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Brisbane company ready to help restart Australia's Nightlife

Culture

For the past three decades, Queensland-based company Nightlife has been providing music and videos for public consumption at establishments from pubs and clubs to bowling alleys, gyms, casinos, hotel lobbies and cruise ships.

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Nightlife has come a long way since former schoolmates, engineers Mark Brownlee and Tim De Souza, took over the spare room of a sharehouse in 1989 to devise and design a video jukebox system that would allow them – and other music fans – to play the songs they wanted to hear when they went out.

Since that time, the company has constantly evolved from its analogue beginnings into to embrace an ever-changing musical landscape, most notably by launching its popular crowdDJ offshoot.

CrowdDJ operates as both an in-venue, jukebox-syle kiosk and a downloadable app that cloud-based technology to integrate customers’ Spotify playlists with venues’ playlists, allowing them to program their favourite music.

Since crowdDJ’s launch in 2016, more than 2500 venues have signed up, and the app has been downloaded more than 270,000 times, and late last year, Nightlife was presented with the Optus Business Platinum Award and Australia Pacific LNG Award for Business Innovation at the Brisbane Lord Mayor’s Business Awards and at the start of 2020,

At the start of the year, the co-founders of Nightlife – which employed 120 people and was Australia’s biggest music tech company before the implementation of social restrictions arising from the COVID-19 pandemic – were preparing to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the company.

Five months later, Nightlife has lost 95 per cent of its income stream and been forced to reduce its workforce to a dozen people. But the company is firmly focused on looking ahead to what “the new normal” will look like as restrictions ease and venues start to reopen, and one of its primary concerns is ensuring it can do what it can to help secure a bigger slice of revenue for Australian artists when it comes to royalties for airplay.

Nightlife director and board advisor Leanne de Souza told InQueensland said the company started its “Australian Played” campaign two years ago and said when industry players including ARIA chief executive Dan Rosen and APRA’s Dean Ormston launched an Aussie Made campaign to encourage broadcasters to play more Australian music, they were quick to jump on board.

“Two years ago, we started our own Australian Played campaign,” de Souza said. “So when you’re on your app or the kiosk, which is like the new jukebox really, at a Nightlife venue, we’ve got a little icon so you can see who the Australian artists are.

“Knowing that the live revenue was drying up, they went really hard with that, so for us it was a bit of a no-brainer because we had Australian Played, so we thought, ‘let’s just chuck our weight behind the Aussie Made campaign that APRA and ARIA are doing, because we can reach the places that TV and radio don’t reach, which is our 5000 or so clients out in pubs and clubs, cafes and gyms.

“Anecdotally we know that people are willing to pick Australian music if they know it’s there, there’s a little bit of parochialism – Australians love Australian music.

“And we wouldn’t have a business if it weren’t for great musicians and great music. So that’s really important, we’re part of the ecology.”

Leanne de Souza. (Photo: Julian Lynch)

De Souza admitted the future remained uncertain for Nightlife, but said the company had learnt to be nimble and evolve with the digital landscape and it was prepared to keep evolving to stay relevant.

“We ship little tiny media players now, whereas we used to ship like 200-CD stackers, so the hardware changed, which meant the way the venues used the interface changed,” she said. “We saw an opportunity that if you’re a punter, and you’re in your local pub or club or bowls club or whatever, you could help influence and shape the music.

“We’ll be back, we’ll just be a lot leaner and meaner, it’s sort of like a start-up again,” she said. “In 1989, Nighlife was a start-up – pre-internet – and now it feels like start-up culture again as a business but we’ve got the internet and we’ve got one of the best products for background music in the world.”

De Souza said the company originally had grand ambitions to further grow the business this year to coincide with its 30th birthday, but those plans were now on the backburner.

“This year, we had some really ambitious targets with export, with overseas, with new products, we made some incredible recruitment and some really senior exciting executive recruitment positions, and now we’re back to feeling like we’re working under the house again, like it’s 1989.

“But what was at the core of that – loving music and that optimism to make the best music for public performance possible – hasn’t changed.

“This is a restart. It’s like a reboot, so that is exciting. As much as it’s daunting and we’ve got to live on the smell of an oily rag again, we can do that, because it is exciting to build something and I think we do need to have some optimism.”

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