We are living in turbulent times. Countries are on lockdown, streets are empty and uncertainty is rife in the minds of everyone I meet. Yet, amidst all the empty shelves and the wars for toilet paper, there is one thing that keeps cropping up in my mind. What does all this mean for the music industry?
So much has been cancelled because of COVID-19 already. SXSW in Austin, a festival that raises £271m annually for the cities economy, has left the global range of upcoming artists that play there without valuable exposure and a paycheck. In the UK Radio 1’s Big Weekend has been halted, as well as a number of tours from the likes of The Who to Rick Astley. Elsewhere, Austria’s Snowbombing, Lollapalooza Argentina and even Coachella have all been postponed. This is all on top of the ever-increasing travel and large gathering bans that are being put in effect across the world, meaning numerous tour dates being called off.
Concerts, no matter their size, are high-risk areas for infection and you can’t blame larger festivals and bands postponing dates, but, for many of these larger artists there won’t be any damage to their wallets. It’s when you move down the rings of the ladder, to the bands who rely on relentless touring to not only survive but to make themselves known, that the question of what to do arises.
How does an artist sustain a living when they can’t tour and streaming services pay a fraction of a penny per stream? Especially when they will only see a fraction of that fraction due to the amount of people that will have to split that figure.
Yet, even for those who decide to continue touring the air of uncertainty and the fear of getting the virus will see reduction in attendance and ticket sales. Furthermore, an artist who carries on touring could face on onslaught of criticism across social media due to its call-out culture and the confusion, but for what? Trying to earn enough money to eat and have a roof over their heads. It’s a messy subject and one that I don’t think we will see the other side of a long time yet.
However, it isn’t only artists that are going to experience this downturn, the economic effects will trickle down into all the crevasses of the industry. From the songwriters who won’t get royalties from their songs being played live, the venues who won’t get hired out, all the way to the countless behind the scenes staff: Sound techs, light crews, bartenders, backstage teams, tour managers, label reps. The list is endless and everybody out of pocket.
What can we do about it? Well, I think we can only add it to the seemingly endless list of questions that have arisen in the past few weeks and like in most of these cases, only time will tell. But, with billions already lost and even more on the line, I think there’s only one thing we can do.
Go and support your favourite bands as much as you can. Buy a t-shirt, their latest album, a poster, even just a badge. Anything you can do for them in these incalculable times will help them so much and could be, for small bands at least, the difference between them staying together or giving it up completely.