Interview :: Ben Peterson @ Tone
August 30th 2011
Nick La Rosa
It’s no secret that Sydney isn’t the easiest city in which to run a music venue. Ben Peterson knows this better than most. Ben runs the absolutely jaw-droppingly gosh-darn amazing venue Tone in Surry Hills. If you’ve been there, you’ll know what exactly what we mean. If you haven’t, then make it your mission of the week: sadly, you don’t have very long to get in on the magic.
Ben recently announced that Tone will be forced to close the doors of its current home on Wentworth Street. There are still three weeks of awesome shows left, so give a brother a hand and make sure you head out to at least one gig to show your support.
As he desperately hunts for a new address, we caught up with Ben to find out what it’s like behind the scenes of Sydney music venues. It’s a tough gig, but we can’t imagine where we’d be without these guys. Becoming square-eyed robots from watching all our music on the interwebz, perhaps.
FBi: Sydney is a notoriously challenging city for smaller music venues. What made you decide to take on the challenge with Tone?
Ben Peterson: I've been involved with the Sydney music scene for a number of years and haven't been happy with the lack of quality small venues and the general lack of support from venues of non-commercial music and culture. The aim of most venue owners and operators in Sydney is to maximise financial 'Return on Investment' with no real concern for the local music community, which in my opinion has done our fair city no favours. My aim was to create a home and a hub for the creative and discerning people of Sydney to share their ideas and talents.
Tone has played host to everything – from soul-funk to Britpop to chillwave. Did you expect to get such a broad range of musicians playing at the venue?
That was always the goal and direction. We've tried to provide a fairly balanced offering with our only real entertainment policy being 'underground/alternative/indie' which obviously encompasses a wide scope.
With such an open approach to genres, how do you choose your artists? What's the 'special something' that you look for?
As above, if someone's doing something different we consider it. In recent times I've been receiving just as many recommendations from the community as I do demo's so momentum has just kept building. Creative people seem to gravitate towards us which is great.
Starting a venue on your own would take enormous dedication and effort. What lessons have you learned, or advice would you give to someone wanting to do the same?
Do your homework and seek as much professional advice as you can on all the issues which can affect the venue. Be prepared to wear many hats and work really long hours to start with.
In your experience, what have been the greatest challenges for independent music venues in Sydney?
The biggest challenge would definitely be making it work financially with all the various cost pressures including regulatory compliance, PA and soundproofing, insurances and massive Sydney rent prices.
You've had a huge amount of community support since Tone's closure was announced. How can people help?
In the short term we need people to come to our last month of shows for the business to stay solvent long enough to find a new home. We may also need to run a couple of fundraisers if and when we do find a new venue.