Paul Carr Presentation to Culture Welsh Language and Communications Committee: The Live Music Industry in Wales Post Pandemic

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. 

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Live Music in Wales: A Report for the Culture Welsh Language and Communications Commitee

This last week has been a busy one for me, with my report on the impact of live music in Wales released, just a few days before I gave evidence to the Culture Welsh Language and Communications Commitee. In order to give readers an overview of the whole ‘post covid music industry in Wales project, what I have done here is upload a transcript of my 15 minute presentation to the committee, which can be downloaded below. A full copy of the 36000 word report can also be found here, with shorter executive summaries in English and Welsh also available for download below.

I have given evidence on live music to the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee a number of times, but this is the first time I have had an entire session dedicated to a report I have written. As always, the session was organised collegiately and professionally, with some excellent questions asked. You can see a recording of the whole 40 minute session below.

As always with evidence sessions like this, there were a number of things I wanted to say, that because of time restrictions, I just did not have the opportunity to address, so it is this that I would like to dedicate the rest of this blog post to.

Firstly, I wanted to highlight that it is NOT ALWAYS POSSIBLE TO COMPARE LIKE FOR LIKE, when considering covid related funds that have been allocated across Europe. For example, prior to the UK’s £1.5 bn Cultural Recovery Fund, the following funds had been allocated, none of which outline a specific music pot as far as I am aware.

Austria (EUR 2 billion for arts and culture) 

Poland (EUR 900 million for arts and culture) 

Netherlands (EUR 300 million for arts and culture) 

France (EUR 6.3 billion for small businesses more generally).

Germany allocated EUR 1 billion, via their ‘Neu Start’ for culture scheme, includes a 250 million euro allocation to ensure cultural institutions such as music venues are ‘fit for reopening’ 

In my talk to the committee, I discussed culture at home initiatives in Argentina, Belgium and Chile and music specific recovery funds in New Zealand and Australia. However, other interesting examples related to the facilitation and financing of digital content that I would like to have discussed include examples such as. 

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation announced their AUD $5 million (£2.7m) ‘Fresh Start Fund’, which includes the commissioning of new music and music scholarship schemes

Canada’s ‘Digital Strategy Fund, offers grants of up to £29k to implement digital solutions for long term strategies dealing with Covid-19.

Canada have also launched a ‘Digital Originals’ scheme, which offers artists micro innovation funds to position their work for online sharing.

Colombia have developed a national registry of artists and are sharing their creative culture as part of their digital strategy.

It’s also interesting to note how Cuba’s ‘Institute of Music’ has promoted online/virtual concerts (collaborating with the Ministry of Culture and the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television).

Also Malaysia’s ‘Music from Home’ initiative, has included a series of ‘virtual concerts’ which assisted home grown artists produce digital content to engage with audiences.

Finally, I also wanted to note French Government’s EUR 50 million allocation to its ‘National Music Centre’ to support the music industries. This is in addition to the money it already receives from Government. The centre has a remit to increase musical diversity and promote French music around the world – similar to what the Welsh Music Foundation used to do. 

In terms of speed of opening live music venues, I gave some examples in my talk of nations across Europe opening more rapidly than Wales. I have included a number of other random examples below, but is important to point out that many of these nations subsequently had to close due to the ‘2nd wave’ of the pandemic spreading across Europe.

FranceLive performance venues opened July 15th.
GermanyLive performance venues opened from August 31st, depending on the regions.
ItalyLive performance venues opened from June 15th with a maximum of 200 persons seated indoor and 1000 persons seated outdoor.
NetherlandsLive performance venues reopened from June 1st with a maximum of 30 people per hall. From July 1st, there was no maximum, as long as people maintained a 1.5 metre distance.
NorwayLive performance venues opened on May 7th for a maximum amount of 50 people. Up to 500 allowed from Sep 1st.

I also wanted to point out to the committee how some nations are attempting to compensate for the lack of income currently generated by live music. Although I realise broadcasting is not devolved in Wales, I wanted to highlight that many nations are playing or asking to have more national music played on radio.

In Denmark for example, it was announced in March that Danish National Radio were increasing their quota of local artists and copyright holders from 49% to 80% in order to support the local music scene – for a predetermined period. A number of commercial radio stations followed this example. This was achieved via strategic discussions between government and the radio industry.  

Also, Radio France announced on 15 April an initiative to support the French music scene by playing more French music, promoting ‘French only’ live music evenings and dedicating time to promoting news featuring French artists. 

Others examples of this can be seen in Norway, Portugal, Romania and Switzerland, with nations such as Bulgaria, Croatia and Netherlands all having had campaigns asking for more local music to be played on radio. Should we do something similar in Wales?

I also wanted to highlight some different traditions for supporting music pre-pandemic that Wales could learn from, with two main categories being important to me – ‘national music centres that promote a nations music and alternative ways of funding

Regarding music centres, I mentioned Cuba’s Institute of Music and the National Music Centre in France in my talk (see above). However, there is also an interesting example in Poland – The ‘Music Export Poland Foundation’, which aims to support the export potential of Poland’s music industries. In order to do this, it recognises the importance of research, features a database of the Polish music industries, and has readily available information about its music venues. It also features a regularly undated spotify playlist of artists – similar to Creative Wales.

A similar initiative is ‘Music Finland’, which supports live music, facilitates tours and showcases talent. Music Finland’s main aim is to assist artists who find it difficult ‘breaking even’ when touring, by paying for accommodation, travel, per diems, and marketing and production expenses (equipment hire, insurance, visas etc).

In my view, Spike Griffiths ‘Beacons Project’ is attempting to move in this direction and should be given finance to pilot.

Regarding funding models, it is important to remind ourselves that the UK live music scene relies more on commercial income than in Europe. I am no expert on this, but in Italy for example, the “theatres of the tradition”, such as Rome and Naples’s opera houses, have been told all their salaries and expenses will be met until the end of 2021 by the state. In a study of venues across mainland Europe – 60% of venues were non-profit on average – with nations like Belgium, France, Switzerland and Netherlands having over 90% non-profit. These venues are seen to attract more government funding – this is not the case in the UK or more specifically in Wales.

At the other side of the spectrum, I understand music venues in the US rely more heavily on commercial income than the UK, so unless they are lucky enough to be bequeathed money by wealthy benefactors, they are in trouble. It is no surprise that the New York music scene is still effectively closed. 

This has to be one of the reasons why the music scenes in Europe have been able to open earlier than in the UK? In terms of how Wales could move toward the tradition of mainland Europe – I have no idea how this could happen – but it would certainly protect venues should something like this pandemic happen again, as venues would not rely as much on commercial income – it is that simple.

In terms of how the continued prohibition on live performances in Wales will impact the industry internationally, for me, the longer we wait – the more music industry stakeholders will either leave the profession or take their services elsewhere. I think the main issues are the inevitable talent drain (especially if there is work elsewhere); the fact that so many Grassroot Music Venues are forecast to close, and of course the Economic Impact – We already know that the income from live music across the UK is going to be well down on previous years – the question is how long will it take us to recover and how can Welsh Government help. There has been a longstanding discussion surrounding why don’t more artists play in Wales’ and I would suggest a policy of prohibiting live music is only going to make this worse.

Regarding the financial sustainability of music venues in Wales, for me, it makes more sense to try and subsidise venues to keep their doors open, as opposed to closed. So the Musicians’ Unions recommendation of a seat matching scheme is a good idea, as a means of measuring the amount of government money a venue gets and also, because it it targeting finance towards opening culture up. Depending on what happens with the vaccine, it may be interesting to explore a ‘mixed mode approach’ for live music – a socially distanced venue accompanied by a virtual, broadcast, which is monitored. Virtual Concerts are explicitly mentioned in Government documentation – but not explained – so this is something that could be explored further. This is where the technical infrastructures of venues would need to be financed, if this approach was adopted. Basically, in this new world, at least in the short term, most music venues can’t survive on commercial income alone – many were already struggling, so they need subsidy of some sort.

Regarding how the sector should change in the future for me, Welsh Government needs to do everything it can to make the grassroots sector in particular more sustainable – and that is going to require financial support. We are going to need empathetic licensing; sympathetic rate relief; better transport and internet access across the country; a long-term music strategy; relevant statistical research, good training and mentoring, etc.  

As I mention in my report, Welsh Government also needs to understand what its music industries are, and the best way to do this is to develop a Taxonomy. Most importantly, Creative Wales’ membership would have to ensure it represents it.

As I have mentioned in an earlier evidence session last year, we also need to make sure the school music curriculum reflects the modern music industries. However, those involved in the post covid music industry will require an even more distinct skill set, depending on the impact of the vaccine – so we need to ensure that education and training is up to date.

It is apparent that most of the major music industry bodies provide Mental Health information – so I would suggest that Welsh Gov should also prepare and provide advice for the Creative Industries and Performing Arts more broadly. Also, there is a lot of research verifying how good music participation is for Well-Being – let’s use it! 

I would also suggest that Welsh Government needs to ensure it engages with the ways in which the nations creators can a) be exploited more both within the nation via a dedicated web site and also possibly via national media outlets and b) be compensated more for their work, by reducing the value gap for Welsh artists.

The value gap is where much of the mechanical income from music making is in the hands of technology giants such as You Tube, Facebook, Spotify and iTunes. One of the objectives of the 2018 ‘European Copyright Directive’, is to reduce the value gap between internet platforms such as these and the content creators themselves, something which will become essential in a post-covid world, where performance income may be restricted for some time to come. 

Finally, I would say Welsh Government could do some work to ensure the means through which the music industries access funding is demystified as much as possible – making it clear where funding is available and how to complete any paperwork. 

To finish this blog post, I would like to say a few words about what the Welsh Music Industry could do in order to be more resilient in the future. These are points that I did not mention in the evidence session: I would suggest A) fix what was already broken – by ensuring the pertinent themes that have been discussed in the Culture Welsh Language and Communications Committees evidence sessions thus far are considered and actioned. B) this is a long shot, but could Wales move in the direction of allocating more finance to at least some grassroots live music venues, in a similar way to European venues – so there is less reliance on commercial income. To ensure this we would require more publicly owned venues! C) Is it possible for Welsh Government to develop a philosophy which focuses on support to open, as opposed to support to remain closed? D) The arts more broadly have often been accused of not facilitating equal access to its various sub-sectors, but Welsh Government also need to be made aware that a move toward more online provision has the potential to not alleviate this trend, but to exacerbate it, for those (audiences and music industry stakeholders) currently experiencing ‘digital poverty’. We need to ensure the whole of Wales has access to fast reliable Broadband.

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The Welsh Music Industries in a Post Covid World: Reopening and Recovery Strategies

Those of you that read this blog, may remember that near the start of the pandemic I wrote a few posts about the impact of Covid-19 on the music industry – then it went quiet…. Just to explain that the reason for this silence was not because I had lost interest, but because in July I was commissioned by Senedd Research to document a report on this very subject. The resultant document is entitled ‘The Welsh Music Industries in a Post Covid World’. I am currently in the proofing stage and it is 36000 words long – so I have been busy. This report is written for The Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee, with a view that they will take on some of the recommendations and present them to Welsh Government.

I will be giving evidence to the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee on November 19th, with the report being officially published just before then. However, as a taster, I thought I would publish some of the recommendations in the run in to publication. I have copied the first couple below – all of which are related to ‘reopening and recovery strategies. Feel free to offer any comments/observations.

For Welsh Governmentto develop a detailed and clear short-term reopening strategy for the Welsh music industries, which outlines what is possible now; what is not possible yet; what will never be possible and what support will be available for all of these outcomes. This strategy should closely consider how sub-sectors that are open for business can maximise income, in addition to considering closely how it can support the strategically important parts of the industries that are closed for public health reasons get back on their feet. 

In conjunction with relevant expertise from the music industries, the university sector and the Arts Council of Wales, for Welsh Government to develop a long-term three-year music industries recovery strategy, which takes the ongoing impact of Covid-19 into account. This plan should have a range of outcomes and consider via an action plan factors such as how it can sustain, retain and incubate talent; how public confidence can be re-established; how the various parts of the 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’; how alternative business models such as virtual music making can be implemented; and how the technical infrastructures of venues/rehearsal rooms/recording studios can become ‘covid-proof’.  

Thanks – Paul

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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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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.


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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