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COVID-19 cost the UK music industry 69,000 jobs and caused a 46% slump in economic impact

By | Published on Tuesday 19 October 2021

UK Music

The COVID-19 pandemic wiped out 69,000 music industry jobs in the UK – or one in three roles within the sector – according to new stats from trade group UK Music. The economic contribution made by the music industry, meanwhile, slumped 46%. With those stark figures to the fore, UK Music is now seeking government support to help guarantee the industry’s post-COVID revival.

The annual stats pack from UK Music – now known as ‘This Is Music’ – is usually an opportunity for the wider music sector to boast about its recent growth, and the impressive impact the music business has on the UK economy. However, the edition of that annual report focused on the year that was 2020 was always going to be very different.

With the live side of the music industry pretty much in total shutdown for the majority of 2020 – not to mention the impact the pandemic had on studios, record shops, public performance and sync licensing, music education and so on – we knew this batch of stats was going to make for depressing reading.

According to UK Music’s research – which aggregates figures from across the wider music business – the sector’s workforce slumped by 35% during the pandemic, from approximately 197,000 people to 128,000. The economic contribution made by the sector – aka its gross value added – fell by 46% from £5.8 billion in 2019 to £3.1 billion in 2020, with the value of music exports dropping 23% from £2.9 billion to £2.3 billion.

While the challenges of COVID are far from over, the music industry is now in revival mode. It’s hoped that, ultimately, the losses in workforce, revenues and economic impact can all be reversed, although UK Music says that government support is required to ensure that happens. To that end, alongside its ‘This Is Music’ report, it has published a ‘Music Industry Strategic Recovery Plan’.

The industry’s wish list in terms of government support includes tax incentives and a permanent reduction in the VAT rate on live events; more funding and support for music exports; more funding for music education and the industry’s all-important community of freelancers; and urgent action to remove the barriers to European touring created by Brexit.

The main justification for all that support, of course, is that with the right interventions from government the music industry can return to its pre-pandemic levels, achieving that £5.8 billion economic impact again, and then getting back to the growth trajectory that UK Music has been tracking with its previous annual reports.

Although the positive impact of music goes beyond the top line gross value added stat, of course. And in a bid to demonstrate that too, the latest report from UK Music also includes the results of a survey of the good old Great British Public about music and the music industry.

According to that survey, 75% of the British public are proud of the UK music industry and its heritage, 59% believe music improves the UK’s reputation overseas, and 74% say music is important to their quality of life. Meanwhile, the study reckons a million people took up playing a musical instrument during lockdown.

Commenting on all this, UK Music boss Jamie Njoku-Goodwin says: “The past eighteen months have been exceptionally challenging for the UK music industry, with billions wiped off the value of the sector – but we are determined to look to the future and focus on recovery”.

“Music matters to us all”, he adds. “And in a year when we’ve seen just how important music is to all our lives, it’s more important than ever that we take the necessary steps to protect, strengthen and grow the industry. In our ‘Music Industry Strategic Recovery Plan’ we identify the policy interventions required and set out a clear action plan to get the industry back up on its feet.

“With the right support”, he goes on, “the UK music industry can help drive the post-pandemic recovery. ‘This Is Music’ sets out the positive role the music industry can play in our country’s future, and the steps that need to be taken to achieve that. Music is a key national asset, part of our history and our heritage. More than that, it’s part of our future. And we can’t value it highly enough”.

As is traditional, the new UK Music stats pack is accompanied by a statement from the government’s Culture Secretary, this time the recently appointed Nadine Dorries. She mainly bigs up the government’s efforts to support the cultural sector during the pandemic, like the Culture Recovery Fund, the Events Research Programme and the late-in-the-day government-backed cancellation insurance scheme.

Although she does add: “Now the priority is to ensure a strong recovery. The UK music industry is one of our country’s great national assets, and I give my commitment that the government will continue to back it every step of the way”.