A new report by researchers at the Queensland Conservatorium has revealed why the music industry was among the hardest hit by COVID-19.

Queensland Conservatorium Research Centre this week released theMaking Music Work Industry Report – the culmination of a three-year national study into the working lives of Australian musicians.

It included one of the largest national surveys of Australian musicians ever conducted, with researchers interviewing more than 600 musicians.

Music industry heavily impacted by coronavirus

Professor Brydie-Leigh Bartleet

Queensland Conservatorium Research Centre Director Professor Brydie-Leigh Bartleet led the project, and said that the findings showed the Australian music industry had been among the most heavily impacted by COVID-19, and explained why it could be the slowest to recover.

According to the report findings, most Australian musicians are self-employed or in temporary employment, with performance the most commonly reported source of income.

Those casual work arrangements meant many musicians were unable to access the federal government’s JobKeeper scheme, and with live music slow to return post-COVID-19, musicians’ livelihoods have taken a significant hit.

Portfolio careers a complex balancing act

Professor Bartleet said the impact on musicians went beyond direct job and income losses, given the complex reality of portfolio careers, where musicians juggle performing, teaching and other roles.

“The Making Music Work report shows that the vast majority of Australian musicians undertake a portfolio career which encompasses a variety of concurrent roles,” she said.

“This complex balancing act shows us why and how musicians are especially exposed to the current COVID-19 crisis.

“The most common reasons for leaving the music industry were financial stress, lack of income and caring responsibilities — all of which have since been exacerbated by the pandemic.”

The road to recovery

The report also highlighted the creativity and resilience Australian musicians had shown during the pandemic – with many sharing their work online.

“Our study has shown how creatively and financially entrepreneurial Australian musicians can be when negotiating multiple music and non-music roles,” said Professor Bartleet.

“These musicians have developed highly diverse and agile skill-sets.”

Griffith grad making music work

Griffith alumnus Danielle Bentley. Photo: Stephen Henry

The report features several case studies of Australian musicians successfully juggling a portfolio career.

One of those interviewed was Queensland Conservatorium alumnus Danielle Bentley, a cellist who has performed with everyone from theQueensland Symphony Orchestra and Opera Australia to Kanye West and Jimmy Barnes.

Danielle juggles her performance career with work as a festival curator, grant writer and music teacher.

“My Dad is a jazz musician, and I think I’ve known I wanted to follow his footsteps since I was in primary school,” she said.

Photo: Stephen Henry

“It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve survived as a musician and I love what I do.

“I’ve accomplished a lot of things and there is still so much more to come.”

Ms Bentley said the coronavirus pandemic had forced her to shift the balance of her career – pivoting to online teaching while waiting for restrictions on live performance to lift.

“The live performance work is on hold for the moment, but I’ve been able to teach online and move into the virtual performance space,” she said.

“As a creative, you’re used to being resilient and adapting – it’s about finding different ways to share the things you’re passionate about.”

Making Music Work is an initiative of Queensland Conservatorium Research Centre (QCRC), Griffith University, with industry partners, Australia Council for the Arts, Create NSW, Creative Victoria, Western Australian Government -Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries (DLGSC), and institutional partner Curtin University.

The research team includes Professor Brydie-Leigh Bartleet, Professor Dawn Bennett, Professor Ruth Bridgstock, Professor Scott Harrison, Professor Paul Draper, Professor Vanessa Tomlinson and Research Fellow Dr Christina Ballico.

It was supported by the Australian Research Council as a Linkage project.