The following text is a transcript of the talk that I gave to the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Commitee in November 2020. Amongst other things, it provides a brief context of the music industries pre and post pandemic, followed by a discussion of some of the important recommendations from my report, which can be accessed via this link. A full recording of the subsequent conversation can also be found at the end of this post.
In order to give the committee a concise snapshot of the details contained in my report which are relevant to live music, I’ll initially provide a very brief context of the live music industries pre and post pandemic, prior to focusing in on the recommendations which are most pertinent to this enquiry.
Brief Context of The Music Industries Prior to the Pandemic
- In terms of pre pandemic, in 2012, the Musicians Union estimated that 94% of UK musicians are freelancers, which as we know have been hit particularly hard during the pandemic.
- Although specific Welsh data is scarce, we do know, that in 2019, according to UK Music’s most recent report, Welsh music tourism attracted 440,000 people, with 371 thousand attending concerts and 69 thousand attending festivals.
- The total spend for Welsh music tourism is estimated to be in the region of £143 million, generating close to 2000 jobs.
- Although these music tourism figures are impressive, to put them in context, Scotland total spend by visitors generates £443 million pounds, the West Midlands £252 million and London £1.5 billion.
- I feel it’s important to point out that the large amount the UK live music industry generates (£1.3 billion according to UK Music), must not undermine the financial struggles experienced by the majority of music creators in Wales, with the average wage for Cardiff based ‘artists and creative agents’ estimated to be around £18,000 per year.
- Also, I need to point out that my report doesn’t discuss the impacts of Brexit—which will unquestionably present its own set of issues for the live music industries moving forward.
Brief Context of The Music Industries Post Pandemic
- In terms of post pandemic, many freelancers in the UK live music industries have doubted their capacity to stay in their professions post pandemic.
- In May, the UK Live Music Group expected as much as £900 million to be wiped from the £1.1 billion the UK live music sector was expected to contribute to the domestic UK economy this year, with 82% of grassroots music venues noting a threat of closure.
- In terms of grassroot venue sustainability, a recent DCMS select committee report estimated that 93% of grassroot music venues across the UK faced permanent closure, with 86% of venues reporting that their core threat stems from an inability to meet commercial rent demand.
I don’t have time to go through all of the recommendations in my report here, so what I will do is focus on two broad themes that I consider particularly important: Reopening and Recovery Strategies; and Strategic Opportunities
- In terms of Reopening and Recovery Strategies, I would like to highlight three points: Firstly, the speed of venues opening; secondly, the clarity of advice given to assist this; and thirdly what we can learn from other governments who have offered targeted recovery packages.
- In terms of the speed at which venues have being able to open in Wales, I think it is fair to say that the return to indoor and outdoor live concert performances has been very cautious, when compared to England and mainland Europe more broadly, and there is real concern that if the live music industries remain closed, they will lose the talent that has sustained it.
- When comparing the return of live music in Wales to other nations, it is apparent that many European nations have put policies in place to facilitate the return of live music. For example, prior to the recent lockdowns, the Czech Republic opened indoor venues on May 11th, initially with a maximum capacity of 100, but progressively increasing to 500 by June 18th. Other examples include Spain, who also opened live performance venues on May 11th and Finland, who opened their venues from June 1st.
- There are many other examples of nations opening up their live music sectors mentioned in the report, which we can discuss later if it is of interest.
- In terms of clarity of advice on the phased return of live music, I would suggest that current Welsh Government guidelines on how the music industries can return to ‘normal’ are confusing, being split across a number of documents, with none of the guidance offering a clear roadmap on how freelancers will be able to reengage with their profession.
- Although Welsh Government acknowledges that venues will have to make significant physical and operational changes to facilitate live music activity, this responsibility is placed with employers.
- Welsh Government also acknowledges that live music will be one of the last sectors to return to normal and is in need of a long-term strategy to assist its survival—but this strategy is not in place.
- Regarding what we can learn from other nations who have instigated ‘recovery fund’ packages for live music, perhaps the most well-known example is New Zealand, which allocated a sixteen and a half million dollar ‘music recovery fund’ package (around £8.5 million), as part of a $175 million dollar Arts and Culture fund.
- This included $7 million dollars to boost ‘New Zealand on Air’s’ new Music programmes; $5 million dollars for a Live Music Touring Fund to support NZ acts on the domestic circuit; $3 million dollars immediate support to ensure music venues have safe environments for audiences; and $1.4 million dollars to help musicians recoup lost income. The support is expected to sustain close to 3000 jobs over a two-year period, produce 450 new song releases and facilitate 150 live music tours throughout the country.
- There is also an interesting fund instigated by the Australian Government, who have allocated $20 million dollars (around £11m) over a four-year period to fund the ‘Live Music Australia’ programme. It is aimed at small and medium sized venues to assist them getting ready for hosting shows again. Venues can bid to upgrade equipment and infrastructure or undertake professional development, while promoters can bid to develop regional touring circuits.
- So, as a consequence of these factors, I would like to see Welsh Government develop a clear reopening strategyfor the live music industries, which outlines what’s possible now; what’s not possible yet; and what will never be possible. Most importantly, the live music sector needs to know what support will be available for all of these outcomes—not just finance, but rate relief, sympathetic licencing, etc). Particular attention should be placed on what can be learned from other nations who have opened up much earlier.
- In conjunction with this, I also suggest that Welsh Government develop a three-year music industries ‘recovery strategy’, alongside associated funding. This plan could consider factors such as, how it can sustain, retain and incubate talent; how public confidence can be re-established; how the various parts of the live music industries can be supported and invigorated; how realistic alternative business models can be implemented; how industry training can meet the needs of the ‘new sector’; and last but not least, how the technical infrastructures of venues, rehearsal rooms and also recording studios can become ‘covid-proof’ if required (if the vaccine doesn’t work).
In terms of my 2nd theme, I would now like to very briefly discuss some Strategic Opportunities Welsh Government has at this point in time, but before I do this, I need to point out how incredibly frustrating it was having to mainly quote UK data in my report, which although relevant to Wales, doesn’t deal with the nuances of the Welsh live music industries. As I found when I wrote my first report on the live music industry in Wales nearly ten years ago, detailed statistical data on the live music industries in Wales is non-existent, which is surely something that needs to be addressed? In addition to the need for focused research, I see three strategic opportunities for Welsh Government to take advantage of.
- Firstly, it’s noticeable that since the demise of the Welsh Music Foundation’s ‘music industry directory’, there is no central point through which live music industry stakeholders (ranging from local musicians to international promoters) can identify strategic opportunities in Wales.
- Secondly, Information concerning Welsh Government’s grassroot music venue mapping (commissioned in 2019) has still not emerged, well over a year since its commission. We need it!
- Thirdly, when doing my research, it was noticeable how nations such as Argentina, Belgium and Chile had financed ‘culture at home’ initiatives, which finances artists to produce content and provides a single digital portal for the general public to access.
- For example, Argentina’s Ministry of Culture announced a small fund to hire nearly 500 artists to develop content for their portal, which facilitates remote access to Buenos Aires’ cultural offerings. New content is uploaded every day and includes workshops, movies, theatre shows, music performances and artist interviews.
- Similarly, Belgium’s ‘Culture at Home’ portal, provides a singular link to cinemas, lectures, performing arts, museums and opportunities for funding.
- Finally, the Chilean government has developed an online culture portal which houses numerous activities from across the nation, including music. The Chilean Ministry of Culture is also offering online capacity building workshops for the cultural sector.
Taking all of these potential opportunities into account, I suggest we need a public facing database of the music industries in Wales and public facing map of all its venues – categorised by type (grassroots, Theatre, Arena, Concert Hall etc). I also suggest the launch of a Welsh ‘culture at home’ initiative, similar to those mentioned, which includes not only recorded, but live performances. This would not only keep Welsh music alive domestically and internationally during emergencies such as a pandemic, but act as an important means of showcasing Welsh talent in the future. The success of this obviously relies on all households in Wales having access to fast reliable broadband.
I also strongly suggest that Welsh Government commissions research that investigates the specific contribution that live music gives to the Welsh economy and the impact covid-19 has had on its sub-sectors. The overarching objective of this work should be to a) verify how much income the Welsh music industries generate; b) to work out how much currently remains within Wales; and c) to figure out what can be done to ensure the nation (i.e. music industry stakeholders) can retain more of it. I feel this research would need to focus on the Welsh music industries more broadly, as trying to understand live music without understanding how it relates to the rest of the music industries, is akin to attempting to explain the role of this committee, without understanding Welsh government. Live music works as part of an ecology, so this type of research is essential if we are to understand and most importantly improve the live music industries moving forward.
To conclude, I think this is a one-off opportunity to protect and build upon not only the important economic contribution live music gives Wales, but also to appreciate and celebrate the important cultural and social role it plays in peoples lives.