Live Music in Wales and Covid-19: The Next Steps…

Anyone who has been following this blog over the last few weeks would have noticed I have been attempting to keep up to date with how the Welsh music industry has been responding to Covid19. Off the back of this work, I am delighted to announce that I am now doing some research for the Culture Welsh Language and Communications Committee, who directly challenge Welsh Government on policy. Aside from some time that I am taking off over August, this is the project I will be placing most of my attention on over September and October.

So, first and foremost can I ask anyone who has any questions for Welsh Government in terms of what we need to do better to safeguard our stakeholders in the music industry and our ‘bricks and mortar’ infrastructures, to please drop me a message and I will try and build it into the narrative of the report. I gave some evidence in October on the committee’s enquiry into live music, so am so pleased to be helping out with how that very industry can respond to Covid19.

The main thrust of the report will be examine how we can learn from practices and policy elsewhere in the world, so please drop me a line of exemplars you hear about. Also, aside from the assistance currently available, what policies and funding can Welsh Government, Creative Wales and the Welsh Arts Council continue to implement that assist the music industry recover from Covid19? In a Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee evidence session on June 25th, the Music Venue Trust praised the initiatives that had already being developed in Wales, so I am keen to ensure this narrative continues.

Despite the deviation this pandemic has caused, I also want to explore how music as a cultural artefact, can engage with Wales’ local and national recuperation in terms of ‘wellbeing’ and community engagement? In what ways can we empower this to take place when social distancing is still instigated?

It has been somewhat bizarre writing some of these posts recently-hard to believe that the live industry I love so much has been decimated-and that much of the work done in the aforementioned enquiry into live music, is in the short term at least – irrelevant. We are living in dystopian times, but musical creativity is something even a pandemic can’t stop. Musicians will continue making music, so I hope to play a tiny part in providing as good an infrastructure as possible to monetise the fruits of their labour.

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Grassroots Music Support: Wales Leading the Way in UK

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

Other News

Finally here are a few links I have also found interesting this week.

The Journal of Music Health and Wellbeing are starting to publish a number of ‘covid related’ papers. You can access some of the abstracts here. Titles include.

‘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

Germany Plan for Post Lockdown Theatre

German based drive in Raves

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Covid19 and the Music Industry: Reflections toward the end of June 2020

This is the 3rd blog I have written intending to take stock of the various impacts Covid 19 has had on the music sector. Related news this week included discussions around the initial guidelines proposed concerning musicians returning to work, with the most alarming suggestion being the notion that brass players in orchestras have to social distance by three metres, with singers being capped to six per room (For a short piece advocating the return of public singing in churches for example, see here). Although the proposals have not gone through parliament as of yet, UK music are pressuring government to reconsider its plans, but it is fairly obvious that decisions such as these must be made taking into account the perspectives of representatives from the music industries – otherwise criticism is bound to follows. Aside from brass players not being able to hear each other properly, the resultant sound produced not to mention the capacity to fit players into a recording studio space are highly problematic.

Related to this, at the time of writing, music venues throughout the UK were waiting to see if any updates were forthcoming regarding the 2-metre social distancing rule. As it stands, government have announced that some restaurants and pubs will be open on July 4th – but two questions remain unanswered 1) will it be financially viable to open if a 2 metre rule is applied and 2) if it is reduced – is it safe and will the general public have the confidence to return to social spaces such as this? I absolutely have no answer to this, but considering grass root venues were already struggling – this is only going to make their financial viability even more precarious, hence the reason why UK Music are urging the UK Government for an agent cash injection of £50 million.

All of this was taking place during a week when Cameron Mackintosh announced that West End shows such as Les MisérablesMary PoppinsHamilton and The Phantom of the Opera will not open until 2021 – with resultant job losses on the table. In terms of more positive narratives, it was announced this week that artists such as The Lightning Seeds and Gary Numan, have signed up to play at the ‘Live From The Drive-In’ events, taking place in outdoor spaces in Birmingham, Liverpool, London, Edinburgh, Bristol and beyond. Although by no means a ‘solution’ to the crisis hitting live music around the world, this initiative at least provides a means by which the general public can experience music outside again, albeit in relatively small numbers (300 capacity). Although Live Nation support this initiative, the biggest concert promoter in North America, announced plans to make some radical changes to its proposed 2021 concert series, most of which shift the financial burden of concerts from promoters to artists. It seems that if touring artists want to work next year, they will have to accept a greater part of the risk and responsibility of promoting the concert. The changes are wide ranging and are summarised below (courtesy of Rolling Stone).

Artist Guarantees: Artist guarantees will be adjusted downward 20% from 2020 levels.

Ticket Prices: Ticket prices are set by the promoter, at the promoter’s sole discretion, and are subject to change.

Payment Terms: Artists will receive a deposit of 10% one month before the festival, contingent on an executed agreement and fulfillment of marketing responsibilities. The balance, minus standard deductions for taxes and production costs, will be paid after the performance.

Minimum Marketing Requirements: All artists will be required to assist in marketing of the festival through minimum social media posting requirements outlined in artist offer.

Streaming requirements: All artists will be required to allow their performance to be filmed by the festival for use in a live television broadcast, a live webcast, on-demand streaming, and/or live satellite radio broadcast.

Billing: All decisions regarding “festival billing” are at the sole discretion of the promoter.

Merchandise: Purchaser will retain 30 % of Artist merchandise sales and send 70% to the artist within two weeks following the Festival.

Airfare and Accommodations: These expenses will be the responsibility of the artist.

Sponsorship: The promoter controls all sponsorship at the festival without any restrictions, and artists may not promote brands onstage or in its productions.

Radius Clause. Violation of a radius clause without the festival’s prior authorization in writing will, at the festival’s sole discretion, result in either a reduction of the artist fee or the removal of the artist from the event, with any pre-event deposits returned to the festival immediately.

Also see this

Other News

For a nice story about a UK based record shop reopening – click here

If you live in or around Hamburg and are interested in playing your part in developing new business models to kick start the city’s music industry – click here.

For an honest outline of how Covid19 has impacted my colleague Martin Cloonan’s research in terms of importance and relevance, click here

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Carl Orr: Guitarist Composer Teacher and Sting Sideman

Guitarist, composer and Sting sideman Carl Orr was kind enough to write a five-star review of my Sting book this week. It was great to see the book get a ‘thumbs up’ from Carl, who I respect. greatly as a musician and have seen perform a couple of times when performing Sting’s The Last Ship during its initial tour, including the inaugural performance at Northern Stage on March 12 2018. Carl played some magnificent guitar that evening, so I was interested to find out more about him.

When looking at his backstory, it is obvious Carl has a fantastic pedigree. Born in Newcastle, growing up Australia, then moving to London in the early ‘90s, by which time his CV was already very impressive, having studied at Berklee College of Music and worked with many name jazz musicians – including Billy Cobham.  

Since moving to London, he has released six solo albums, which are incredibly eclectic stylistically. Although broadly falling into the ‘jazz’ category, his music can be placed within the genre’s tradition by engaging with influences ranging from that of The Brecker Bros (‘Swamp Thing’), later Miles Davies (‘Still Life’), to more traditional jazz (Deep Down), to his most recent album and the main subject of this post – Somewhere Else (2019)

CARL ORR - Somewhere Else

After spending time listening to it this week, I would say his Something Else album takes the listener on a journey of escapism, both in terms of the imaginary landscapes of tracks such as ‘Katie‘ (written for his daughter) and ‘Somewhere Else‘ (which reminds me of Tim Garland’s recent work, depicting the North East of England – listen to ‘Lady of the North‘), to the more ‘place centred’ textures of tracks such as ‘Analyse‘ (a Radiohead cover), ‘Fayah‘, and ‘Ride the Camel‘, which have more specific semiological relationships with India, Africa and ‘the Middle East’ respectively, due to the purposeful use of musical textures related to those regions (‘Ride the Camel’ features my old guitar teacher Stuart Hall).

Compositions aside, it is also noticeably that Orr is a ‘special guitarist’, who if I was to describe his work in one word— it would be TASTE. This is something that no amount of musical training can manifest. As with all of his work, Carl performs equally as proficiently on acoustic as he does on electric and although he can ‘shred’ (listen to the Cobham track above), he is also capable of ‘playing the spaces’ by manifesting a ‘less is more’ idiolect. One of the first things one notices when listening to his music, is that he appears to place a lot of emphasis on melody—both in terms of his compositions and his guitar playing and by doing this, he engages with the listener on many levels—be it from simply ‘singing the tune’, to marvelling at the technical proficiency and competency of his artistry, to being ‘lost’ in textures, melodies, rhythms and timbres of tracks such as the title track – ‘Somewhere Else’. Indeed I challenge anyone reading this post to listen to this track and while doing so – just consider the places it takes you – open fields, across oceans, through wooded landscapes, looking at ones home from a distance – they are all possible. Once the Covid19 pandemic is out of the way and public gatherings are possible again, I would love to see this guy perform his own material live, which I am sure will bring some of these imaginary landscapes even closer – fantastic!

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Music Musings on Covid19: Part 2

This week’s news has featured a number of headlines related to Covid19, ranging from AEGs announcements of its intention to make some staff redundant, Travis McCready performing America’s first post lockdown gig, Eventbrite being sued as a result of its refund policies, to the ominous news by the Musicians Union, who predict that the majority of the UKs theaters and music venues face shut down as a direct result of the pandemic. Out of these headlines, the Eventbrite one is interesting, in as much that it relates to the terms and conditions of ticket purchase and if a gig has been ‘cancelled’ or postponed’. The latter of course, despite being effectively cancelled, can be an ugly loophole if you can’t make the replacement gig. In Wales, I am pleased to say that St David’s Hall in Cardiff acted very honorably to me recently, when a recent George Benson gig was postponed 12 months – but I still was offered a refund due to not being able to make the rescheduled performance.

The Travis McCready gig was also interesting, despite being a bit of a publicity stunt, gave an eerie indication of what post lock down gigs could look like – with concert arenas half empty and most importantly – with no atmosphere. This mixture of how to ensure live music remains financially sustainable and an enjoyable cultural experience is going to be something that is an ongoing debate. Indeed this was a topic of conversation at a session I attended yesterday on ‘the future of live music, which can we watched here

The event featured Peter Hook from New Order, record producer Graham Massey and Teresa Moore from A Greener Festival, and I have to say – it was very informative. The conversations started with dialogue surrounding the environmental impact of festivals and music touring that was starting to take place pre lockdown. The presenters noted how the massive amount of CO2 being produced by the live music industry relied on organisers having a ‘social responsibility’, which was most notably brought to the public’s awareness by Coldplay’s announcement to stop touring last year. Put simply, as the live music industry has grown over the last decade or so – so has its negative environmental impact, so the question asked was – how do we get a balance between growing live music infrastructures and considering environmental responsibilities – it is a difficult mix which A Greener Festival were/are attempting to navigate (Teresa Moore noted the importance of ensuring one does not grow at the expense of the other). Covid19 has of course blown all of this debate open – so maybe this is an opportune time to consider these issues from the ground up?

One piece of good news announced this week by the Music Managers Forum is a new fund (managed by Help Musicians UK and aided by donations from PPL and a number of leading artist managers), targeted toward supporting music managers suffering from the impacts of Covid19. Many artist managers are noted as being in the unusual position of not being eligible for existing support packages – as they can’t self-furlough due to their responsibilities to their clients, despite being significantly impacted by the lack of live work their artists are now undertaking. The scheme is entitled ReBuild and more details can be found here.

That’s it, my hour is up. I will finish by copying below a couple of interesting links – the first concerning the prospects for gigging musicians as lockdown begins to ease and the 2nd more relevant to the academic world, a call from the Post Parliamentary Academic Fellowship Scheme, announced this week, can be found here

In the academic world, details of the

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Covid 19 and the Music Industry: News Update and Thoughts

Now into my third month of lockdown, I thought I would start up a regular blog which highlights some of the developments concerning covid 19 on the music industry. The impacts of the pandemic seem to be changing every week, with the prospect of returning to ‘normal’ being as distant as when we started. Although some government support is there at the moment for our self-employed workforce, what actually is going to happen when it runs out in October? Having attended a number of ‘online’ gigs over the last few weeks, I am personally not convinced how readily grassroots level music will be monetized – which may result in many online gigs being an extension of an issue we currently have in society – expecting grass roots live music for free.

In terms of how music can engage with our local and national ‘recuperation’, Sound Diplomacy (the company that recently analysed Cardiff’s music ecosystem), recently launched a report that highlights the importance of music in the recovery of cities, with a nine point plan outlined as follows

1. Put artists to work: Incentivize creation from crisis.
2. Convert creativity into community investment vehicles.
3. Create a city music registry.
4. Start a cultural infrastructure plan.
5. Create emergency preparedness plans (venue, event, city-wide).
6. Ensure music, arts and culture language is included in policy frameworks.
7. Commit to genre agnosticism.
8. Plan and develop a night time economy policy.
9. Set-up city-wide artist compensation policies, music liaison services and fair play schemes.

With governments understandably working on priorities such as ensuring their populations are safe and that medical teams have the correct PPE, I would agree that it is essential that music (and the arts more generally) are included in government/city/town recovery policies as we move forward. The report rightly points out the importance of music as not only an artifact of aesthetic pleasure, but as a unifying force that brings communities together (be it by attending live music events, instrumental lessons, playing in bands, etc). Unification is something that so important in the current pandemic – where SEPARATION has been the dominant narrative. Both the aesthetic pleasure music brings and its associated community engagement both have an important part to play in our general well being – which is easily overlooked in times such as these. However, if we are are maximize the impact of music, governing bodies do of course need to be intentional in terms of how we use it – for by using IT we engage OURSELVES. My question is this: there does seem to be a strategy for the return of sport – so why not music?

Taking a step back, as opposed to how music can potentially be used, the issue of clarity of how the music industry moves out of lockdown, so it can be used, was highlighted this week by UK Music, whose Chair, stated

“The government is right to try to move towards kickstarting our economy, provided it can ensure protecting public health is paramount at all times. However, these latest proposals on the easing of the coronavirus lockdown are missing the clarity that the UK music industry so desperately needs”.

He continues

“There is a risk the British music industry will be left behind as other countries come out of lockdown”, […] “We cannot afford that to happen to the UK’s world-leading music industry which is really suffering”.

These concerns appear to be in sharp contrast to the activities taking place in New Zealand, who this week highlighted a plan to kick start their music industries, by announcing a ‘music recovery fund’ aimed specifically toward the popular music industry. The $16.5m fund includes $7.1m to boost the country’s on Air’s New Music programmes, $5m to assist Live Music Touring, and $3m to support ‘safe’ music venues. Maybe this is an approach that the UK could consider – or is it impossible to compare a small nation such as NZ to the UK? Maybe we can compare it to Wales though?

Finally, for those living in and around Cardiff – ‘We Are Cardiff’ have opened a repository of memories and experiences of lockdown. Although not music specific, it would be really useful to have some music based documents on there – so you can contribute by clicking here

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COVID-19 FREELANCERS AND THE LIVE MUSIC INDUSTRY: THE PERFECT STORM?

Earlier on in the week, I was asked to write a blog for my university’s Centre for the Study of Media and Culture in Small Nations. The subject was on the impact of Covid-19 on the music industry and yes – I had to turn it around quickly. I have copied the article below as it was submitted a couple of days back, but the question I am interested in asking is – has the government’s decision to now include self employed workers in the compensation package helped creative practitioners like musicians, sound enginners and the like? You can find a few transcripts from musicians in the original article (which is copied below and you can find here), but I would really appreciate it if you could do something I rarely get with this blog – COMMENTS! It would be so useful to have some sort of collective expression of how, as things stand, self employed people in the music industry are supported. Please share if possible.

COVID-19 FREELANCERS AND THE LIVE MUSIC INDUSTRY: THE PERFECT STORM?

Starting to write a blog post on the impacts of COVID-19 on the music industry, on the day Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a firm ‘UK lockdown’ on public gatherings (on March 23rd), was a sharp reminder that stakeholders in the live music sector were going to be impacted for a significant amount of time, with the implications for the music industries being potentially very serious. Indeed it is terrifying to consider that as recently as November last year, the live music industry was regarded by The Guardian as hitting a “record high”, with its value to the UK economy estimated to be circa £5.2 billion (with music tourism alone regarded as generating 45,530 jobs), which contrasts sharply with recent well publicised narratives concerning the cancellation of  tours and landmark events such as Glastonbury, South by Southwest and The Great Escape, not to mention the general decimation of the live music sector. However, returning to the music industry of only a few weeks ago, despite some individuals making a great deal of money, The Guardian article is quick to point out that the £5 billion generated does “not reflect the financial struggles of many music creators”, whose average earnings are reported to be £23,059 per year (although the recent research conducted by Sound Diplomacy into the music ecosystem in Cardiff, estimated the average to be £18,000). Earlier this week, we explored the impact of the pandemic on freelance screen sector workers, and as with screen, the majority of music practitioners work on a freelance basis, with the Musicians Union reporting that a staggering 94% of musicians earn at least part of their income via this means. It is therefore no surprise that it is this sub-sector that is particularly vulnerable during the current pandemic crisis.

Although the UK government’s £350 billion pound financial package for British business, announced on March 17, will no doubt assist some music companies staying afloat, concern for the freelance sector is understandably real, with industry bodies such as UK Music, the Musicians Union and the Music Managers Forum all announcing that they have “significant concerns that the benefits will not reach [this category of] music makers, their representatives, [or] their teams”. So, although the government’s financial pledge is welcome, it needs to be highlighted at the highest level that music freelancers are ‘slipping through the gap’, as they simply don’t qualify for many of the rights other workers take for granted, including access to sick pay or indeed the promised 80% of wages the government pledges to cover. Indeed currently, although freelancers can access the ‘Universal Credit’ system, this is also restricted if their partners work!

This may be the bleakest moment in living memory when it comes to making a living as a freelance music practitioner. However, a glimmer of positivity can be seen when one examines some of the ways the sector has responded, ranging from grassroot to world famous musicians and venues. For example, Ronnie Scott’s is now streaming selected live concerts as part of its ‘Lockdown Sessions’, with the musicians performing in an empty venue to a ‘virtual audience’, spread around the world. In order to monetise these activities, viewers are encouraged to donate direct to the musicians via a live Facebook feed, a practice also made possible via web sites such as Stageit, Facebook Live and Crowdcast. Indeed band members from Snarky Puppy, who usually tour extensively every year, are currently offering musicianship lessons, once again asking attendees to offer a financial contribution so they can sustain their livelihoods. As outlined by Graeme Virtue, artists such as Chris Martin (from Coldplay), John Legend and Ben Gibbart have also joined in a now pervasive practice of musicians performing live from their homes in ‘virtual house concerts’, where finance is not the objective, but simple ‘good will’, to entertain their fans for free during these difficult times, a gesture not too dissimilar to the escapism Dame Vera Lynn provided the nation of Britain during World War 2.  However, and as pointed out by the BBC, although shows by the likes of Chris Martin “provide a much-needed creative outlet and sense of community for artists and fans alike […], they [don’t] make up for the loss of income as the touring circuit effectively shuts down”. Former Ocean Colour Scene and Paul Weller bass player Damon Minchella, describes the current situation well.

“The professional touring and studio community has been devastated due to across the board cancellations. All the summer festivals I was playing with Richard Ashcroft have been cancelled, as has all previously arranged session work. A friend of mine who has been doing (and still is doing) onstage sound for Madonna for over 10 years has just applied to Tesco to become a shelf stacker. The idea of online gigs is partially relevant, but this cuts out trucking crews, venues, security, tour managers, and so on. It’s devastating for everyone […]”.

When one reflects on the current situation, it is not sensationalist to suggest that some creative music practitioners may never recover, as they attempt to maintain their professional status and remain solvent during the financial storm they are currently experiencing.

What Can We Do To Help?

The ideas below are intended as a starting point

  1. We can stream more music than usual by artists who would benefit, although this will have negligible impact in the short term.
  2. We can watch out for streamed concerts and donate generously.
  3. We can purchase products such as CDs and merchandise direct from channels such as Paypal, where artists obtain all of the profit.
  4. We can look out for altruistic gestures by mainstream music hosting sites such as Bandcamp, who have waved all of their fees during the current pandemic, and purchase accordingly.  
  5. As indicated by Ellie Mae O’Hagan in The Guardian on March 24th, the UK government must ensure all freelancers who work within the creative industries are supported in the same way as the employed workforce. (The artists themselves can of course investigate UK based national support funds, specifically targeted for freelance musicians, such as that organised by Help Musicians UK. Examples currently in the US include funds established by Music Cares and Sweet Relief).
  6. We can lobby service providers such as iTunes and Spotify to temporarily increase the royalty rate for artists who earn under an agreed threshold.

The media coverage of the The Covid-19 outbreak has in some respects become the distorted mirror through which we see ourselves, as supermarket shelves are emptied, government safeguards are ignored, and wealthy business leaders don’t pay staff. However, this is an opportunity for both the general public and most importantly the UK government, to contribute towards a more positive narrative, by showing their appreciation of this fragile sub-sector of the creative economy by providing important financial support. It has been well reported over the last decade or so how the live music industry has been a lucrative sector, on which the music industry as an entity depends. So, this is also an opportunity to assist its recalibration, by ensuring that many of its lower paid freelancers can remain within it, once this pandemic has run its course.

In terms of the situation in Wales, the impacts of Covid-19 are obviously impacting here too, ranging from the grassroots venues on Womanby Street, to larger venues like Tramshed and the Motorpoint Arena, not to mention the impact on countless working musicians throughout the country who make their living from music. One such musician stated the following when asked how Covid-19 was impacting her day to day work.

“[…] my main source of income is gigging [and] all my gigs for the next two months have been stopped. I had a residency at a hotel in Cwmbran – all cancelled. Residency in Tenby – stopped, Mother’s Day gigs – cancelled. I also play at least once a week in Care homes for a company called MusiCare – all stopped. Huge impact.”

A similar situation was reported by the owner of One Louder Studios in Newport, who verified that they were now “completely closed” with “no band rehearsals or recording sessions taking place. Income is now £0”. At the time of writing, the studio was remaining closed until at least April 5th. Another freelance musician based in Crickhowell reported the cancellation or postponement of over 40 shows, which has resulted in a loss “just shy of £5k”.

These stories are of course the tip of the iceberg, with many local stories still to be told. Indeed as this blog was going to press, stories of Owen Money having to cancel his 20 date mainly sold out tour of Wales was just emerging. With major events such as the Greenman Festival and Focus Wales, taking place later in the year, they will surely be watching with trepidation to see if the pandemic settles.

Important Note: Freelancers who are looking for advice on factors such as cancelled shows, travel, insurance, working from home, campaigning and wellbeing,  please refer to the following links as suggested by UK Music: Musicians Union, the Music Manager Forum, Association of Independent Music, the British Phonographic Industry, Music Producers Guild, the Performing Rights Society. Also, the Featured Artists Coalition, the Musicians Union, the Music Managers Forum are all doing surveys to try and assist the impact of Corona-19 on its members and the music industry at large.

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Rock Music Pedagogy in the UK and US: Ignorance or Elitism?

In this new reality that many of us find ourselves in, I have been experimenting with Panopto as a means of recording content for my students. So, please find below a synopsis of an essay I have written for the Bloomsbury Handbook of Rock Music Research. Is Rock and Popular Music delivered and assessed appropriately in our mainstream music curricula?

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The Rock Instrumentarium

Well, we have spent the last few weeks going through all of the proof edits for the Bloomsbury Handbook of Rock Music Research, including an enormous bibliography and an even larger index of close to 9000 words. Despite the various issues associated with corona virus, the book is on schedule to still be released in July. So – it has been a few weeks since I blogged about a chapter, but here we are at Chapter 6 – entitled The Rock Instrumentarium. Abstract copied below…

Considering all rock instruments as a type of technology, Steve Waksman surveys the fundamental components of rock music instrumentation—namely guitar, bass, drums, keyboards and wind instruments. In addition to providing an historical evolution of the individual instruments, his essay concentrates on the variety of playing styles, as well as accompanying styles of physical stage performance where applicable. Waksman frames the essay throughout by also considering the small but growing literature on musical instruments as cultural artifacts, in connection with rock and popular music. The chapter provides not only a useful overview of the scholarship and contributions of practitioners and instrument designers, but also how these combined innovations shaped the history of the genre.

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Rock Vocalities

Chapter four of the Bloomsbury Handbook on Rock Music……

In a chapter focusing on rock vocalities, Katherine Meizel points out how the ways in which rock vocalists sing vary not only between subgenres, but from performer to performer. Meizel highlights how singers and listeners use particular sonic cues in the voice to identify music as rock: because those sounds index specific ideas and ideologies of authenticity that matter to them. The chapter, in addressing the production of the rock voice and the scholarship in which it features, investigates how the sounds associated with rock voices correspond not merely to superficial aesthetic values, but rather to concepts grounded in a culturally authenticated, genred, gendered, racialized, classed, and dis/abled framework of singing. They are rock values that celebrate imperfection and flawed individuality, and that at once resist and reinforce white cultural power through the appropriation of vocal sounds associated with black American singing.

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