[sic] Magazine

COVID-19 and the music industry.

A short message about COVID-19.

At the time of writing, the UK, my adoptive Belgium and many other countries are on enforced home lockdown in an attempt to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Lives are at stake here. This is not a topic of which to make light. My thoughts and wishes go out to all of you as we navigate through this situation.

Music is not a basic human need. As devoted fans you and I might protest to the contrary yet if we are brutally honest music is a trivial concern compared to healthcare or other key worker roles. Yes, we love it. Yes, we think we need it, think our lives revolve around it. They do not. However the only reason we’re here on this page together right now is because of music. Music is an art form, after all and the arts are what elevate humans from animals. As this situation alleviates such nourishment for the soul will regain importance.

Let’s take a moment to explore the impact of this crisis to the music industry itself.

The first and most obvious casualty of COVID-19 for music fans has been the postponement of concerts. The industry would have been ramping up toward its summer Festival season. It doesn’t seem to be that dire on the face of it, does it? The fact of having to miss those days at Werchter, Glastonbury, or SXSW. However artists would have been booked, venues sourced and contacts signed. Spare a thought for support staff and third party suppliers. Also for smaller bands whose chance to reach a new audience has been snatched away. These events work on tighter margins than you might initially imagine. Such cancellations are catastrophic, financially. They can also be a contractual minefield to sort out later on.

Since the rise of streaming services, gigging has been the most significant line of business for musicians. Regular touring is also now on indefinite pause. While it’s nice to see some tent pole artists such as Chris Martin and Ben Gibbard performing from their homes. Let’s be frank. Those guys can. Spare a thought for the smaller acts. Those who rely upon live performances and merchandising. 94% of UK musicians are freelance. There will be people out there, heroes to many of us, who put food on the table through playing live and who now cannot. Add to this the number of clubs and venues at jeopardy. They have overheads yet simply no clue when their revenue streams might pick up again.

I already mentioned secondary professions. That singer you like is just the tip of the iceberg. Behind him or her are technicians, lighting people, drivers, soundmen, security, bar staff, logistical folk, PR……

Finally we have actual product sales, new albums etc. While their importance has receded in recent years they still exist. Yet even physical sales will be impacted by COVID-19 supply chain interruptions. That Box Set that you ordered will not be Amazons first priority any more.

What can we do?

We must continue to do as advised and instructed. Curtailing the spread of this virus must be first and foremost in our minds. We may be strong, ourselves. But we might unwittingly be incubating the virus and transmitting it to other, more vulnerable people. For what? To see that band you always wanted to see. Come on. Let’s maintain a sense of perspective here.

One area where we are probably already blessed. We are music fans. We have our music. Lets be thankful for what we have. A period of confinement is at least an opportunity to explore the music that we already own, whether it be your all-time favourites or that album you barely gave a chance to. Time to enjoy, to re-explore, to immerse.

I don’t wish to sound glib in any way but world famous acts will survive this, financially speaking. Again it is the smaller artists to which my thoughts turn. All I can recommend is to follow them as best you can on social media. Check out their feeds, their activities. Some are offering unique and novel services. For instance Piers (Hewitt) from The Boxer Rebellion begins to give drumming lessons online. (He is phenomenal, btw, so get on that, budding drummers) Now might also be a good time to purchase that album that you downloaded and promised yourself you’d get around to buying properly one day. If you do buy, try to make your purchases from as close to the source as possible. The label store if not from the bands own website.

You yourself may not be in position to help all that much with your own job and finances severely impacted by the crisis. You can still talk to others. Still champion great bands. Spread the word. And you can still enjoy their work. Let them help you through all of these uncertain times. That’s what music is for.

It is always darkest before the dawn folks. Music is trivial and yet still somehow essential to people like us. We miss it now of course and yet absence certainly makes the heart grow fonder. When it returns we will cherish and savor every morsel of it. So stay safe. Stay well. Look out for your loved ones. We are together in this and we will get through it. This virus will end up bringing us all closer and I promise you this; once COVID-19 is behind us we are going to party like it’s 1999.

Love and best wishes to you all.

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