The Music Industry & Covid
23rd February 2021
Reports say that the UK music industry is set to halve in size this year. The closing down of the live industry - festivals, concerts and gigs - has had a massive negative impact on the health of the industry at large and will strip billions of pounds from its contribution to the economy. How are effects of Covid-19 being felt among those working in the industry? Has the pandemic and lockdown spawned more or less creativity among artists, composers and musicians? Who are the winners and losers? Three industry insiders give their view.
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Jules O’Riordan: I think those artists who had the luxury of very lucrative touring careers have had to readdress their priorities quite urgently because for a number, particularly in the electronic world, there was such great live income that recorded music and compositions were treated as a loss-leader and clearly when the cash that the loss-leader is attempting to generate is no longer in existence for the foreseeable future then you’ve really got to start making records to make money and therefore there’ve been a lot of artists addressing their deals, the nature of them, whether they’re signed with more lucrative labels and it’s made my legal practice extremely busy. I’m not a record label and therefore all I can tell you is anecdotal but my understanding is that music has been perceived by many as an escape path out of the doldrums that has been generated by the last 12 months and early doors I was told by a friend who is a senior executive in a major record company that you almost wished for good weather because in particularly good weather people wanted particularly uplifting music and that had genre-based spikes in streaming numbers for certain types of music. The live industry has been really damaged; there have been redundancies, furloughing, huge losses, huge uncertainty both amongst the booking agents and the whole infrastructure that revolves around live and of course the thing about live is that it’s not just artists performing; it’s a huge ecosystem, full of freelancers. If you think about your average festival, the amount of different roles that need to be fulfilled backstage is huge, let alone what goes on front of house. In terms of winners and losers, anyone who is very strong on the recorded side and/or a good song-writer is a winner and anyone who is over-reliant on live income is quite clearly a loser. There aren’t really any exceptions there because there isn’t a live industry anywhere in the world with the possible exception of those few countries who shut up shop like Australia and New Zealand.
Sylvia Coleman: ‘A catastrophic blow’ is how industry body, UK Music, describes the pandemic and with music creators losing over two thirds of their income and live music revenues falling by 85%, that seems a fair description. But amidst armageddon and utter carnage and devastation, don’t bet against the music industry! Now used to innovation and re-invention in the face of changing times, the music industry is already responding.... Travis Scott’s concert in the video game, Fortnite, took the world of the virtual concert to a new level.........45m viewers, YouTube views of 77m and a no 1 hit for the single in the US ....... an impact that could never have been achieved with a traditional show. And there were lots more success stories.... we even saw a virtual music festival inside Minecraft with nearly 30 bands performing and players being able to leap around in the mosh pit whilst lazing in bed at home.... my kind of show (especially being able to avoid dreaded portaloos!). Virtual concerts have been happening all over the internet and are now going to be on an artist’s tour schedule long after the pandemic ends. We are going to be interacting with artists differently but perhaps our new online communication with them and our new style ‘meet ‘n’ greets’ is going to open up a new more direct communication channel, which is going to create more rather than less excitement for the fan experience. So if I am betting, I am putting my money on the music industry bouncing back in a major way!
Mike Kintish: In March 2020, I read a quote from a sculptor who said, “this lockdown period may never come around again..” (little did she know!) “..so use it to take a step back and ask yourself what type of art do you really want to create.” I found this compelling because as a songwriter/producer-for-hire, I’d spent the previous year(s) running around London working with all the acts du jour, wanting to be a part of contributing to their art, without necessarily focusing on my own artistic outlets. Suddenly, with in-person song-writing sessions an impossibility and Zoom sessions not hugely desirable, I was forced to focus on myself and one of the benefits was dusting off the hard drive and finding great songs that I’d always loved but for various reasons hadn’t quite had the attention they deserved. Suddenly I was uncovering long-forgotten gems, bringing them up to date and finding them homes with artists, including one song taken by one of my DJ heroes which became Annie Mac’s Hottest Record In The World on Radio 1 in September. Spending time “on” my business instead of “in” my business resulted in me launching an electronic music project of my own with a DJ partner, centred around the notion of escapism, which has fortunately garnered an early level of interest - would I have been able to give this as much as attention if I hadn’t been stuck in my home studio? Probably not. I haven’t shied away completely from Zoom sessions with other artists and in fact I have a song coming out on Universal next week that was written, produced, mixed and mastered by a team of people who barely stepped foot inside the same room together! Thankfully, I’ve been one of the more fortunate kinds of creators who has been able to adjust, use technology and continue my core creativity. Others have been less fortunate. I’ve watched DJ and artist friends as they struggle, mentally and financially, with the loss of touring income stripped away overnight. And so many in the creative sector have fallen in between the cracks as far as government help is concerned. The sector got a kick in the gut when Rishi Sunak suggested those in the arts should consider retraining. Hopefully when gigs, festivals and theatres are full once more, the contribution musicians, creators and performers give to society in financial, cultural and well-being terms will never again be underestimated.