With gatherings of 100 or more currently banned, the future of music venues up and down the country is looking bleak.

Among them is Tauranga's Totara Street, founded in 2015 and desperate to survive 2020. The venue is an important part of the region's music scene.

"Totara Street is part of the Mauao Performing Arts Centre," director Ross Shilling said.

"The Mauao Performing Arts Centre in whole is a community centre that basically does music lessons, puts on events, has the community use it, and live music is one of the big things that happens at Totara Street."


And it's that live music that actually pays the bills.

"We don't make a whole lot of money out of anything else. It subsidises some of the community stuff we do, it subsidises the music lessons to a certain degree. It's a commercial building, we pay commercial rent and it's through the roof like everybody else's in the Mount," Shilling said.

During lockdown, the staff have done what they could to keep the business afloat.

"We've had to negotiate with the landlord and try and put contracts on hold which we've done the best we can. The bottom line is that money is still going out - you can't cancel some of these contracts with some people. You can't not pay your insurance because if the building burns down you're totally shot.

"We've managed to negotiate a reduction but if it goes on for three months we're $25-30k in the hole. That's all there is to it. That money's still going out."

Shilling says as long as social distancing remains in place, many venues will be forced to remain closed.

"Totara Street is closed until we can get rid of the two-meter distancing – it just won't work - at all. Even at 100 seated, by the time you staff it and hire the tables and do all the things that you need to do, because we're not really set up as a restaurant, it doesn't make any money for us."

With the music scene unlikely to return to normal anytime soon, a crowdfunded 'Save Our Venues' campaign has come to the rescue.


"We got approached by the Save Our Venues crew and at the time we were going 'how do we raise the money to keep this thing afloat?'. We've got no income, no idea when it's going to start again. It's pretty hard to come up with $25k which is essentially just going to pay the overheads for three months."

But level 2 has allowed the venue to reopen some of its community offerings such as music lessons.

"It's quite amazing just coming here," 10-year-old student Videl Harrison said. "It makes me really happy, I really enjoy it. It's so much fun to come and do something I love."

The tutors are also glad to be teaching face-to-face again.

"A lot of musicians who teach have had issues teaching via Skype or Zoom simply because the internet crashes, stalls, a lot of times there's bad audio," tutor Melissa Cox said.

"You can't actually play at the same time with your students so whether you are offering accompaniment on a guitar or piano for instance and they're singing over that, you can't do that over Zoom or Skype."

And experiences like this are important for the future of your local music scene.

"Nobody really makes a huge amount of money out of music and art," Shilling said.

"Nobody makes a whole lot of money out of venues either to be honest, but they do provide a service and they do pay wages."

"But we do need to keep places like this alive because if you haven't got the kids coming through to learn to play guitar or drums, and getting up on the stage and playing with their mates and all the rest of it, it's just not going to evolve."

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