Why The Rubens lead singer Sam Margin was forced to turn to charity during the pandemic – ABC NewsFebruary 1, 2022
Why The Rubens lead singer Sam Margin was forced to turn to charity during the pandemic
Unlike many musicians, Sam Margin, lead singer of rock band The Rubens, has managed to make a living from his art.
But over the past two years, COVID lockdowns mean his finances have been eroded, and Margin decided he needed to seek help from charity.
For someone who had become used to performing in front of thousands, it was a humbling experience.
"We've had great success in that we've been able to do this for a living for 10 years — that said, we still rely on touring to be able to live and only do that as a job," he said.
The impact of public health restrictions and closed borders across Australia has forced The Rubens and many artists to reschedule tours booked back as far back as 2020, several times.
"The restrictions still at some point [over the last two years] allowed shows to go ahead, but those shows were at very, very limited capacities to the point where it wasn't financially viable to put on a show at all."
Margin reached out to music industry charity Support Act, to get help paying the bills.
"So we were living week-to-week and Support Act's little bonus just helped us pay some bills and stuff really," he said.
"Once you get to that point, where you are looking at your repayments and it's not looking good, anything is really wonderful, so [I'm] very grateful."
The pressure on the industry is not likely to ease any time soon, with NSW's restrictions preventing singing and dancing in entertainment facilities, nightclubs, indoor music festivals and indoor major recreation facilities extended until the end of this month.
And each state in Australia has different rules which can impede national tours, such as Western Australia's indefinite border closure.
Sydney singer songwriter Kristy Lee Peters, (KLP), is devastated by the extension to NSW's public health regulations, which was announced last week.
Over the past two years she and her partner have lost over 90 per cent of their income from live performance.
"I mean those figures are insane, and there's no other industry that would be expected to deal with that and have no support — so we need some kind of insurance for when cancellations occur," she said.
"People are tired and exhausted and just a bit heartbroken and feeling at a loss by the lack of support."
She's worried about the long term impact on mental health for both performers and their audience.
"It's been proven that especially young people need these kinds of [performance] events for their mental health, as a way to come together, to bring a sense of self, identity and community and not having that is doing long-term damage."
Support Act is itself running out of cash and has been forced to launch an emergency appeal featuring artists like Margin.
The charity gives crisis relief funding to people who can't work because they're sick, injured, living with a mental health issue or affected by a crisis like COVID-19.
Support Act CEO Clive Miller said the organisation received $40 million in federal government money to help people survive the pandemic, but most has now been spent.
"It's been absolutely critical to enabling us to provide and distribute more than 15,000 crisis relief in grants valued at more than $35 million to help people who work in music and live performing arts to make sure they can pay for rent, medical expenses and put food on the table," he said.
Around 100 to 150 people are still applying for crisis relief every week, so Support Act has reduced overall amounts to try and make funds stretch.
"One big show like Tamworth Country Music Festival could be essentially enough money to cover them [the artist] for a month," Mr Miller said.
"And so if they lose that then that really puts a lot of pressure on them."
Tamworth Country Music Festival, the Broken Heel Festival, and the Grapevine Gathering Festival in the Hunter Valley all had to cancel this year as Omicron hit hard.
Chairman of the Australian Live Music Business Council (ALMBC), Stephen Wade, agrees the industry needs insurance to back promoters nervous about putting on shows that could be cancelled due to last-minute changes in public health orders or locked borders.
"We're in pretty much the same situation as two years ago with New South Wales 95 per cent vaccinated," he said,
"They told everybody to get vaccinated. We supported that as an industry. Everyone's 95 per cent [double vaccinated] and 36 per cent triple vaccinated and yet we don't think it's safe enough to go and see live music."
A national survey by industry group I Lost My Gig found since July 2021, 32,737 gigs and events had been cancelled, amounting to nearly $94.3 million in lost income.
Only 1 per cent of industry professionals had any income protection or event cancellation insurance, the survey found.
Mr Wade's is one of many industry organisations calling for an Australia-wide government-backed COVID-19 event insurance like that introduced In Victoria in December last year.
The Victorian scheme covers creative, sporting, business and community events costing between $20,000 and $10 million.
The Australia Institute reported in 2020 that the Australian arts and entertainment sector contributed $14.7 billion per year to the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
In 2020, the federal government announced Australia's arts sector would get access to $250 million worth of grants and loans under a COVID-19 recovery package.
NSW Arts Minister Ben Franklin said the state government was supporting live music through the $80 million extension of the Performing Arts Relaunch package, announced on Sunday, for businesses hit by the economic impact of the Omicron.
"We are also providing an additional $5 million grant to charitable music organisation, Support Act, to provide critical relief to support individual performing artists working in the music industry," he said.
It also provides help via the Events Saver Fund, allowing festival organisers to recover eligible unrecoverable costs, such as payments to suppliers and contractors, if an event is cancelled or significantly disrupted by the Omicron outbreak.
The NSW Government was continuing to explore options for events insurance, Mr Franklin said, but Event Saver and the Performing Arts Package — managed by Create NSW — were "expected to provide the certainty and level of support required to keep the performing arts sector viable and vibrant".
The NSW Government was in strong support of the development of a national events insurance scheme to support the sector, the Minister said in a statement.
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