LIFE: Pub-style gigs at home.

The Saturday Paper - - The Week Contents - Celina Ribeiro

Where once live mu­sic thrived in sticky-floored, in­ner-city pubs, mu­si­cians are now be­ing booked for gigs in sub­ur­ban homes, writes Celina Ribeiro.

King Street in Syd­ney’s New­town is busy. It’s early Sun­day evening and pun­ters are yet to descend on the strip for din­ner or drinks or gigs. This is the spir­i­tual home of Syd­ney’s in­de­pen­dent live mu­sic scene, but I take a right off the main drag and head down a res­i­den­tial street, past a Ja­pa­nese restau­rant and a shut­tered mi­cro­cafe to a hand­some ter­race. The front veran­dah light is on. This is where the mu­sic is tonight.

Nick, in a black T-shirt, with grey hair and quick smile is on the door. He lives here. And in his liv­ing room, just next to the hall­way lead­ing to the kitchen, singer-song­writer Melody Pool is tun­ing her gui­tar and check­ing the sound. This is Pool’s lat­est pri­vate gig through Par­lour – a tour­ing plat­form that links artists to fans who crowd­fund pri­vate gigs. Nick’s wife, Rachel, is a de­voted Melody Pool fan and when she learnt Pool was mak­ing her­self avail­able for gigs in pri­vate homes, she says, “I couldn’t not do it.”

Guests wan­der­ing in from the win­ter cold clock Pool and her bassist set­ting up and head po­litely to the kitchen where a ta­ble is laid with nib­bles, cheeses and wine. All 41 peo­ple in at­ten­dance are friends or col­leagues of Nick and Rachel and few knew of Pool be­fore be­ing asked to the gig by the hosts. They ei­ther looked her up or trusted their friends’ taste and then paid $30 each to come to Nick and Rachel’s house.

Rachel is play­ing host out back, pour­ing red wine and apol­o­gis­ing for “the chaos”. Chaos seems to only briefly ap­pear when one of the two preschool­ers present smashes a ce­ramic sculp­ture in the gar­den. Be­fore the hosts can in­spect the dam­age, a whis­tle from the house calls those out­side in. The gig was due to start at 6pm. It’s now 6.01.

The as­sem­bly is in the front room. Peo­ple are ar­ranged on the couch, arm­chairs, din­ing chairs and cush­ions strewn on the floor. The overflow are stand­ing, or loung­ing on the stair­case op­po­site the mu­si­cians.

Pool and her bassist are set up be­tween an up­right pi­ano and a door­way. She is amped up, and a soli­tary coloured spot­light sup­ple­ments the down­lights softly light­ing the high-ceilinged room.

Rachel stands and in­tro­duces Pool to her friends. She says she has be­come “deeply, trou­blingly ob­sessed” with the young mu­si­cian, and that she is pleased to have a quo­rum of peo­ple to share her mu­sic with. “It’ll be a lit­tle bit chaotic,” she says. “But I fun­da­men­tally don’t care.”

As the largely mid­dle-aged crowd qui­etly await the mu­sic, it feels de­cid­edly calm. “Thanks Rachel and Nick for hav­ing us,” says Pool, be­fore launch­ing into her set.

Pool’s writerly mu­sic war­rants close lis­ten­ing. Lyrics such as: “There’s a locket on a chain around my throat/ And I wish it was a rope” from her un­re­leased song, “Locket”, draw tears. This is deeply per­sonal mu­sic in a deeply per­sonal space, and no one is duck­ing to the bar for a round be­tween songs.

Pool has done sev­eral Par­lour shows, and en­joys them. “You could stand in the cor­ner [of a venue] and do a set and peo­ple might lis­ten. But if their friend has got up and said, ‘Pay at­ten­tion to this, this is awe­some’, they will pay at­ten­tion,” she says.

The Par­lour gig con­cept is rel­a­tively straight­for­ward. Artists make them­selves avail­able for pri­vate gigs via the Par­lour web plat­form, and use so­cial stream­ing data to whit­tle down the ar­eas where their fan base is con­cen­trated. They reach out to their fan net­work. Fans with the space and ap­petite then ap­ply to Par­lour to host a gig. The artist sets out a min­i­mum at­ten­dance fig­ure and ticket price, se­cur­ing a min­i­mum in­come for the per­for­mance. If se­lected to host, the fan puts down a de­posit then goes out to their own net­works to sell tick­ets. Par­lour takes a 17 per cent cut. The artist pock­ets the rest.

Par­lour founder Matt Wal­ters de­vel­oped the idea as a gig­ging mu­si­cian. “I kept hav­ing the same con­ver­sa­tions with my artist friends. Peo­ple would say: ‘I’ve got re­ally great so­cial me­dia num­bers. I seem to be get­ting streamed on­line. But when­ever I play venue shows, I go out and lose money.’”

It rings true for Pool. “If you’re go­ing on a tour, you’re not just pay­ing for trans­port. You’re pay­ing for art­work for your posters, and posters them­selves, pro­mo­tion, pro­duc­tion, sound guys and ev­ery­thing on top of it. You don’t re­ally start mak­ing money un­til you start get­ting big­ger. It’s a re­ally fi­nan­cially stress­ful in­dus­try. This kind of thing al­le­vi­ates some of that stress,” she says. “All we did tonight was pay for petrol to get here.”

Launched in 2015, Par­lour now fa­cil­i­tates about 50 gigs a week na­tion­ally dur­ing warmer months, when artists can play in back­yards. The com­pany plans to open up the plat­form to all mu­si­cians to man­age their own pri­vate tours later in the year, and is ex­pand­ing into the United States mar­ket from Septem­ber.

How­ever, Par­lour isn’t the only such plat­form. Sim­i­lar com­pa­nies, such as So­far Sounds, of­fer artists ac­cess to non-tra­di­tional venues around the world.

“Peo­ple are seek­ing dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ences, which are a bit more unique, more per­sonal and catered to them,” says Wal­ters.

The Par­lour de­mo­graphic so far tends to re­flect the artist’s fan base, says Wal­ters. But it specif­i­cally ap­peals to mu­sic fans who per­haps used to go to gigs fre­quently, but who due to fam­ily or ca­reer com­mit­ments – or just an aver­sion to wait­ing un­til 10pm for the head­liner – do not do it much any­more. Par­lour hosts a sig­nif­i­cant pro­por­tion of its gigs out­side cap­i­tal cities, where in­de­pen­dent artists do not of­ten tour due to the fi­nan­cial risk.

Wal­ters is at pains to stress that Par­lour does not aim to sup­plant or dis­rupt the venue sys­tem. He sees it as a sep­a­rate and com­ple­men­tary live mu­sic struc­ture and says that pri­vate gigs help artists build and mo­bilise their fan base, which trans­lates into higher ticket sales on the venue tours.

But at the Melody Pool gig, con­ver­sa­tion quickly turns to Syd­ney venue closures. Some­one men­tions the San­dring­ham, a one-time soggy-car­peted New­town in­sti­tu­tion down the road, which be­came the New­town So­cial Club, and last year re­opened as an in­door minia­ture golf course with karaoke fa­cil­i­ties.

The live mu­sic scene na­tion­ally is a mixed one.

Gig at­ten­dance in cen­tral Syd­ney is down 40 per cent, ac­cord­ing to fig­ures re­leased this year. Mean­while, the Mel­bourne Live Mu­sic Cen­sus 2017 found in the south­ern cap­i­tal there was a 12 per cent in­crease in an­nual pa­tron vis­its to live mu­sic over the pre­vi­ous five years. Aus­tralia-wide, PwC ex­pects the live mu­sic mar­ket – from fes­ti­vals to pub shows – to grow by 2.7 per cent by 2022. With dig­i­tal mu­sic sales fail­ing to make up for de­clin­ing phys­i­cal al­bum sales, turn­ing a profit from live mu­sic has rarely been more crit­i­cal for mu­si­cians.

Melody Pool wraps up at 7pm. The room erupts in clap­ping, and the sound feels as large as it would in any small venue. The singer is quickly oc­cu­pied sell­ing CDs and wishes she had re­mem­bered to bring a float for the merch.

Rachel is buzzing af­ter the one-hour show. But she has two com­ments about the for­mat. One, she says, the host should al­ways get to re­quest a song. And two, hosts should be able to in­crease the ticket price – if their

• friends can af­ford it – so the artists earn more.

Singer­song­writer Dan Kelly plays a pri­vate back­yard gig.

CELINA RIBEIRO is a free­lance writer and edi­tor based in Syd­ney.

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