The light at the end of the tunnel: Australian music’s highs and lows in 2020

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The light at the end of the tunnel: Australian music’s highs and lows in 2020

Words by Bradley Bridgers

A reflection on the year experienced by Australian musicians in 2020.

If we’re to be honest with ourselves, no one was prepared for what 2020 was going to bring.

After 2019 was brought to a cruel end by the ravaging impacts of the summer bushfires – which would see Falls Festival in Lorne being cancelled and countless musicians forfeit their gigging income through performing benefit concerts to assist with recovery efforts – Australia began to pick up the pieces in January and make a return to normal.

In the music industry, bands and artists were kicking off their tours or making bookings for the rest of the summer season, while venues all around the country (particularly in Melbourne) looked for fill spots in their calendars with some good old Aussie talent.

Everything was looking great. We were optimistic, we were ready for a good year of creativity, fun and great music, while something terrible loomed on the horizon.

And then, BOOM: the news of COVID-19 hit our shores, and it hit hard!

In the span of a few weeks, a whole industry crumbled to the ground. While most Australian businesses and industries were able to garner support from State and Federal government, the Creative Arts, especially the music industry as a whole, was left at a stand still, and to defend for themselves.

No one person is to blame here, but it was clear that one of our most beloved industries was in dire need of support and funding, in order to keep its people afloat during the pandemic. An invisible enemy had barged in and completely decimated everything we had come to know and love. An enemy that we were vastly unprepared for.

As the months went on, I did however notice that APRA-AMCOS, the MEAA and other governing bodies were making a case for the creative musicians of our nation. It took two whole months for a change to come, but finally on May 29th, APRA-AMCOS announced that they were initiating a Sustainability Fund to help out those who were affect by COVID-19 (which was honestly the majority of the nation).

Then, at the end of May, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra was granted a $10-million fund to help keep players and conductors afloat. And as grateful as the music community was for grants such as these, many were still affected by lockdowns, curfews and the like.

Fortunately, for a lot of us, after consuming many hours of Netflix, Stan, Binge (of whatever your choice of streaming service is), a sudden resurgence occurred, and it came in the form of collaborations via social media.

I have to admit that this even took me by surprise, but I was happy to see that so many from different parts of Victoria and the rest of the nation, were looking to spread some joy and positivity to the thousands of Australians that were confined to extended staycations at home.

From drum and bass grooves to full-blown covers and a whole slew of original songs; musicians, singers and producers kept pouring out their creativity, and not just to pass the time, but to truly be creative for the sake of the love of music. Even when many of them weren’t getting paid for it.

It was a very welcome sight to find new songs, demos, remixes and collaborative invitations going out every day from different musos, even though I was honestly nervous to lend my talents. However, this didn’t stop introverted composers like myself from continuing to make music and share it across any and every platform that we could.

Amidst all of this, the music industry in itself continued to press on, with the MEAA campaigning for further support from the federal government, which came as a huge relief to so many who had waited for so long. I, for one can say that I’m grateful for organisations like MEAA and APRA-AMCOS for the work they do in supporting songwriters, composers and music publishers. However, while all of this was happening, new bonds continued to be formed between a sea of musically-inclined folks. 

One of these unions came in the form of a synth-pop outfit FancyNormal, who hail from the east of Victoria. As someone who knows the duo quite well, I was pleasantly surprised by their entry into the music world and the ’80s-infused explosion that followed in their wake. In the month after their first release, streams poured in, while they conducted interview after interview with online publications. And all this, simply because they brought something fresh, something that people enjoyed and could vibe to during lockdown. I guess you could call this a silver lining, and I’m really glad that it came when it did. We’ve been given a reset.

From electro-80s pop, to funk, jazz, rock and ambient, the airwaves of the internet and social media have been chock-full of musical goodness, and it just keeps on coming. If there’s anything that’s been gleaned from a dreadful experience like 2020, its that sometimes you’ve gotta recalibrate and take matters into your own hands, even when everything seems to fall apart. It’s something I’ve seen occur so many times during this year and I’ve taken it to heart in a major way.

So maybe not all is lost for the music industry here in Australia. Just maybe this whole experience was meant to be a defining moment for us as creatives. A moment of change! After all, none of us know what’s up ahead, but one thing we can do is continue to create the kind of art we love and share it with the world. Surely someone is willing to listen, I bet you they are.

At the end of it all, 2020 was a downer. We lost a whole lot, but we really did gain so much more than we thought was possible. We can rebuild, we will rebuild. It’s in our nature as Australians. And most of all, those of us in the Australian music industry have a chance to do something different with what’s in our hands. 

So let’s go and make some magic. The world isn’t over yet, and there’s a lot more music to be made.

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