David Kirkwood has started to dread answering his work phone.
“Every time I get a phone call, it’s another cancellation,” he said.
“We’ve lost so much trade, a lot of money. I haven’t worked in an outdoor or indoor event since March.”
Mr Kirkwood’s business, DK Audio in Latrobe, provides audio solutions for events throughout the North-West, but his trade has fallen off a cliff due to COVID restrictions. Last week, cancellations flowed through for Christmas Carols, New Year’s Eve, Smithton’s Devil Country Muster and Australia Day.
Event organisers have been crunching the numbers and deciding they’re not viable due to increased costs for security, insurance, cleaning, COVID compliance and smaller attendances. The dancing ban until mid-2021 was seen as the final straw, and Mr Kirkwood was among those who believed dancing should be allowed if other restrictions were strictly enforced.
He said businesses in live event management and entertainment relied on the October to April period to stay afloat, but it was difficult to see how they could survive, particularly with a reduction in JobKeeper on the horizon. The occasional install job was the only thing keeping him going.
“My expenses don’t stop. I’ve got rent, maintenance costs, insurance and repair costs if I get an event and something goes wrong,” Mr Kirkwood said. “There have been a few state grants, the first was $2500, but if you took that then you weren’t eligible for the $15,000 grant that came after it.
“The federal government had a $250 million package that consisted of loans, but that was useless if you have no income.
“The live music scene basically gets ignored.”
Dancing ban ‘contradictory and flawed’, more support needed
In Burnie, PA and sound equipment provider RMS has lost “100 per cent” of its trade, according to owner Matt Elwell. As a company handling mid-sized events, including in pubs and smaller outdoor venues, the travel ban followed by ongoing restrictions caused cancellations across the board.
They were recently asked to help with an outdoor event in conjunction with Burnie City Council, but Mr Elwell said it was not viable financially.
He also plays in four bands, meaning he felt the impact from both ends of the entertainment industry.
Mr Elwell said easing the ban on dancing would go a long way to helping businesses survive the loss of trade over the upcoming summer.
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“I totally disagree with this dancing ban, it’s contradictory and flawed,” he said.
“I know the government has to put things in place for everyone’s safety, but I think it’s time they started supporting the entertainment industry that has received no support Australia-wide.
“If they lift the ban on dancing, I think we could see musicians go back to working, production companies could return to work – at least something will be happening. Anything will help out the musos at the moment.”
Mr Elwell has hardly been sitting on his hands, though. In April, he helped launch North West Tassie Gig Streams on Facebook. They have hosted 40 bands from across the state in the online audio format, giving them a platform to reach audiences. But organisers were knocked back twice for grants from Arts Tasmania.
“It’s a bit disheartening,” Mr Elwell said.
Finding new markets to recoup lost income
Sound House in Youngtown usually provides sound, lighting and staging equipment for large-scale events, such as AFL matches and Barnbougle Polo, so the loss of business has been profound, particularly given the pre-COVID purchase of expensive equipment. Owner Simon Widdowson said it would be a difficult summer ahead.
“The ongoing restrictions are making things tough especially for the summer period, putting a lot of our larger event bookings in limbo for our peak time,” he said.
“The spacing requirements is also impacting a large number of events to be able to proceed as the restricted numbers makes it non-viable to cover event running costs.”
But as COVID forced communications to move online, the business has been able to use its state-of-the-art equipment to assist in a rapidly growing market: video conferencing.
“We’re able to help with multi-camera setups. Video conferencing has been a huge growth area,” Mr Widdowson said.
While sporting codes were still viable without crowds, the live music industry was not. Tasmanian events company Eight Oh Eight owner Adrian Barrett said this meant businesses were going to need long-term support to survive COVID.
“The funding that the state government has provided – that’s great – but they didn’t understand how the entertainment industry works,” he said.
“They gave money to record albums or to stream online, but that doesn’t support production companies, it doesn’t support the staff, contractors, freelancers, bar staff, the people that sell the merch. It was mistargeted.”
These grants totalled $750,000, while the Tasmanian government’s stimulus support package for the “cultural and creative industries” added $1.5 million of new funding and $2 million in operational measures during COVID.
A government spokesperson said additional support was being provided.
“Through Events Tasmania we have also been implementing a range of initiatives, which will include a grant program to assist events implementing COVID safe practices,” the spokesperson said.
“This follows specific industry information sessions we have run with Worksafe Tasmania to support events businesses and organisations navigate the process of developing their COVID-19 safety plans.”