Live Music Venues

With the free and or cheap availability of digital music, the power in the music industry has shifted from recorded product to live music. According to the PwC Outlook report of 2015, the music market in SA is worth R2bn. Live music is currently worth half of that and is growing at 8% to reach R1.5bn in 2019.

Parallel to the rise in live music is the rise in the “experience economy.” Fans do not want physical product, but memorable experiences in what is termed the shift from materialism to experientialism. And the experience economy is fuelled by the rise in technology and social media. 1/3 people share their experiences whilst they are having them. And so trends are created. And the “experience economy” is also quickly evolving into the “transformation economy,” whereby people want a positive life changing experience.

Live music venues have had to change with the times, and glorious venues in exquisite settings, dynamic multi-facetted collaborative shows and big musical jam bands are giving the audiences what they want. Big new venues such as Good Luck Bar in Newtown and Shimmy’s Beach Club on the CT Waterfront are able to attract enormous audiences to fun and vibrant musical shows.

All over Africa, cultural centres are the most important space for live music. Yet, live music venues are facing very tough times. Tagores, Moholo Live and Straight no Chaser in Cape Town have all closed down. In Durban musicians recently marched through the streets to protest the closing of the public venue Stable Theatre due to mismanagement. Founding partner of the Orbit in Braamfontein, Aymeric Peguillan has left due to unsustainable programming, and the Bassline in Newtown closed its doors month-end to become a full-time festival and production company for the annual Africa Day mega-festival.

“Live Music venues are usually placed in historically important suburbs like Orange Grove, Berea, Sophiatown and Melville and they mirror the cultural life and give it identity through art.” Monika Lauferts le Roux

Live Music Venues Support

Brad Holmes founded the Bassline 22 years ago. He explains why South African music venues are struggling: “Unlike here, music venues around the world are generally non-profit organisations (NPO’s) with a board and private-public funding specialists managing them. A good example is the Roundhouse in Camden and Paradiso in Holland. Venues like that have 60 years’ experience in figuring out how to make it work. The music venue business is a victim of apartheid. During apartheid the music venue business was generally neglected. Music venues had zero funding and you can’t develop culture out of that.That is the main reason that the DAC is doing a remarkable job in developing arts.”

The few music venues in this country still operating are multi-purpose. Casinos use music to bring in gamblers and restaurants to bring in diners and the Bartel Arts Trust (BAT) Centre in Durban is an example an independently funded mixed use venue.

Various international institutions across Africa are committed to fast track the development of music venues in the region to an international standard. The Swiss funding body, Pro-Helvetia invests R4 million annually in cultural exchanges, tours, collaborations and performances across urban centres in southern Africa. The Goethe Institute reaches about 13 000 people with 65 music concerts across 13 centres in sub Saharan Africa. The French Institute of South Africa (IFAS) has 24 ‘Instituts Français’ in Africa for artistic residencies, and their popular Fête de la Musique festivals reach thousands in the major centres.

Norway funds Concerts SA (CSA) and has pieced together the beginnings of a venue circuit, as a template that could be used on a larger scale by government. CSA give R10 200 per month to their partner venues, Crypt, Craft Fair at Soweto Theatre, Rainbow Restaurant, Freedom Station, Nikki’s, Swingers, the Space, Jazz in the Native Yards and Jazzy Rainbow. As part of creating a regional and national circuit, CSA operates a mobility fund benefitting about 1000 musicians to perform at 600 gigs throughout the year at about 200 venues.

CSA’s ‘It starts with a heartbeat’ report sets out practical options for supporting the growth of live music audiences and is popularising the concept of the night economy. Compiler of the report, Gwen Ansell notes, “The night economy needs to provide a spread of venues, music options, and related activities so as to maximise audiences drawn to metropolitan centres, and thus boost economic activity through economies of scale. The night economy marks an important shift in perceptions about large night-time entertainment crowds: they are not a problem, but an economic opportunity.”

There is a drive toward better regulation of the night economy. One technique is through the collection of performance royalties, which SAMRO does in licenced venues. But the emphasis for change is on local government. Live music venues are an important value-add to lifestyle and entertainment hubs. And the outlay is well justified given the benefits from tourism, branding and the night economy. Brad says, “It is responsibility of the Con Dev department of the city to make sure that the cities jewels are protected. It is the cities responsibility to protect the museums, theatres and cultural platforms.”

Local government owns an enormous amount of cultural infrastructure. To their credit some cultural centres and outdoor spaces strongly support live music performance. There are some fantastic facilities: The Homecoming Centre (next door to the District Six Museum in Cape Town), The Sophiatown Heritage Centre in Johannesburg, Umkhumbane Heritage Centre in Durban (being built), and Red Location museum in New Brighton (not always operational). The Cradle of Humankind and a Sculpture Park by NIROX stage a series of weekend jazz music shows, combining heritage, music and the visual arts every Spring. The Dinosaur Foyer at IZIKO Museums in Cape Town hosts music events. And various Botanic gardens host live music.

Struan Douglas

Struan Douglas is a freelance writer and author based in South Africa.