As reported in a variety of sources this week, The Music Venue Trust (MVT) called on the UK Government for a £50 million financial injection to assist the grassroots music sector over the coming months, in addition to a three year VAT holiday. MVT estimated that up to 90% of venues and festivals could go out of business if action is not taken at governmental level to support the sector until customers can safely return (England recently announced that theatres and concert halls can open, but can not showcase live music). Off the back of a petition to the UK Government, MVT also suggested there is a straightforward way to support not only grassroot music venues, but the cultural sector more broadly – by cancelling the festival of Great Britain and reallocating the funds. This will be an interesting test to see where the country places its priorities.
Most problematically, MVT report two parallel issues for those working in the grassroot music sector –
1) those who have not been eligible for general government support and have therefore received no support to date. (The musicians Union suggest that up to 40% of its members are not eligible).
2) those whose support will be coming to end, before the sector is given the green light to open its doors to the public (no one knows when this will be).
While the issues associated with category 1 are immanently self-evident, it is easy to consider those under category 2 to be ‘doing ok’ financially at the moment. However, there are currently no plans to open music venues so they can ‘do businesses’ (and even if they did open, the general public don’t have the confidence to attend). So, when furlough does stop, a cultural catastrophe is a real possibility:
Imagine a world with no grassroot music venues! Not only would this result in the ‘supply chain’ of musical talent being devastated, but also the destruction of a cultural artefact that too many of us take for granted. Grassroots music venues have been argued as being the foundation of the UK music industry, which generates around £5.2 billion per year to the economy – their potential decimation is far reaching and should be a concern to not only those who visit the venues, but also to those of us who love good music!
Related to this, the Welsh Government’s Guidance on Coronavirus and Working Safely in the Creative Industries document was published this week, which in addition to general information for the Creative Industries, does have a small section specifically dedicated to music. It reports on how Creative Wales are working with ‘all areas of the music industry’ via recently established ‘stakeholder groups’, which recognise that the music industry will be one of the last to ‘return to normal’ and in real need of a long-term strategy. The safe reopening of venues is of course a priority and the document reports on an initiative led by MVT entitled ‘Reopening Every Venue Safely’ (REVS), which is also operated in North America. However, it is apparent that ‘safe’ does not mean ‘profitable’, with one venue in Swansea being a microcosm of a bigger problem: reporting that its capacity would be reduced from 370 to 26 under current guidelines – which is obviously reflective of all venues-if current social distancing rules are maintained.
Having already gone through a really hard time in terms of profitability and fear of closure, the grassroots music sector is facing its biggest challenge by far at the moment, it is therefore essential that the aforementioned government financial support scheme happens.
To close, it was good to see MVT giving evidence at the Culture, Welsh Language Committee on June 24. Mark Davyd reported that although the grassroots music sector technically shut down on March 21st, the downturn in trade started before then, with the public, who were obviously beginning to understand the impacts of COVID19, were beginning to vote with their feet and not attend shows. Davyd also reported that MVT has 45 venues in Wales and that the impact of lockdown has gone way beyond the venue owners and musicians, to include crew, production, bar staff, etc. Indeed this could be extended to include the many businesses who experience a positive ‘knock on’ effect of live music taking place in their locality, such as hotels and restaurants for example,
Despite the serious nature of the discussion, it was gratifying to hear Davyd talk about the ‘excellent support measures in Wales’. Indeed he stated that, despite there still being a long way to go, of all nations in the UK, Wales is the least in debt, due to very effective interventions from Welsh Government, Creative Wales and Arts Council Wales. The 45 venues were reported to be collectively around £120,00 in debt, ranging from those that are in a similar position to before, to those carrying significant dept.
The funding that Davyd is referring to is the £401,551.39 funding allocated to 22 grassroots music businesses across Wales as part of Welsh Government’s £18 million support scheme of the Creative Sector (In April 2020, Creative Wales were allocated £1 million for the grassroots music sector). Additionally, Arts Council Wales announced a £7m ‘Resilience Fund’, jointly financed by the Welsh Government and National Lottery sources. This was part of Welsh Governments ‘Economic Resilience Fund‘, aimed at supporting businesses and charities across Wales.
In terms of the performance opportunities that have been lost, Davyd reported around 3,500 performance opportunities lost across the UK, which he estimated to be around 95,000 single session job opportunities (bar staff, etc) for self employed workers. The impact on full time employment was less significant – around 550 jobs in total. He also reported that as a direct result of the support the grassroots sector had received in Wales, the venues themselves were able to fundraise to assist their self employed workforce. Mark also outlined how the UK wide Save Our Venues Scheme had raised around £2.3 million, which has/will assist those who those who have ‘fallen through the gaps’.
You can listen to the whole debate here
Finally here are a few links I have also found interesting this week.
‘Taking “Ethno Gatherings” on-line: Sustaining inter-cultural musical exchange during the COVID-19 Pandemic
From Clinic rooms to Zoom: Exploring music therapy clinical training possibilities during times of social distancing’
‘An Evaluation of Nigerian Choristers’ Leverage on Technology in the Face of the COVID-19 Pandemic’
‘Autism, Technology and the Singing Voice: Adjustments in the Time of COVID-19’
‘Punk Musicology as Self-Care and Community Building During COVID-19’
Call on Congress to investigate Live Nation’s controversial post-COVID memo
Also, check out the interesting industry seminar hosted by the Music Managers Forum.
New of a Socially Distanced Club Night Held in Germany