The music industry contributes over £5bn to the economy, employing hundreds of thousands of people, and providing vibrant culture to towns and cities across the UK.
In recent years, the live music sector has hit record highs, contributing over £1bn to the UK economy. But the COVID-19 crisis has placed the entire music industry in jeopardy; with artists, promoters, managers, venue owners and many others facing huge concerns about their future prospects.
Dan Sheed is the manager of the Sussex-based band, Dutch Criminal Record, and the owner of the music blog, Turtle Tempo. He talks of how vital it is for the government to provide financial support to grassroots music venues, explaining that “without the hundreds of small music venues all across the UK, it would affect music in a scale never seen before. Zero financial support to the venues will cause a ripple and hit the large venues & the big festivals.”
The Music Venues Alliance (MVA) represents over 600 music venues across the UK, and is supported by the Music Venues Trust (MVT), which aims to “secure the long-term future of iconic Grassroots Music Venues”. Earlier this year, the #SaveOurVenues campaign was launched to help over 500 venues at ‘imminent risk’ of closure, and has since raised over £1m.
However music venues aren’t the only part of the industry affected by COVID-19 – entrepreneur Zach Smith discussed the effect on companies who provide touring crew to artists, mentioning how government grants haven’t covered the costs they currently face, meanwhile James Wadsworth, owner of music site Underscore Part 3, noted that he was ‘naïve’ when the initial government grants first came out, “but soon learned that they were a mask on the reality for businesses”, finding that he doesn’t think people “truly understand who crippling things are for the events industry.”
Placing emphasis on the positive mental impact of attending gigs, Georges Kandé, artist manager and event curator at Nü Inc. Sound, explained that: “Especially for us creatives, independent musicians, grassroots music venues — without these venues artists wouldn’t have the opportunity to showcase their talent, connect with people and learn their craft. With that financial help someone like myself can curate regular gigs at music venues that need an audience to survive.”
On Sunday evening, the government announced a £1.57bn support package for the arts, which came as welcome news to those who have been campaigning for weeks. Liverpool band The Jackobins described the news as ‘outstanding’, saying they were “overwhelmed by the outcome”. Music photographer, Indy Brewer said the announcement was ‘wonderful’, but noted the lengthy time the government have taken to hand out support: “it’s a shame it’s taken as long as it has as some venues have already closed, but I’m glad the creative industries are now being heard.”
Others have also expressed concerns about how the money may be distributed, with Nathan White, a freelance touring crew member, mentioning that “it’s unclear as to who will benefit and in what capacity”, whilst emphasising the importance of fair distribution, which “takes into account the needs of different venues.” Artist manager at Simple Complex, and talent agent at Fave Sounds, Allan Siema also commented on the need for the money to be distributed “effectively and purposefully to places that need it.”
Alex, a presenter at Kiss FM said the funding was ‘great’ for the music scene “if spent correctly and fairly”, saying “everyone is affected in the music industry, including us in radio, but if the venues were to fall and close down, it’s a domino effect for the whole scene.”
Creatives across the music industry have been fighting since March for the government to allocate emergency funds to music, with the recent #LetTheMusicPlay campaign generating hundreds of thousands of social media posts, and gaining the support of the likes of Paul McCartney, Wolf Alice, The 1975 and many others.
Rebecca Mason from Sonic PR found the government took too long to announce the funding stating: “With so many other industries receiving funds so far ahead of the arts it just shows what takes priority in this country and I find that really sad and disheartening, especially after seeing the breakdown in what the live industry generated in 2019 alone.” Nearly 25m people attended concerts in 2018, whilst almost 5m attended festivals, with the live music sector hitting a hefty 1.1bn in value.
She also shared worries over where the funding may go, saying: “I think a lot of people share the same concern that the funding will be handed to major venues (especially London based) before the smaller independent venues which all of us rely on so heavily! I doubt I’m alone in feeling like the North is often overlooked as part of the music industry and I just really hope that our great venues and organisations receive the same support those in the South will do.”
Molly-Mae Taylor, film and music content creator at Indie Central Music, said that whilst the funding was “a step in the right direction”, she was “still concerned about some of the smaller venues – after that money is split between arts, culture and music and then vetted against how economically worthwhile that venue is – I very much doubt some of the independents will even benefit from it. I hope I’m wrong but I don’t think everything is saved yet!”
With 2020 previously set to be an immense year for festivals, Luke Joynes, director of artist development platform, Sucker, discussed the ‘big summer’ the platform had planned for the bands on their roster, explaining: “There hasn’t been much help as yet, or even a timeline for us to aim for – and this is hugely important so that the music industry is ready to go again for when it is safe to resume. The government needs to ensure that music is funded at a grassroots level so there’s a platform for future Ed Sheeran’s, Lewis Capaldi’s and Dua Lipa’s to come through. Failing that, and we’re at a huge risk of losing a massive part of our culture – and that’s Great British music.”
Samantha Daly from SYNCR talked about the difficult time the industry was facing, noting how “A lot of people that I know are all self employed and many haven’t been eligible to get any funding at all”, and going on to say: “It’s really difficult for venues too as a lot of them struggle as it is to make money at full capacity so now being posed with the option of opening at lower capacities, it’s just not worth it in a lot of cases.”
Artist and music blogger, Marnie said she felt it was ‘cynical’ for the PM to name the arts industries as “’the beating heart’ of the country”, noting: “it took months of lobbying from various arts campaigners and a big ol’ hashtag to get the Gov to acknowledge our pleas for help in the first place.”
Marnie also noted how artists themselves have been given little support, saying: “I’m really very glad that our venues now have a chance of staying open post-covid, but I have also seen some people miffed that the rhetoric from the reports on this issue has mainly been around theatre and other high-art forms – I can understand everyone’s frustration that musicians (and their teams; management, PR, etc) contributions seem to never be adequately recognised”.
Artist, Sam Wilde, expressed a similar notion, describing how whilst he was grateful for the announcement, “it shouldn’t take musicians and other creatives to run a social movement to prompt the government to do something about it.” He also noted the best way for fans to support musicians right now is to “give artists a little of their time, especially independent and unsigned acts. Whether that is pre-saving their new single, following them on socials, buying their merch, sharing their music or simply giving them a message. It’s always hugely appreciated and all of these things help artists to continue writing and releasing music.”
Last night, music venues across the country lit up in red for the #LightInRed campaign, to draw attention to the struggles the event industry is currently facing. Along with both #SaveOurVenues and #LetTheMusicPlay, recent months have highlighted the importance of the music industry, with future campaigns set to continue emphasising the vital support still needed.
The music industry finally has the funding it asked for – but it hasn’t been saved yet.