Tom Kiehl, acting CEO of campaigning and lobbying group UK Music, looks at the progress made so far and what is left to be achieved on the live music industry’s road to recovery.
The small audience of 200 who were lucky enough to see folk rocker Frank Turner’s gig at the 1,250-capacity Clapham Grand were delighted to finally enjoy some live music.
However, venue manager Ally Wolf hit the nail on the head with his verdict on the Government-backed pilot event in late July before a socially-distanced audience.
“It can’t be the future for live music, it can’t be the future for venues,” he said, pointing out the gig did not even bring enough to cover operating costs – and that’s without including any performer’s fee.
Unlike some other sectors that can break even or make money on reduced capacities due to social distancing rules, it’s just not possible for live music venues.
Given the critical role of live music in our industry’s complex ecosystem, it is impossible to overstate the scale of this barrier to the ability of the music industry as a whole to recover.
Before the impact of coronavirus, our industry contributed £5.2 billion a year to the UK economy and sustained more than 190,000 jobs.
More than 30 million fans attended concerts and festivals in the UK in 2018. However, the imposition of the lockdown in March means more than £900 million will be wiped from the £1.1 billion direct contribution that live music alone was expected to make to the UK economy.
There have already been thousands of jobs lost. Live music supports a huge network of managers, artists, agents, technicians and suppliers, who have no money coming in when there is no live music. Many of them are also freelancers who fall through the gaps in the Government’s support schemes.
Without sustained support from the Government and hardship funds, there is a real risk tens of thousands more jobs will be lost and talented people may leave the industry for good.
While other sectors are slowly emerging from the lockdown, the future of large swathes of the music industry, particularly the live sector and all those who depend on it, remains shrouded in uncertainty. The industry is effectively on life support.
Despite the bleak backdrop, the industry has come together fantastically to do all it can to support those in the greatest need. Our members including PPL, PRS for Music, the BPI and the Musicians’ Union along with Help Musicians and many others are doing all they can to help in the form of hardship funds.
UK Music was also one of backers of the #LetTheMusicPlay campaign to urge the Government to give the live industry the support it urgently needs. The campaign called on the Government to give the industry a clear, conditional timeline for reopening venues without social distancing, a comprehensive business and employment support package and access to finance and full VAT exemption on ticket sales.
The £1.57 billion Government support package for the arts announced a few days after the campaign launch was very welcome yet it is disappointing that individuals are not eligible given the challenges they face. The announcement of a VAT cut for concerts and events in the Chancellor’s Summer Economic Statement was a hugely positive step in meeting the campaign’s objectives.
However, the issue of live music’s timetable for restart has become more pressing following the Government’s postponement of the easing of lockdown restrictions which would have seen indoor live performances restart at the beginning of August, albeit with social distancing restrictions.
The decision to push the date back to 15 August compounded the pain for a sector where many businesses and individuals were already struggling to survive as Government financial help starts to taper to an end.
We all want to see all our great musicians and performers playing to full houses as soon as it is safe to do so. For now, our industry needs the Government’s continued help until we can get back on our feet.
In the words of Frank Turner its “a long road out to recovery from here, a long way to makin’ it right.”