When The Adelaide Review asks Roberts how she’s finding her new gig, she pauses before diplomatically answering, “it’s been a very busy time.”
And it’s hard to imagine why that would be. After all, it’s not as though she just hopped into the driver’s seat of the local music industry’s peak body just in time for the entire world to be gripped by a pandemic which has proved devastating to the economy generally and the creative and event industries in particular – not to mention completely shut down the live scene which sustains her organisation’s membership. How hard could it be?
“No, you’re right, no dramas at all that I need to factor in, account with, and attempt to figure out solutions for,” she laughs. “It’s easy-peasy!”
The South Australian born and bred Roberts should be well known to anyone who has dealt with Music SA, where she has been the head of training for the last few years before taking the top job recently. However, she’s also known in music circles as a Three D Radio presenter, blogger, reviewer, and most of all, a working musician: first with hotly-tipped 2000s indie kids 200 Motels and as a solo artist, and now balancing duties as guitarist in atmospheric post-rock trio Last Days of Kali and as bassist in the indie rock outfit Placement. “So I’ve been doing music industry stuff for 20 years, and playing music since my teens, and this is a perfect marriage of vocation training, which was my last job, and music which I love so dearly.”
“I’m not going to lie, obviously it’s a difficult time and there are a lot of challenges.”
At the very least, Music SA has a perfectly-suited person in the seat – and despite everything, she’s enormously enthusiastic about the possibilities of the role.
“It’s definitely exciting,” she says. “I’m very excited to be in this position and that the board has had trust in me to take Music SA into the next chapter – but I’m not going to lie, obviously it’s a difficult time and there are a lot of challenges. We’re going to have to figure out ways to get through it and come out the other side better and stronger, but it’s not going to be easy.”
She’s not about to sugarcoat those challenges., either. “It’s a tough time for everyone. None of us have ever had to deal with something like this before, so [I’m] trying to figure out from a musician’s perspective what we could be doing to support them through this when their ability to earn any income is very limited – and also event staff and venues and all of the other people who have been impacted. And it was always going to be a matter of listening to the community about what they need, but it’s now even more important to be reaching out and trying to figure out ways that we can work together and assist people as best as possible.”
What does that assistance look like for Adelaide? “We’ve been working behind the scenes with venues and feeding that information through to the government and so they’re aware of the dire situation venues are in at the moment,” she says. “And we’ve put together a best practice guide for venues and a whole heap of artist tools as well, like guides to live streaming and digital distribution, as many resources as we can.”
And as much as possible, it’s also business as usual. “We’re still doing our normal industry development meetings as well, over the phone since we can’t do those in person, and extra staff in events management have opened up some spots in their calendar to try and provide some advice on how to navigate this horrible situation.”
Roberts is clearly ambitious and accomplished, but has never bowed to the temptation to follow our best and brightest musical exports to cities with larger music industries. “I’ve done quite a bit of travelling, but I’ve always been an Adelaide girl,” she says with conviction. “There’s always been things here that have meant I haven’t wanted to leave.
“Musicians are very creative and resilient and we’re still finding ways of releasing recording and performing music, even if we can’t perform in the same way that we did before.”
“It’s the people around me, and I’ve always been doing something creative here which means I haven’t been tempted to do the classic thing of moving to Melbourne or Sydney. And I think Adelaide’s just kind of nice: It’s a good place to live and I’ve always found it to be pretty supportive – with Music SA, with Three D, with all the band stuff, it’s just a really lovely community.”
Roberts is optimistic that it’s that community which will get Adelaide through the unknown future. “Musicians are very creative and resilient and we’re still finding ways of releasing recording and performing music, even if we can’t perform in the same way that we did before. Live streaming is a good example of that,” she points out. “And I don’t think that’s going to go away any time soon, but I’m also relieved that the gig guide is starting to pick up again.”
With venues currently operating at 50 per cent capacity – some with government assistance – along with a recent reversal forcing drinking punters to remain seated, the elephant in the room is how it can even be possible for live music to exist in any cost-covering form while COVID is a thing. “It’s a challenge, but while we’re not having international touring it’s a great opportunity for people to listen to more local music and support local artists, seeing as though we won’t be seeing any national, much less international, acts for a while.”
South Australia is in a fortunate situation at the moment, with our lack of cases meaning relatively relaxed social distancing regulations – although it would be a bad time to be in a punk band right now.
“Yeah, there’ll be no moshing for a little while.”
Andrew P Street is a freelance writer whose books include The Short And Excruciatingly Embarrassing Reign Of Captain Abbott (2015) and The Long And Winding Way To The Top (2017).
Live music’s rocky return: ‘People are kind of giving up on this year’
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