RMIT survey finds 58% of Victorian music professionals are considering leaving the industry
15.02.2021

RMIT survey finds 58% of Victorian music professionals are considering leaving the industry

Words by Will Brewster

The report predicts a major talent drain will hit the sector in coming years.

A new survey completed by RMIT University has sought to investigate the impacts of COVID-19 upon the Victorian music industry. The findings, which have been released today, are predictably bleak.

Summary

  • An alarming 58% of respondents are considering leaving the Victorian music industry to for the sake of their own financial security.
  • The study found that 76% of respondents’ income had decreased overall, with 44% of respondents losing all music-related work during the pandemic.
  • Over 50% of respondents voiced concerns about paying for rent and food.

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A closer look at the report

The study, titled ‘Understanding Challenges to the Victorian Music Industry During COVID-19’, was commissioned by Victorian Music Development Office (VMDO) and the Victorian Office For Women, and was completed by researchers from Melbourne’s RMIT University.

A total of 340 Victorian music industry professionals were surveyed for the RMIT study, with 292 valid responses formulating the data included within the report. The survey was overseen by Dr. Catherine Strong and Dr. Fabian Cannizzo of RMIT University, who finalised and presented the report in December 2020.

Analysing the key findings

Gauging from the responses obtained in the study, it’s obvious that those working in Victoria’s music industry were adversely and disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

From the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, the amount of respondents earning more than 70% of their income via music decreased from over 50% to 25%, with those earning less than 30% experiencing a sizeable bump from 28% to 65%.

The report found that a whopping 76% of respondents’ income had decreased overall. Of those who reported a decrease in income, Live Music workers reported a greater proportion of lost income compared those in Promotion, Music Talent and Management and Support roles.

Additionally, 44% of respondents reported that they’d lost all music-related work due to the pandemic, with full-time employment in the sector slumping from 34% to a scant 7%.

While the study found that more than half of respondents (52%) had learned new skills during the pandemic – including music production skills, business and technology skills and personal coping abilities – a number of respondents also reported that they were doing more unpaid work than they were prior to going into lockdown, and had experienced difficulty maintaining industry connections throughout this time.

81% of respondents to the study believed that their involvement in the music industry would vary post-COVID, with only a third expressing optimism at the prospect of their future in the sector. The remaining two-thirds surveyed framed their responses in a more negative manner, with many in this group expressing their desire to leave the music industry in order to remain financially secure.

Some respondents also claimed that the lockdown had given them a chance to reevaluate the aspects of the music industry that they found unsatisfactory, making them consider exiting the sector. This view is reinforced by 40% of respondents who believed that they had been prevented from participating in music-related activities as much as they would have liked to prior to the pandemic, with those respondents claiming to have experienced negative experiences with discrimination, elitism and financial hardships within the sector.

What can be done?

Of course, there’s no easy way to fix the damage caused to the Victorian music industry by COVID-19. That being said, there’s a great number of ways in which the sector can do better to foster a diverse industry, as well as improve pay and working conditions within the sector to encourage long-term career stability for the Victorian music industry.

At the end of the report, Dr. Strong and Dr. Cannizzo lay forward five crucial recommendations to address problems in the industry that they say ‘had already been identified, but which have now been greatly exacerbated, as COVID-specific suggestions’. These include:

  • Sector mapping and targeted funding, with a particular emphasis on ensuring venue survival and the job security of stage technicians and road crew workers;
  • Maintaining and improving diversity and counteracting discrimination by facilitating discussions and programs to support women and gender non-conforming people within the industry;
  • Discussing ways to improve pay and conditions through setting clear expectations for what people should be paid, considering the viability of a union for music workers and drawing the distinction between hobbyist/professional activities;
  • Making the value of music activities and professionals more visible by highlighting the expertise and worth of those within the industry,
  • Improving contingency planning to ensure advocacy groups, industry and government bodies can work together to identify and plan for similar events to COVID-19 that can impact the industry.

For a comprehensive overview of the findings and to analyse responses in greater detail, ‘Understanding Challenges to the Victorian Music Industry During COVID-19’ can be read in its entirety here.