Opinion | Keeping city’s music scene alive and kicking

In my experience, what every true artist wants, really wants, is to be paid.” From Soul Music, a novel by Terry Pratchett.

In the 1990s Newcastle's music scene flourished because it drew on what Newcastle is best at – working together for something we believe in.

Gaye Sheather is a music historian who spoke at the Innovation Festival about the rich popular music heritage of Newcastle.

She tells us that in the oz-pub rock era about 40 years ago, the city had 17 local bands performing main stream music in licensed venues. A bit over a decade later that had grown to 148 and some bands went on to great things.

Sheather reports that “what was largely common to all these musicians, and the many who were content to work locally and draw big crowds in their home town, was the depth of social and cultural capital demonstrated in a willingness to support each other, share knowledge and equipment, and mentor others in what was in large part a gift economy”.

Newcastle Now has supported a study (led by Phillip McIntyre – a musician himself) of the Hunter’s creative industries. Phillip tells us the local music industry has been through a rough period but that some songwriters still manage to work here while being part of the global industry.

However, there are pressures – contractual, technological, market changes and noise restrictions alongside fewer local venues for live music, all of which means that many of them need to travel outside the region to big studios and venues to make a living.

Furthermore, these days big acts from overseas come to the region. No-one is complaining about that, but it does mean that entertainment dollars get re-directed there. The challenge is also made worse by venue owners who prefer to engage cover bands rather than musicians who play original music.

So … what to do?

As a city, we surely want live music here. We want an evening economy that sparks with energy and we want to see our music-makers on the national and international stage.

Perhaps it’s time to throw the considerable weight of the Newcastle community at the task of making music happen.

One volunteer group is giving it a good go by running Tip Jar, a competition to bring song-writers out of their back rooms and garages onto the stage.

Newcastle Now and the council have put their hands in their pockets to make it happen along with TAFE, Newcastle Live, EAO and several others (see them on the website).

Entries opened last week and you can find out all about it at tipjar.org.au. To join, you can write, record and upload a killer song and enter it, there is $10,000 worth of prizes. If you don’t write songs, at least vote in the public division of the competition in October.

Or, if you just want to meet the music makers, come along to the November celebration.

It’s time to support live music venues. Drop in, check them out, have a meal or a drink and join the crowd.

It would be good to get back to the glory days of Newcastle as a real player in the music scene (pun intended).

But, misquoting Pratchett, musicians want to get paid too.

If we believe in live music to keep our city alive at night, it needs seats on seats and dollars in the till.

Edward Duc is Chair of Newcastle Now.

TUNING UP: Some of the stars involved in Tip Jar - Grant Walmsley (Screaming Jets), Spencer Scott (Paper Thin) and Chris Joannou (Silverchair). Picture: Josh Leeson

TUNING UP: Some of the stars involved in Tip Jar - Grant Walmsley (Screaming Jets), Spencer Scott (Paper Thin) and Chris Joannou (Silverchair). Picture: Josh Leeson