OPINION: Venues in Wollongong

I thought I’d try out something new; a totally biased, subjective, personal piece. It’s not meant to be objective, or balanced. This is 100% my own opinion. Feel free to leave a comment below.

Putting together the first gig guide of 2012, I found something encouraging; the Glasshouse Tavern was hosting a gig on Thursday night. Typically a hotbed of ear-splitting Bruno Mars/Lady Gaga remixes (or, if you’re lucky, mashups!), vomit, and questionable lifechoices, the venue would host Curious Temple, the Vicious Dickens, The Walking Who and others. It was the second time the Glasshouse had hosted a music night in recent weeks, with A Cat Named Kesey, Gravity Takes Over among those playing a week or two previously.

Normally, the Glasshouse isn’t somewhere this writer would frequent; but you’d be a fool to say that it’s not a well-equipped and stylish venue. It has a large dancefloor, a large bar, a spacious outdoor area, and obviously good acoustics and a decent sound system. While not having a reputation for local music, I was happy to see that the venue was at least trying out a live performance evening; no matter what, more venues supporting live music is a good thing in my books.

Then, basically just as the gig guide went live, the event was cancelled.

“We won’t be able to get enough money to hire gear, a sound guy, promotion and pay the bands,” went a post on the Facebook event page for the gig. The Vicious Dickens were a little more forthcoming with information: “the glasshouse didnt want to fork out any dollars for sound/lighting, but were happy to charge $10 entry. Weird that.”

Sadly, it’s not a story uncommon to Wollongong. Many similar band nights have popped up in recent times – Midnight Kamikaze at Hostage X, Face/Off at Fever – only to be immediately cancelled after poor showings (i.e. door and bar takings) in the opening week or two. This is the absolute biggest problem in Wollongong music; that the overwhelming percentage of venues see live music as merely a commodity to be exploited, a resource to be picked up and sucked dry. We hear the usual PR spin bullshit; “we support live music,” “XYZ club loves local music,” but as soon as the venue doesn’t make the profits they want, as soon as the cash dries up, so too does the venue’s “passion for live music” dry up.

Like the place or not, the Glasshouse would be a decent venue for live music. It’s large, has many different areas, a bar, and is central to town. Maybe the owners saw the success of Yours & Owls,  or the Patch, or Dicey Riley’s ‘Live & Local’ nights, and saw another opportunity to squeeze some money out of punters. Yet – after zero promo, zero exposure, and booking what was honestly a lineup of lesser-known local bands for its first night – management decided to more or less force the night to shut down by making bands pay for their own lighting and sound; a pretty piss-poor attitude from the venue. The moment a band night fails to turn a profit, it shuts down (see Midnight Kamikaze, Face/Off etc). The venue say “we didn’t get people through the door, we didn’t sell drinks – live music isn’t profitable.”

But what they fail to see, is that starting a new music night is never going to be instantly profitable. It’s not meant to be, and any venue that initiates such a night for this reason is surely doomed to fail. Such ventures succeed only after convincing music fans that it is a worthwhile project, after encouraging people to respond to and support the night. If a venue is ever to pull a crowd aside from the friends and family of the bands playing, it takes time (see Yours & Owls, Music Farmers, the Patch). Live music in Wollongong is never going to be instantly profitable. It takes time. Which is something that these greedy venues should begin to understand and appreciate, before raising the hopes of local music fans and bands, then dashing those hopes away as soon as the weekly bar sales spreadsheet comes back.

What do you think? Got an opinion? Leave a comment below.

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5 Responses to OPINION: Venues in Wollongong

  1. +++ says:

    Wollongong has two solid venues that are dedicated to live music, ie the Patch and Owls. There are quite a few venues that run music nights, ie Diceys, Ryans, the Brewery, Music Farmers, the Heritage, Waves etc. I’m so sick of people thinking we need more venues – we need more people to attend shows and appreciate the music Wollongong has to offer and therefore support the venues that support the scene. Bands need to get a bit of etiquette and blacklist venues run under the ‘Wollongong Nightlife’ umbrella.

    • Josh Butler says:

      Absolutely true; the venues we have now, the established ones, are brilliant. I just wanted to point this particular case out as an example of venues in town seeing live music as just a way of grabbing a quick dollar. More venues would be nice, no doubt about it; but when new ones pop up, they seem to hold so much promise before just dashing it away as soon as the first poor bar sales figures come in. We first need to support our existing venues better, to encourage other venues to have more confidence in live music, and therefore persevere for a few weeks at least, rather than giving up straight away (as the Glasshouse has done in this case)

  2. Rob Carr says:

    Hey hey Josh and company, what a great article. As Josh says, there is a problem with the outlook of some venues, that ‘starting a new music night is never going to be instantly profitable’. There are broader issues though when it comes to venues closing their doors to bands, and it’s not always the venues’ fault or in their interests to run at a loss.

    Punters who attended the State of the Music Scene forum in April 2011 said there was a need for investment in the music scene to remedy ongoing problems like this. As we have seen a lot of larger, established venues are no longer prepared to foot the bill, but there is alternative funding available. If venues can’t afford to run gigs, then maybe explore what grant schemes are out there. Might be worth trying to pool some government or Council grants and produce a run of shows over the course of 6-12 months at a venue that is keen to help out.

    Keep on rockin’ Radar! \m/

    • Alex Masso says:

      It’s a good observation – *having* live music is not the same as *supporting* live music, let alone *understanding* live music. The issue of venues jumping in blind then doing the wrong thing for the music, or just giving up, isn’t just a local one. This probably happens everywhere, with all kinds of music. In my time at the con this has come up again & again with venues wanting to try live jazz in Wollongong. Usually Eric &/or myself would go down & be as realistic as possible about what they need to do & should expect, and offer support if they seem to have the right idea. Some of them didn’t try after that, some listened, some didn’t, some were successful. You just do what you can, these guys are all trying to run a business after all. I wonder if some kind of altruistic consultation & support would work with the venues & gigs you’re involved with?

  3. Bobby Keys says:

    Glasshouse has terrible acoustics – the design of the room (cement/glass/parallel surfaces) makes it completely out of the question for live music. Learnt this the hard way. But, much agreement with the rest of the article.

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