COVID-19 Could Kill Live Music As We Know It

COVID-19 has rapidly impacted the music industry — leaving thousands out of work. The government dumbfounded many when it was suggested that those from an industry that contributed £5.2bn to the economy in 2018 retrain and find different jobs. Here, Wil Crisp asks: is the government’s response to the pandemic causing permanent damage to the music industry?

Since the beginning of 2017, every weekend, the metal walkways and staircases of Printworks, the 5,000-capacity venue in London’s Surrey Keys, have vibrated to sounds played by the world’s top DJs over a giant D&B Audiotechnik sound system. The five-storey-high main hall of the former newspaper printing press complex, which had become a key venue for electronic music fans, fell silent in March this year, when the doors were forced to close because of COVID-19 restrictions.  

Now, Broadwick Live, which owns and operates the venue, has made one third of its full time workforce redundant and is fighting for survival along with thousands of other companies in the live music sector. “The uncertainty is the worst thing,” says Bradley Thompson, the managing director of Broadwick Live, which owns four venues in London as well as Depot in Manchester. 

“We don’t have a date for when we are going to reopen, and we don’t know exactly what criteria they are going to use when decisions are being made about who gets government grants. Even if we get the grants that we have applied for, it’s not going to fill the hole left from our normal revenue streams.”  

As the music industry has rapidly contracted, leaving thousands without work, the government has been criticised for failing to do enough to support the sector and those who work within it. Much of the criticism has focused on the way that the rescue packages and support measures have been structured: generally favouring big businesses and corporations over sectors like the music industry, that are mainly made up of small and medium-sized businesses and have a high number of freelance workers.  

Doubts about how much the government is willing to support the UK music industry increased on 6th October, when the chancellor Rishi Sunak suggested that musicians and music industry workers should retrain and find different jobs. The suggestion has angered many: The UK’s music industry is the second-biggest in the world (after the US), and, along with Sweden and the US, the UK is one of just three countries globally that is a net exporter of music. 

According to UK Music, an industry-funded campaign group, the sector was made up of more than 191,000 jobs in 2018 and contributed £5.2bn to the economy in terms of general value added (GVA), a measure economists use to evaluate productivity. Prior to 2020, the music industry was on-course to see continued rapid growth across all segments, from music creation, to retail, recording and live events — but this growth stopped suddenly in March this year when lockdown was introduced.  

In a report published in July, economic forecasting company Oxford Economics estimated that the number of jobs in the sector will be reduced to just 77,000 in 2020, a drop of 60 per cent compared to 2018. The report estimates that the sector’s contribution to the economy would drop by $3bn, with the collapse in live music and touring being the single biggest factor contributing to the decline. The report also says that live music would be effectively “decimated across the whole of 2020” and anticipated that recovery would take at least three to four years to return to 2019 levels.

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The Vinyl Revolution

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