Geoff Taylor, CEO of the BPI, BRIT Awards & Mercury Prize talks to Access about the impact closed venues and the cancellation of live shows and festivals is having on the wider music industry ecosystem.
Recognising the vital importance of live music events and those who work with them, recorded music industry trade association the BPI has contributed £1.67 million to date to charities and organisations supporting artists, managers and venues during the pandemic. It’s most recent donation was £54,000 to Stagehand, a charity that provides financial support to crew and technicians.
Here Taylor discusses the challenges ahead, the need for a Government-backed event cancellation insurance scheme, and why he is optimistic the live music industry will bounce back once restrictions are lifted.
How concerned are you by the latest lockdown and the ongoing impact of closed venues on the pipeline of talent needed to power the wider music industry and sustain its future?
We are obviously very concerned about the difficulty for artists and for venues that a further period of lockdown presents. Our principle concern has been the risk to the venue infrastructure. We’ve been pleased to see the Government support, in particular through the Cultural Recovery Fund, to help try and ensure that venues that aren’t able to open get financial support and don’t go under. Venues can be very difficult to replace if they are closed down because often they are redeveloped and it’s very difficult to restore that capacity elsewhere. That then means that artists, particularly grassroots, don’t have places to play. It would have a long term, very serious, effect on the pipeline of talent for the industry and the opportunities for artists to work.
The music industry is so interconnected that everyone is affected. Sometimes it’s casually assumed that labels are doing fine and not under financial pressure but that’s not the case. Physical sales were significantly affected during the first lockdown and now we have another lockdown in the run up to Christmas. Nightclubs have been closed and with live performances being out of action it has meant there is very little in the way of royalties coming in and releases have had to be put back because of the impact on promotion and recording. So, labels are also having to deal with a substantially changed financial position.
If the festival season isn’t able to take place next year, how much of an impact do you think that will have on the industry at large and do you believe that the Government should back an insurance scheme to help event operators start to plan?
Yes, the Government should be looking at backing an insurance scheme. The exposure for promoters is obviously one of the major problems. Festival promoters need to return from next summer, already they’ve been under enormous financial pressure, so we need it both for those companies that are such an important part of our cultural life and for the artists to have the opportunity to get on stage in front of their fans and earn a living. Ways have to be found to make that happen. Hopefully there will be a combination of a vaccine or certified testing which allows audiences to return at greater scale.
We are, as an industry, working hard with Government to try and make sure that’s the case. It’s a priority for everyone and a huge amount of effort is going on to try to make that happen.
What kind of impact has the crisis, and the lack of touring and festivals, had on the recorded music sector’s product promotion activity?
We need to keep being able to put out new releases and obviously the pandemic’s had a significant impact on the way that we’re able to promote new releases. Live performances are an important part of a promotional campaign around a release. With that, TV and other opportunities having been severely suppressed by the pandemic, labels have had to innovate and find new ways both to record and make new music but also to promote it online. We have seen a big rise in virtual gigs and labels finding different ways to connect digitally with fans. As a result of that the recorded music part of the business has kept going, it hasn’t been easy because we have faced delays and disruption but nonetheless we have a decent release schedule for Q4 and overall the market has performed very resiliently. Recorded music has been a comfort to a lot of people during a time when they feel isolated, it has done a great deal to keep the country’s spirits up and we are really committed to doing everything we can to give fans new music and in so doing support artists and give them opportunities to earn.
The creativity of artists and labels has shone through, they have found new ways of connecting with fans, but nonetheless I don’t think it substitutes live performance and all of us are missing that very, very, strongly and want to see live performance reopen as quickly as possible.
“The creativity of artists and labels has shone through, they have found new ways of connecting with fans, but nonetheless I don’t think it substitutes live performance and all of us are missing that very, very, strongly.”
How optimistic are you that the live and wider music industry will be able to bounce back from this crisis?
This is a temporary issue for the music business. We are not in a situation where there is falling demand for music, in fact the demand for recordings and live music has been increasing year-on-year. The music industry remains one of the most globally successful industries that the UK has. It needs Government help in the short term through the pandemic but its prospects for economic growth and recovery are extremely strong as soon as it’s allowed to get back to business.
You welcomed the Cultural Recovery Fund but do you feel Government is doing enough to support the entire music industry?
We have to be understanding of the position that Government is in; it is looking at the whole of the economy and obviously large sectors of it are having to be closed because of the risk of transmission. What the music industry would like to see is greater clarity from Government as to when we might be able to reopen and on what terms. We are all lobbying together to impress upon the Government the importance of this industry, both economically and culturally, and to try and ensure that it’s a priority for reopening safely when that can happen.
The BPI organises events including the Brit Awards and Mercury Prize. Are you confident the Brit Awards will be able to go ahead as a physical event, as planned, in May?
We put the date back some time ago to 11 May and we are planning a really spectacular show. I can’t really say anymore at this point, but plans are well in hand. With the Mercury Prize, obviously we were in a situation where the pandemic was still raging, so we decided to do things differently this year. We managed to deliver a great deal more coverage on the BBC and online, and the show sparked a tremendous sales boost for all shortlisted artists, particularly the winner Michael Kiwanuka whose album went from something like No.75 in the chart to a top five placing. We felt it was all the more important to carry on with the event and give a platform to the artists to promote their work.