Music venues come in all different shapes and sizes. There are stadiums. Pubs. Warehouses. Community centres. And for the last four years there has been a newsagency. Well, not a newsagency. The Newsagency.
In 2011 singer/songwriter Alison Avron needed a space to launch her EP and teach from, so she took over the lease on an old newsagent in Marrickville and the rest is history. A newsagent doesn’t immediately come to mind when you think live music, but Avron created one of my favourites venues out of a place that use to sell the Sunday paper. A safe place for creatives everywhere.
Avron is currently in New York recording an album, but she found some time to talk to us about this fun little venue called The Newsagency.
Can you tell us a bit about who you are?
My name is Alison Avron. I’m a singer, songwriter and also most known for running the music venue, The Newsagency in Sydney, NSW. I also like to binge watch shows on Netflix, play netball and lose my shit over beautiful sunsets (no really, I cry sometimes when I watch them)
How long have you been running The Newsagency?
I have been running The Newsagency for 4 years now. (Where did THAT time go?)
When and why did you decide to start The Newsagency?
I started The Newsagency in 2011 because I had an EP I wanted to launch. Back then there weren’t many venues supporting up and coming artists, in fact there weren’t nearly as many venues are there are now.
I’d taken over the lease at this old newsagent in Marrickville to firstly, have a place to live, but secondly have a space I could teach from and be generally creative. As I was renovating it, it dawned on me I could put in a little stage (made from the old shelves from when it actually was a newsagent.) and I could use the space to launch my first EP.
The Newsagency is one of my favourite venues. The size makes it great for intimate shows and I love that it doesn’t exactly scream music venue, but just works so well. Was the plan always to find a little place out of the norm for a music venue, or did it just sort of happen?
It definitely wasn’t the plan at all. As I was mentioned before, I just wanted a place to live and a creative space – maybe my friends could come and hang out and play music too, but I never thought I’d be running a venue and liasing with as many artists as I am now. I had NO CLUE what was involved in managing a venue at all. (Don’t worry, I know a bit more now thankfully)
My EP launch saw a lot of people come in through the door. I made it a free show, which was the best thing I could do. It seems it was the “right time-right place” kind of situation – people needed a small place and The Newsagency offered that.
I do also kind of owe a lot to local songwriters, Elana Stone and NGAIIRE for the venue’s popularity. They both came in one night and immediately wanted to perform there. They then did this weekly Wednesday residency (the condition was they could do it if I could play netball on the same night and they take care of sound/venue managing– they didn’t mind). Those nights bought a lot of new audience members and artists to the space. I’ll be forever grateful for them giving me that unofficial leg up.
You have hosted a range of different artists both big and small, and a variety of genres. I know it must be hard to decide, but do you have a favourite night? Or moment?
Gosh, that is a really hard question to answer! I really don’t have one favourite night but the Elana Stone/Ngaiire nights were really special. Sarah Belkner took over Wednesdays from them and still run quarterly – they’re also a real highlight of the year. More recently I loved doing my 20th Anniversary Jagged Little Pill show with Lady Sings it Better and Tom Dickins. (50 people all singing their lungs out to You Oughta Know is definitely something to behold!)
Other than that hosting Holy Holy, Ainslie Wills, Mustered Courage , Singer Mali, and being part of the Sydney Fringe Festival were real favourite times for me. There are so many more nights that are so precious to me though.
How important do you think venues such as yours are for the local music industry?
It’s important there are venues in the local music industry that offer a stage for artists starting out in their career. It is hard when an artist hasn’t done many shows and they’re ignored by venues because they’re not going to pull big numbers. And look, now that I’ve run a venue, even one without a bar, I get why venues have to do that. The more venues we have, the more artists we can host and there’s not as much pressure on both sides to please everyone. So yes, tiny music venues like mine are just as important as the big ones.
What challenges have you faced since opening the doors to The Newsagency, and how have you overcome them?
Many challenges. One brilliant psychologist.
But in all seriousness the biggest challenge is dealing with a lot of different people and their past experience, egos etc. I really struggled in the beginning to hold my ground and stay focused on what would help me out – and therefore the venue. I spent a lot of time running around in circles trying to make everyone happy. I did work out the hard way that you really can’t please everyone and there are a lot of mean spirited people out there. When I first started out, I was spending days not being able to stop crying because I was so sensitive to what people were saying, good or bad. I really suffered from a lot of anxiety – probably all part and parcel of throwing myself into the deep end of something (venue managing) I didn’t really know much about.
I’m really on top of that stuff now, thanks to my psychologist – and probably time and experience. I still face objections and different kinds of personalities everyday but I really don’t take it as a personally as I used to anymore. I’m much better at taking care of myself and not getting consumed by the venue. (Binge watching docos on Netflix helps that, a lot.)
Do you find people have a mostly positive reaction to the venue and what you do?
Generally positive, yes. If it’s not positive at the start, the artist and experience usually hooks them in by the end. Who doesn’t love bringing your own beer to a place where you can listen to live music?
You are also a singer/song writer. How do you find the time to book shows, run the venue and work on your own music?
It is hard to juggle, but I think lots of other singer/songwriters who are just starting out have to find the balance between what pays the rent and finding the time to do what you ultimately love doing. I have a regular Tuesday night gig at The Vic across the road where I host an open mic night so I do get a chance to perform there and I do get some time during the week to work on songs. The perks of having my own venue also means I can book in my own shows too – I’m quite friendly with the bookings manager 😉
I’m currently writing this from New York where I’ve put the foot down and decided to record an album. Sometimes I do have to do something as dramatic as that to completely remove myself from The Newsagency to focus on my own music. I hope when I come back I’ll give myself more time/opportunities to perform.
Do you have anything else you would like to share?
If anyone wants to become a patron of The Newsagency, and see that it keeps running, they can give as little as a dollar/month at http://www.patreon.com/alisonavron
Keep updated with shows at The Newsagency here: http://www.thenewsagencyvenue.com.au
Like my music page here: http://www.facebook.com/alisonavronmusic
*Photo of Alison Avron by Lauren Orrell