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More pubs, less live music?

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Over the last decade the number of venues applying to run live music in South Australia has dropped sharply, even as the number of new venues has spiked, a new State Government database reveals.

As part of the State Government’s commendable open-data push, Unleashed, the Office of Liquor and Gambling has released its entire liquor licence database.

Below, we’ve graphed the annual number of liquor licences issued with entertainment consent versus those without. Entertainment consent is the tick on the licence required to allow venues to host live music and DJs.

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In the last decade, the number of new licences issued with entertainment consent has been steadily streaming downward even as the overall number of new applications has risen sharply.

Of the State’s 5624 licenced venues, about 31 per cent have entertainment consent.

Since 2000 4138 new liquor licences have been issued, of which 826 have had entertainment consent – about 20 per cent.

Compare that to the decade between 1987 and 1997, when 659, or about 30 per cent, of the 2146 new licences had entertainment consent.

Up until the past decade, as the number of total venues grew, so did the number of venues hosting music.

More recently, however, while there’s been huge growth in the number of licenced venues in the state, there has been very little growth in the number of live music venues.

The Federal Government’s national live music coordinator, Ianto Ware, says the figures reflect changes to the building code in the 1990s which made it difficult and expensive for venues to run live music.

“This is basically why hotels stopped having live bands in Sydney during the 80s; suddenly their band rooms had to meet a set of criteria required for the Opera House,” Ware told InDaily from Sydney.

“The Building Code of Australia variation alone could be enough to explain the decline.

“The Licensing Act had sections within it giving protection from noise… [which] allowed individual residents to shut down venues hosting entertainment.

On top of that, Ware argues the Adelaide City Council spent much of the 1990s running an active campaign to discourage other uses in the city in favour of residential development.

“It included making live entertainment non-compliant development for all residential districts.

“This policy is probably why the concentration of venues shifted to a smaller number of areas and, combined with the other restrictions, began culling out the smaller and more culturally active venues to make Hindley Street what it is today.

“The combined impact of all these things made hosting live entertainment simply too difficult. One could host pokies or a big screen TV with existing approvals and without building upgrades, or you could have a couple of guys playing guitar in the corner and spend $200,000 on building upgrades and be at constant risk of a visit from either council or the licensing police.

“Ultimately this has been the main reason for the decrease; the regulations have made entertainment simply too expensive, and thus there’s been a reduction in entertainment consents.”

But we need to be careful of taking data at face value.

The chart below shows the total number of active licences by type between 2000 and 2012.

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Since 2000 the number of active venues has grown by more than 50 per cent. That growth has been driven by a huge boom in the number of direct sale and producer licences.

The number of operating venues that typically host live music – hotels, clubs, and venues with special circumstances licences – have remained reasonably static over the last decade.

Australian Hotels Association SA head Ian Horne argues the data doesn’t indicate new venues aren’t keen to run live music. He believes most of the new licences are going to cellar doors in wine regions – or companies selling booze on the internet.

“None of those need entertainment licences. Cellar doors don’t need an entertainment licence unless they’re going to have functions,” Horne told InDaily.

“There has been an explosion of licences, but there’s been a variety of them. If you look at the traditional ones of them that would require entertainment consent, they’d be clubs. Whether that’s just a piano player or a rock and roll band.

“Nothing much has changed.”

The new data may cast a new light on the debate over whether there are enough live music venues to keep the gig industry healthy.

Live Music Thinker Martin Elbourne is firmly of the view that Adelaide has got enough quality venues. In fact, he thinks we’ve got too many, and doesn’t think the city would miss a few closing down.

That view is supported by industry professionals including FiveFour Entertainment’s Craig Lock.

Lock books shows for a local venue, and complains the market for local talent is unbalanced toward the supply end – too few bands for too many venues.

“At the moment they’re going to send an email to me, and I’m going to give them a gig because I don’t have a choice,” he says.

“It just becomes too much; there’s no hunger from bands to get shows, because they can so easily obtain a show. This is a problem that I see all the time.

“How many times do you think each band is going to play in each venue? How many times can they drag their friends out to that same gig?

“We are in a situation in Adelaide where we have more venues than other places, and we have less bands than other places, and we have less punters going to shows.”

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