The Music Industry and COVID:19 – What Comes Next?

The first interview I did for this article took place on an abnormally quiet, post work train journey in London. Laptop open, headphones in and I paused, wondering why I felt so apprehensive to begin the interview, then I realised it was because this interview could intensify what I was worried about: my beloved music industry had in fact been torn asunder by the COVID-19 pandemic and I would have to grieve it along with many other creatives who were left to salvage what they could from the wreckage, missing out on new music, work and gigs for years to come. 

It’s not often I am glad to be proven wrong, but this initial interview, with Keith Ames who is the PR/Marketing Official & Editor at the Musicians Union, suitably restored my faith in the music industries reliance. Straight away Keith was expounding a raw yet hopeful overview of the pandemic from his insightful stance: “Music is a precarious profession at all times and around 85% of our members are self-employed.

Last March, people thought they would be playing again in May. The situation of not knowing when lockdown will end has been a stress for the entire industry and it’s hard for artists to make plans when they have no income, especially in the face of Brexit and the impact that will have on touring.

Therefore, some may have to step off the career train and this usually results in seeking new work in something unrelated to music and if you step out of the industry can be very hard to come back.”

 I asked him if he thought there was hope for musicians and the industry to which he replied: “If you’re sitting there wondering when the future kicks off again, then that in itself is a massive problem. Some musicians are being supported but many don’t qualify for help via the government schemes and not all of the organisations can offer financial support in the long term.”

 He advocated that there is hope if people are resilient and stay committed to their creativity, adding: “Musicians are very good at making themselves heard and music has been one of the things that has gotten people through this hard time. It’s important we all remember how imperative music is to our culture and how much we depend on it, especially to get us through times like this.”

With that sentiment I realise Keith is right, with most musicians left without work through this pandemic and little support, there is no better time to illuminate the value they bring to our everyday lives by sharing their talent with the world, something that often goes underpaid and undervalued. 

Not long after speaking to Keith, the end of lockdown #3 was announced in the UK, with April 12th as the date people of the UK can regain some normality in their everyday life, but with hospitality and music venues and concerts taking yet another suspenseful backseat. Despite the uncertainty, the music industry is still abuzz across different streaming platforms and social media: new music, videos, raw rap, and worldwide genres continuing to develop and merge. As a music marketeer I am still being contacted to market music regularly across the world despite lockdowns and venues being shut.

The majority of concerts and live events have gone virtual, and I wonder, has the synergy of the pandemic and technology blurred the lines of how things and are done and success measured in the creative industries? Has all that should have suffered, in many ways just rerouted and, subsequently, advanced? 

My next interview, which was with Henry, who is the founder of Undefined Music Marketing in California, corroborated my later theories. He is based in L.A and I wanted to get his insights into what the music scene is California is like at the moment and his response was clear: “If you stopped progressing in the music industry when the pandemic started then you’re a year behind. 

Yes, the music industry has been affected but people are still making money and I have found that people still want to work. We are in this era where everything is transitioning and concerts etc will remain virtual even after the pandemic. People who have used the extra time wisely will be ready to excel when the right moment comes along, music is people’s dream and many ways it seems like we have gone backwards during this time but actually we have gone forward. Perception is reality.”

As I write up Henry’s interview, that brings me to the present moment: another near empty London train journey and another interview done but this time with the end of the lockdown in sight and a feeling of relief for me, instead of the anxiety I felt when I did the first interview for this article. Relief because, yes, the end of the pandemic nears, like a light at the end of very dark, monotonous tunnel, but also because musicians and the industry remain resilient and have the gift of able to create their best work in the face of adversity, using it to enhance their art.

As Keith pointed out, music and creativity aren’t just something we have to look forward to when the pandemic ends, it is one of the things, steeped in culture and raw emotion, that has gotten us through this time. It motivates and comforts us as we carry ourselves forward relying on the music to actualise each moment, each emotion, daydream and hope that occupies our mind, through difficult times like this and the better times that lie ahead, in the oh so near future.

You can find the Musicians Union here: 

www.musiciansunion.org.uk/contact-the-mu/national-office

and Undefined Marketing here www.undefindedmarketing.com

Rebekah Sawyer

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