The sudden closure of the Blue Beat club in Double Bay on the weekend has widened the gap in the ever increasing void that is the Sydney live music scene, particularly when it comes to venues that can accommodate between two and three hundred people.
It is these medium-sized live music venues that cities like London, New York, Berlin and Melbourne (yes ‘Bleak City’ itself) abound in. Not only are they financially viable when it comes to accommodating both local and international acts, they provide an intimate setting not found in the bigger large-capacity beer barns.
Sydney once boasted a whole host of such clubs in and around the CBD and they were home to a vibrant music scene, often running live bands seven nights a week. Nobody would argue that the entertainment climate has changed radically over the last ten to fifteen years with the explosion of small bars, DJ only dance clubs, and large boozy venues that offer little in the way of either live music or any entertainment at all (bar a regular scuffle on the pavement outside). However, despite the numerous diversions we are constantly told this is an international city – so where are all the music clubs?
The sad demise of Blue Beat also illustrates a number of other contentious issues that plague the live music scene, particularly when it comes to the treatment of working musicians. Ask almost any musician who played at Blue Beat over the last couple of years and invariably they will tell you how well they were treated, Unlike a number of other medium-sized venues Blue Beat did not charge bands for the use of their house PA, was always generous when it came to providing meals and drinks, offered excellent dressing room facilities and perhaps most importantly, paid their acts within a reasonable period of time.
Sadly that’s not the case with a number of other clubs around town, particularly when it comes to ‘settling up’ after a gig. As very few venues now offer guarantees most musicians work on a door deal with the club’s cut and PA costs deducted. As contractors to the club they are expected to put in a tax invoice and here lies the rub. It’s now not uncommon for artists and bands to wait for well over a month before the money ‘they’ earned at the door is paid into their bank account.
Unlike the amateur band that might gig at their local pub a few times a year, many of the musicians who work the live music scene, and these medium-sized clubs, are professionals with the same kind of financial commitments as any working person. Having to wait four or five weeks to get paid for an engagement seems ridiculous and morally indefensible particularly when the onus of promoting the actual gig (the printing of posters, handbills, ads in the street press) is also a cost incurred by the musos.
Many of these working musicians are old enough to remember the good old days when clubs not only offered a guarantee (often versus the door), but also willingly plonked the cash in their hands at the end of the night. With presale tickets through various agencies and the need to submit a tax invoice, you would expect a slight delay but five to six weeks? Come on now!
Blue Beat will be remembered as not only a great cub to see a live band but a great club for a live band to play in. It’s a shame many other venues don’t follow its example.