After a couple of months on planing, the IASPM event I organised on the impacts of Covid-19 on the European Music Industries took place yesterday. The event featured six speakers, from Wales, England, Germany, Norway and the Netherlands. This work builds on the previous work I have posted concerning the situation in Wales – which you can access here and here.
There was some fascinating discussion that took place both during and after the presentations, which you can now see via the recording below. For me, I think the one noticeable factor was how much all of our nations had in common. Despite different rules regarding the opening up of our respective venues, we all shared common concerns surrounding factors such as how best to support our live music industries post covid, how to identify gaps in our live music ecologies due to stakeholders leaving the profession, how to train those who wish to enter the profession and how to work with governments to ensure the necessary research takes place and communication infrastructures are in place. It will be interesting to monitor these various projects over the coming months to ascertain how much impact they have, but in the meantime enjoy the recording. Thanks to all of the speaks and the International Association for the Study of Popular Music for hosting.
At a time when covid-19 has made many of us stare face to face into our own mortalities, this seems like an appropriate time to express something I have never written about – my Christian faith. So this post will provide a brief account of how I believe the providence of God has been with me, well before I was aware of it. The post will finish with me introducing an album of mine that I think at least partially verifies this assertion. For the moment – consider listening to it while you read the rest of this post – I suggest starting with ‘It’s September’ – the 2nd track below, then go from there.
Firstly, I need to point out that most of you who know me will not even know that I am a Christian, due to me having the somewhat selfish tendency to a) not talk about it and b) not always display the glory of God in my behaviour. So, although I describe myself as a ‘Christian’, I have to say upfront that it is only through Jesus’ grace that I reap any of the ‘rewards’ promised in the bible. I am a ‘work in progress’ who struggles with many things – in particular ego. So, before I get on to introducing the aforementioned album, set out below is a plotted story of how I ‘became’ a Christian around 15 years ago.
My first memories of any church are related to my great nanna occasionally taking me to Sunday school in Winlaton (where I grew up, near Newcastle), although I don’t remember much, apart from seeing people in ‘strange uniforms’ (I later found out that I was attending a Salvation Army Hall). Aside from these isolated memories from around the age of 4 or 5, although brought up in a very loving caring family, God was not overtly part of it in terms of family routine – there were no prayers or overt acknowledgment that God was a reality. As I moved into secondary school, my next Christian memories involved my fascination toward a team of young Christians who occasionally performed at our daily morning service, the fact that their music included guitars was a welcome relief for me, as opposed to the usual piano based hymns.
By the time of my 14th birthday, I had my great nanna to thank once again for my next excursion into church – which was prompted by me noticing she hopped onto a private bus every Sunday evening from outside her front door at the bottom of our street, she was aged around 80 at this point. After me and a friend deciding it would be a good way of doing something different on a Sunday evening, we found out that this bus took you to a place called Bethshan Church in central Newcastle, about 5 miles from where we lived. I was intrigued, so this started a regular weekly excursion through the council estates of north east England with a group of pensioners who were at least 60 years older than us – the generation gap was noticeable. However, when we arrived at the church, it became apparent that the place was littered with young people like us and the worship music did not feature a church organ – but once again guitars!! At this point I was becoming seriously interested in music, being a fan of bands like Slade, T.Rex and in particular Queen, so visiting church was one of the experiences that led me to buying a guitar later that year with some money I got for Christmas. I attended that church for about a year and at one point, really believed I was ‘saved’ – but at this point the Word of God ultimately landed on ground which was also populated with ‘weeds’(Matthew 13:24-43), which simply crowded it out. This was not the time – but I now know that the seeds had been planted.
After this, I progressed to finishing off school, working on a building site, attending music college, getting my first professional gig (in the Middle East), and moving to London in my early 20s. I then met the love of my life Deb, and eventually moved to Dorset in 1994 for my first full time teaching job. When we moved to Dorset, we moved to a house with a church next door – Verwood Road Evangelical Church in Three Legged Cross. After we enrolled our then one year old daughter to a mother and toddlers group in the church, both me and Deb became fascinated by the love that those running the group showed for us – so we started attending church again. This time, God’s word penetrated deeper than ever before, but once again, life’s events, in particular the death of Deb’s dad, drove us away.
By the time we moved to Wales 17 years ago, we had been blessed with two beautiful kids and our life seemed to be very ‘rosey’. We lived in a lovely house in a nice village and I had a good Job. However, 2.5 years later our life took a twist, in the summer of 2006, Deb was diagnosed with breast cancer. To say it destroyed me is an understatement, however, out of the ashes of those first few months, a positive emerged – we once again started going to church. This was prompted by a desperate prayer for support one evening, which was clearly answered the following day. Yes, even though we were not Christians, we cried out to a God, who we instinctively knew was listening. After that, due to the blessings of a young trainee paster (Paul Meredith, one of the most godly men I have met), God’s voice gradually became ‘Louder’ and the bible started to speak truth to both of us. It is difficult to explain this due to the logocentric limitations of words, but all I can say is although it has been very slow, God is gradually changing us to be more like his Son. One of the massive blessings of this walk is that I have done it alongside Deb. We have also been blessed to have the right people in our journey at the right time – too many to mention, but God knows who they are because He put them there!
So, how does this story relate to the album I mentioned at the start of the post, which I have now had the chance to ‘release’, nearly 20 years after recording it – well before I became a Christian. Well let’s start with the track names, which I have copied below
The Way (Hardy’s Lament)
The Mount (6.20)
As you can see, five of these nine tracks have direct references to the bible – ‘Prodigal Son’, ‘The Way’, ‘Mantle’, ‘Salvations’ and ‘The Mount’. I have no explanation for how I came up with these names aside from believing that God was ‘speaking’ to me, quietly – in a similar way to the famous ‘Footprints’ poem. For those that don’t know it, I have copied it below
One night I dreamed a dream.
As I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
One belonging to me and one to my Lord.
After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that at many times along the path of my life,
especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
there was only one set of footprints.
This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.
“Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
You’d walk with me all the way.
But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,
there was only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.”
He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you
Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you.”
When I look back over my own life, I have no doubt that during trails like when Deb was diagnosed with breast cancer, that there was only one set of footprints – and they were not mine! I realise that I have been ‘carried’ during these times, but that even during these times before I was a Christian – He was ‘whispering in my ear’. I believe this is the reason why the track names mentioned above have clear Christian references. Indeed when I think that the first ‘jazz-rock’ piece I ever wrote (well before I recorded this album-when I was aged around 21/22) was called ‘Tarsus’, which I now know is the birth place of the apostle Paul, it leads me to believe that He has been with me for many years. When I look back at these track names however, they represent a clear reference to how God was ‘speaking’ to me – well before I was aware of his voice. Although the tracks are all instrumental – I hope you enjoy them and their associated meanings. I hope this short story also encourages others to look out for God’s providence in their own lives – He is there – even if you don’t realise it.
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 Governmentdevelop 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.
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.
Live performance venues opened July 15th.
Live performance venues opened from August 31st, depending on the regions.
Live performance venues opened from June 15th with a maximum of 200 persons seated indoor and 1000 persons seated outdoor.
Live 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.
Live 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 moremusic 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.
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’.
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.
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.
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’.
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 Misérables, Mary Poppins, Hamilton 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
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.
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)
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!
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