013; MacLennan, 2009; Rogers, 2008; Stafford, 2013). An alternative, smaller sampling frame would be to focus on festivals, which have recently attracted attention for being in decline (Newstead, 2013, 2014).
The digitisation and normalisation of past editions of the Australasian Music Industry Directory would enable linking to music industry information not contained in gig listings: for example, to include booking agencies and the musicians on their rosters in different years. Linking to databases of performers and their recordings, such as the Inner City Sound website, or the Who’s Who of Australian Rock books, would enable linking to performer information only rarely contained in gig listings: such as genre, and individual band members.
The interpretation of results would be enriched by integration with other spatial datasets, for example population distributions; poker machine locations; and property prices. Modelling of the statistical relationships between live music and these factors would yield further understanding of the relationships and potential causalities between live music and other urban change.
The methodological approach used in this thesis could be applied to other creative industries with public event listings: for example, film or theatre. A comparable methodological approach could also be applied to other restructuring industries more broadly, to better understand how decline and growth can be felt at different scales and by different participants. In this sense, the findings in this project might be explored further within labour and employment studies.
This thesis has developed and applied a novel mixed methods approach to add to understanding of the nature of change in live music in two Australian cities, and the factors influencing this. It has identified patterns of restructuring and individualisation, rather than aggregate decline, which can contribute to the understanding of concerns about live music. While the research has limitations the methods and approaches developed build the opportunity to extend and refine this approach in future research into both live music scenes, and into other industries or activities experiencing change.
This thesis began with a description of rallies and campaigns about the fate of live music venues in Australian cities, including the famous Collingwood Tote Hotel. Since the early 2000s, music scene participants in Australian cities have shown increased literacy in the web of policy issues relating to saving live music. This reflects a concern among music scene participants and lobbyists that live music venues are under threat from competing land uses.
Rather than an aggregate decline in music performances or venues; this thesis has argued that music scenes in Sydney and Melbourne have become increasingly characterised by informality, inequality, and reliance on social capital — becoming essentially a not-for-profit and do-it-yourself activity. It has argued that the hollowed out structure of music scenes by the early 2000s placed additional pressure on live music venues, in lieu of access to other infrastructure for musicians such as media exposure or booking agencies. These kinds of changes have attracted less acknowledgement and concern than the more visible losses of buildings.
Hence this thesis has provided extra context to concerns about key live music venues like the Tote. The next time we hear of campaigns about venue threats, it bears remembering that venue losses are real, and that the concerns of participants are well-grounded, but also that there is also a longer story behind them.
The loss of a venue represents not just the specific venue (its building or its name), but a further shift in the incremental opportunities available to be connected to live music and to the people and places that support it.
In closing, a quote from a well-known Australian musician provides an example of these overlapping trends. Dave Faulkner of the Hoodoo Gurus recalled the importance of small, networked opportunities to building his music career in Sydney in the 1980s: from small venues to small record labels and through to national exposure, a small step at a time. A migrant from Perth, his story contains many of the elements we have seen in this thesis.
He also recognised the spatial unevenness and personal impacts of live music decline:
Below, in Figure 1, it is possible to see a gig listing for the Hoodoo Gurus as one row among many in a page of archived gig listings from 1983. Figure 2 presents a geovisualisation of the same edition of gig listings.
These different data forms remind us that the restructuring of live music has been spatially uneven, and both made up of, and experienced by, people. Geographic Information Systems in combination with personal interviews have provided one way to better understand the paradox that live music scenes can and do simultaneously grow and decline. This can be found in archived records, in maps, and in people. Live music is dead — long live live music.
Hoodoo Gurus (quoted above), as one of many archived gig listings, Sydney Morning Herald, August 1983
Geovisualisation (graduated venue labels) of archived gig listings, Sydney Morning Herald, August 1983