Calls for changes to "one-size-fits-all" Brisbane City Council regulations to support local live music have ramped up.
Brisbane's lone Greens city councillor Jonathan Sri, representing The Gabba Ward, has proposed Brisbane City Council offer partial funding for soundproofing of venues and changes to zoning rules so that smaller live music venues aren't regulated in the same way as large nightclubs.
The funding would reportedly take the form of arts grants where the venue would pay half the cost of soundproofing and the council would cover the rest.
“In inner-city areas where rent is high, small venues often struggle to afford the costs of soundproofing,” Councillor Sri said in a statement. “I’ve seen a couple of venues shut down because they couldn’t afford to comply with the acoustic treatment conditions that council was imposing.
“I wouldn’t normally advocate for grants going to private businesses, but these venues provide an important community service, offering space for local bands and community groups even though it might be more profitable to use the floorspace for restaurant seating. They function more like community centres than bars, so they deserve more council support.”
Councillor Sri is also calling for changes to the Brisbane City Council’s City Plan and the Entertainment Venues and Events Local Law 1999, which he says are "too strict in regulating lower-impact venues".
“Unfortunately the situation at the moment is that if council gets a noise complaint about live music from a cafe or studio, the inspectors will come out and say, ‘You guys are running regular live music events, which means you’re a nightclub and can’t operate in this part of the city without development approval.’ It’s messed up. Even if it’s a smaller low-impact music venue, it’s technically only allowed in areas which are zoned ‘centre use’, or the Special Entertainment Precinct in the Valley.
“If you want to set up a new music venue somewhere else, like West End, you have to spend tens of thousands of dollars on an impact assessable development application, without any guarantee of approval.
“Even if you’ve been operating unnoticed for years in an old warehouse, the council can come in out of the blue and shut you down on the basis of a single complaint. We need to change that,” Councillor Sri said.
“How we regulate live music venues should depend on the volume and operations of that particular style of venue, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.
“Otherwise we’ll continue to see more bands replaced with DJs, and the only live venues that remain financially viable will depend heavily on alcohol sales and poker machines.”
Speaking exclusively to The Music, Councillor Sri noted the importance of supporting live music in the suburbs.
"All it would take is a bit more funding and support from council to make more venues viable in other parts of Brisbane," he said.
“Often the council investigation is trigged by a single complaint from a single resident – usually someone who has recently moved into the neighbourhood.
"That doesn’t mean that all new residents are a problem; a lot of people are moving into suburbs like West End specifically because they like the vibrant nightlife, but unfortunately the council still seems to give too much weight to the vocal minority.
“It’s a really frustrating double standard, because on the one hand, the council allows big property developers to make huge amounts of noise, jackhammering and pile-driving and disrupting the whole neighbourhood even for late-night work. The construction crews can be as noisy as they want no matter how many complaints residents make, yet all it takes is one resident to complain about a gig and the venue starts receiving enforcement notices.
“What good is all this new development if there’s nowhere left to play music?
“There’s a long list of other stupid council rules and regulations that make life unnecessarily difficult for live music operators and event promoters. Don’t even get me started on how ridiculous things are getting for smaller music festivals.”
Jonathan Sri worked as a musician before becoming a city councillor, and still performs regularly with his bands Rivermouth and The Mouldy Lovers.