Why Rubens lead singer Sam Margin was forced to turn to charity during the pandemic

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Unlike many musicians, Sam Margin, lead singer of rock band The Rubens, has managed to make a living from his art.

But over the past two years, COVID lockdowns have meant his finances have been eroded, and Margin decided he needed to seek help from charity.

For someone who was used to performing in front of thousands of people, it was a lesson in humility.

“We’ve been very successful in that we’ve been able to do this for a living for 10 years – that said, we still rely on touring for a living and only do it as a job,” he said. declared.

The impact of public health restrictions and border closures across Australia has forced The Rubens and many artists to reschedule booked tours as early as 2020, on several occasions.

“Restrictions still at some point [over the last two years] allowed the shows to happen, but those shows were at very, very limited capacities to the point that it wasn’t financially viable to hold a show at all.”

Sam Margin (centre) and the other members of rock band The Rubens.(Provided: James Simpson)

Margin contacted Support Act, a music industry charity, for help paying the bills.

“So we were living hand to mouth and the little Support Act bonus really helped pay some bills and stuff,” he said.

“Once you get to that point, where you look at your refunds and it’s not going well, everything is really wonderful, so [I’m] very grateful.”

The pressure on the industry is unlikely to ease any time soon, with NSW restrictions preventing singing and dancing in entertainment facilities, nightclubs, indoor music festivals and major indoor leisure facilities extended until the end of this month.

And each state in Australia has different rules that can hamper domestic touring, such as Western Australia’s borders closing indefinitely.

A blonde woman in a pink jacket
Kristy Lee Peters, otherwise known as KLP, is an Australian singer, songwriter, record producer and DJ. (Provided: SUM management)

Sydney singer-songwriter Kristy Lee Peters, (KLP), is devastated by the extension of NSW’s public health regulations, which were announced last week.

Over the past two years, she and her partner have lost more than 90% of their income from performing arts.

“I mean these numbers are insane, and no other industry should be dealing with this and have no support – so we need some sort of cancellation insurance,” she said. declared.

“People are tired and burnt out and just a little heartbroken and feeling lost at the lack of support.”

She worries about the long-term impact on the mental health of artists and their audiences.

“It has been proven that young people in particular need this type of [performance] events for their mental health, as a way to come together, to bring a sense of self, identity and community and not having that causes long-term damage.”

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Support Act is itself strapped for cash and has been forced to issue an emergency appeal featuring artists like Margin.

The charity gives relief funds to people who cannot work because they are sick, injured, living with a mental health issue or affected by a crisis like COVID-19.

Support Act CEO Clive Miller said the organization received $40 million from the federal government to help people survive the pandemic, but most has now been spent.

“This has been absolutely critical in enabling us to deliver and distribute over 15,000 crisis relief grants valued at over $35 million to help people working in music and the performing arts recover. ensure they can pay rent, medical bills and put food on the table,” he said.

About 100 to 150 people are still applying for crisis relief each week, so the Support Act has reduced the overall amounts to try to stretch the funds.

“A big show like Tamworth Country Music Festival might be enough money to cover them [the artist] for a month,” Miller said.

“And so if they lose that, it really puts a lot of pressure on them.”

The Tamworth Country Music Festival, Broken Heel Festival and Grapevine Gathering Festival in the Hunter Valley all had to cancel this year as Omicron hit hard.

Karine Page
A packed crowd at the Tamworth Music Festival in 2016.(ABC News: Jennifer Ingall)

Australian Live Music Business Council (ALMBC) chairman Stephen Wade agrees the industry needs insurance to back promoters nervous about hosting shows that could be canceled due to changes last minute in public health orders or locked borders.

“We are pretty much in the same situation as two years ago with New South Wales 95 per cent vaccinated,” he said.

“They told everyone to get vaccinated. We supported that as an industry. Everyone is 95% [double vaccinated] and 36% triple vaccinated and yet we don’t think it’s safe enough to go see live music.”

A nationwide survey by industry group I Lost My Gig found that since July 2021, 32,737 concerts and events have been canceled, representing nearly $94.3 million in lost revenue.

According to the survey, only 1% of industry professionals had income protection or event cancellation insurance.

Mr Wade’s is one of many industry organizations calling for Australian Government-backed COVID-19 event insurance like that introduced in Victoria in December last year.

The Victorian program covers creative, sporting, business and community events costing between $20,000 and $10 million.

The Australia Institute reported in 2020 that Australia’s arts and entertainment sector contributes $14.7 billion annually to the national gross domestic product (GDP).

In 2020, the federal government announced that Australia’s arts sector would have access to $250 million in grants and loans as part of a COVID-19 stimulus package.

NSW Arts Minister Ben Franklin says the state government is supporting live music with the $80 million extension to the performing arts stimulus package, announced on Sunday, for affected businesses by the economic impact of Omicron.

“We are also providing an additional $5 million grant to the music charity, Support Act, to provide critical relief to support individual performers working in the music industry,” he said. declared.

It also provides assistance through the Events Saver Fund, allowing festival organizers to recover eligible sunk costs, such as payments to suppliers and contractors, if an event is canceled or significantly disrupted by the Omicron outbreak.

The New South Wales government was continuing to explore insurance options for events, Mr Franklin said, but Event Saver and the performing arts package – run by Create NSW – needed to “provide certainty and the level of support needed to keep the performing arts sector viable and vibrant”.

The NSW government was strongly behind the development of a national event insurance scheme to support the sector, the minister said in a statement.

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