These are unsettling times. It’s an age of unknown circumstances. We are living through a chaotic time, fighting an unseen enemy.This is the pandemic of 2020. An evil that not only changes lives but takes them away. For all the hardship which societies around the world are going through, health is not the only branch of life that has been devastated. Livelihoods and incomes have not escaped the destructive force of the virus either. With governments in many countries, including the UK, helping out those whose jobs have been affected by the pandemic, the self-employed have suffered hardship more than most, including musicians and the labour force of the music industry.
Self-employed musicians felt like a forgotten tribe when the pandemic broke out.Their main sources of incomes, such as gigs, came to an abrupt halt with no assurance when and if they’ll be able to get back on the road. I should know as I am in this tribe. The restrictions brought hardship for so many. As the employed were given help early on in the lockdown, the self-employed were left in a dark room, looking for a light switch that was not there.This left many in the music industry fearing for themselves and what would become of their families.Thankfully, the UK government released information on how these hard working individuals were to be helped and this was along the same structure as the employed. 80% of their wages based on total profits from the past three years of tax returns. As a self-employed person myself, I was pleased to see this. However, as many self-employed musician’s would tell you, there is no set income when it comes to working in this field. It can vary dramatically from week to week, let alone a month. But this was the fairest way.There are those who feel they have been left out, scratching at the door for help but no one was letting them in.These are people like Pete Thomas, a self-employed sound engineer; he is newly self-employed. Those in his position who have become self-employed within the last year haven’t yet been able to file a tax return meaning they could not apply for the grant. That meant many have had to rely on savings, tax credits or Universal Credit. Pete was not eligible for any of these due to personal circumstances. Pete said, “I felt lost, having nowhere to turn. One moment I was starting this new exciting journey, working around Europe and building up my career, the next, I had no career, no income and no help.” People like Pete have had to look elsewhere for work, applying for delivery driver positions or anything that pays the bills. But with so many in a similar situation, employment has not been easy to come by, with Pete relying on sporadic online conferences to work on. From my personal experience, I have gone from gigging three or four times a week to having no shows at all and none for the foreseeable future. I have worked a few days in a Royal Mail warehouse, something that I actually found rewarding. The best thing about music is that it will be there after a long hard day, whatever happens.
A common headache for hard working musicians is money. Playing music will still be possible but making money from playing has become far more difficult. Throughout the world musicians, including established artists from Pink to Sting, have decided to do online sets and this has been a revelation. Intimate shows that you may never have seen otherwise have allowed singers to play freely without having to worry about what they should do in front of a live audience. Some have taken this opportunity to make some money asking their online audience to donate using PayPal. A multitude has also raised funds for charity with lockdown sessions such as Cardiff Lockdown, donating money to the NHS. Musicians are creative and they have had to use this creativity to find new methods in making revenue in a time where they feel quite forgotten. Though live music has ceased in public spaces for now, living rooms, balconies and gardens throughout the world have come alive with the sound of musicians, continuing to entertain the masses, something that is needed more than ever right now.
With live gigs, the one dependable source of income for masses over the globe, you may be forgiven for thinking online streaming services such as Spotify and ITunes could be a saviour in earning profits. Unfortunately, these platform’s pay-outs are so negligible; they are unable to fill the tremendous void in an artist’s income. Spotify is thought to pay out an average of 0.28p per stream to the rights holders of songs. YouTube pays even less at around 0.12p per stream. With only record companies and the most established artists making any kind of noticeable profit from these sites, the majority of artists have to rely on other sources. These sources have dried up though, leading to a dry riverbed of stress, fear and loss.
However, there have been beacons of hope sprinkling the anxieties of those in the music industry. Organisations such as The Musician’s Union and Help Musicians have set out grants for individuals most in need. The MU has been working very hard in speaking out for members in all fields of the music industry. Research by the charity Help Musicians shows around 25% of self-employed musicians were not eligible for the government’s income support scheme; the charity have set up a second phase of funding to provide financial support. They’ve stated, “The fund will open with a total of £2.55m, made up of £2m from the charity’s reserves plus generous donations of £500k from music licensing company PPL and £50k from the Lightbody Foundation.” Such help is crucial in the structure of the music industry and keeping it strong for when it can awaken from this nightmare and breathe again.
Countless musicians are fearful of Covid-19’s implications on their wellbeing, performance and even teaching commitments. These have had and will have ramifications on finances and mental health. With an estimated 19% of musicians considering abandoning their careers due to lack of government support. The world is not just losing their music, it is losing something that can help everyone through hard times, a therapy some may say. These implications could be devastating. From providing sheer wonder and joy to teaching the next generation, musicians play a key role in everyday lives. The global music industry is facing an unimaginable uncertain future but as social media shows us with footage of musicians performing to large online audiences, people still want to be entertained and in a post lockdown world, entertainment will be sought for more than ever.