Canberra's struggling live music sector will be decimated and may never recover when the federal government pulls the plug on the JobKeeper program next month, industry advocates and musicians fear.
Established artists who have toured internationally are being forced to weigh up their future as they brace for the loss of the wage subsidy which has helped them survive financially through the COVID-19 crisis.
While some industries have returned to near normality almost a year into the pandemic, MusicACT's Dave Caffery said the live music sector was operating at just five per cent capacity due to restrictions on venues, border closures and the cancellation of major festivals.
The decision to increase indoor venue capacity limits and allow applications for events with up to 10,000 patrons from Saturday has been welcomed as a positive step, but not enough to stave off the looming disaster.
Mr Caffery issued a dire prediction for the future of the local music industry if the JobKeeper scheme ended and no similar government assistance was offered in its place.
"If JobKeeper was to stop, much of the ACT music industry will also stop and may never come back," he said.
"Like the aviation sector, the music sector needs a lifeline. Without industry specific support while we are operating at under five per cent, the soundtrack of our country will go silent."
Mr Caffery said the ACT government would need to step up if the Commonwealth didn't.
The Canberra Times spoke with Mr Caffery and other Canberra artists for its Over The Cliff series, which is looking at what the winding up of JobKeeper and the JobSeeker supplement at the end of next month will mean in the ACT.
More than 530 businesses in the arts and recreation services industry in the ACT were on JobKeeper in the first phase of the program, although it's not clear how many of those are still receiving the payment.
For members of Canberra rock band Hands Like Houses, the wage subsidy has been a financial lifeline after social distancing restrictions and domestic and international border closures forced the cancellation of dozens of gigs planned for Australia and overseas.
Bass player Joel Tyrrell said the band relied on live performances for more than 80 per cent of its income.
READ MORE IN THE "OVER THE CLIFF" SERIES
The band streamed shows online and tried to "up" its online merchandise sales to generate revenue amid the worst of the crisis, but neither came close to making up the gap left by lost live performances.
While artists are now back performing live in Canberra, venues are still subject to strict capacity limits. Smaller crowds mean fewer ticket sales, which result in smaller paydays for artists and crews.
Dancing - an essential part of the live-music experience for some bands and fans - is permitted in indoor venues with dedicated dancefloors, provided the one person per two square metre rule can be adhered to.
But it's still not allowed in venues classed as bars.
Asked what the future held for Hands Like Houses after the wage subsidy was pulled on March 28, Tyrrell said: "I don't exactly have an answer at this point,".
"I think the kind of harsh reality for us, when JobKeeper ends we aren't all of sudden just going to go back to playing shows and making money again," he said.
"A lot of us are still passionate enough and want to do this, because this is what we are best at doing.
"But if it's not paying the bills, we have to be realistic about that as well. Maybe we do need to get other jobs or move industries because, as much as we can sit here and hope there will be some kind of beautiful handout or nice little pat on the back, it's probably not going to pay our bills now.
"It is really hard to know."
Tyrrell said Canberra, which he said had the potential to be thriving live music destination, would be a "very different place culturally" if artists couldn't afford to continue in the industry. The sector's decline would mean job losses for sound and light technicians, stage crews and others.
"We are not going to lose every artist, I'm sure there will be artists who will be driven or who find the means to support themselves whether that's through second or third jobs.
"But It does have the potential to be very damaging to the art sector in Canberra."
Federal Arts Minister Paul Fletcher did not respond directly when asked if the government would consider a targeted assistance package for the live music sector after JobKeeper runs out, as has been suggested for the tourism industry.
The Morrison government did announce a $250 million package last year to support the arts industry's pandemic recovery, which included a $75 million grants fund.
Two ACT projects received funding in the program's first round - the Belconnen Arts Centre's REWIRE initiative ($173,000) and Canberra International Music Festival ($109,000).
Capital Brewing received $34,900 through another program to help transform the Fyshwick venue into a live-music space, while Sideway bar in the city was awarded $23,040 for upgrades to help it host more shows.
"The arts and entertainment sector is a big employer. It also drives jobs in sectors such as hospitality and travel," Mr Fletcher said.
"But as well as generating jobs and income, recovery of the live entertainment sector means there will be lots of shows that Australians can go and see - and that's good news for all of us after a tough 12 months."