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More than 1500 artists call on UK government to step up and ensure the live music industry can survive COVID-19

By | Published on Thursday 2 July 2020

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More than 1500 artists have signed a letter to the UK’s top culture minister Oliver Dowden demanding that the government implement a number of measures to specifically support the live music business as the COVID-19 shutdown of the sector continues.

Campaigners say that those measures need to include a number of financial packages, a VAT holiday and a clear albeit conditional timeline for getting live shows back up and running. Such measures are essential, they add, to “prevent mass insolvencies and the end of this world-leading industry”.

The letter – signed by the likes of Ed Sheeran, The Rolling Stones, Dua Lipa, Paul McCartney, Skepta, Rita Ora, Coldplay, Eric Clapton, Annie Lennox, Sam Smith, Rod Stewart, Liam Gallagher, Florence And The Machine, George Ezra, Depeche Mode, Iron Maiden, Lewis Capaldi and Little Mix – comes after weeks of calls from various music industry organisations for sector-specific government support to stop the collapse of the entire live music industry.

Concerns have only increased in recent weeks as it’s become clear that – while the high street and hospitality sectors are starting to return to normal, albeit with social distancing rules still in place – there is currently no real plan for when live performances will start again.

And while live entertainment was always likely to be impacted by COVID-19 the longest, the big concern now is that – as other sectors get going again and the political narrative becomes “we’re through the worst” – general financial support packages from government will be phased out. Even though the live sector is still pretty much in full-on lockdown.

The letter to Dowden states: “Live music has been one of the UK’s biggest social, cultural, and economic successes of the past decade. From world famous festivals to ground-breaking concerts, the live music industry showcases, supports and develops some of the best talent in the world – on and off stage. As important as it is, our national and regional contribution isn’t purely cultural. Our economic impact is also significant, with live music adding £4.5 billion to the British economy and supporting 210,000 jobs across the country in 2019”.

The £4.5 billion figure comes from the music tourism section of UK Music’s ‘Music By Numbers’ report. Other stats gathered to accompany the letter stress that it’s the live side of music that has a particularly positive impact on local and regional economies around the UK. Partly because venues, tours and festivals employ people and hire services in towns and city all over the country, and partly because live music audiences spend money with a plethora of other businesses when attending shows.

A sell-out capacity night of live music in Birmingham generates £3 million for the local economy, those stats reckon, while a festival like TRNSMT in Glasgow can boost the local economy by £10 million in one weekend. Ed Sheeran’s four shows at Chantry Park last year alone had a £9 million impact on the local economy in Ipswich.

The letter goes on: “Like every part of the entertainment industry, live music has been proud to play our part in the national effort to reduce the spread of coronavirus and keep people safe. But, with no end to social distancing in sight or financial support from government yet agreed, the future for concerts and festivals and the hundreds of thousands of people who work in them looks bleak”

“This sector doesn’t want to ask for government help”, it says. “The venues, promoters, festival organisers, production companies, agents and many other employers want to be self-sufficient, as they were before lockdown. But, until these businesses can operate again, which is likely to be 2021 at the earliest, government support will be crucial to prevent mass insolvencies, and the end of this world-leading industry”.

Demands being made of government alongside the letter include that ministers provide “a clear, conditional timeline for re-opening venues without social distancing” and “a comprehensive business and employment support package and access to finance”.

The latter would include extending the general employee furlough and freelancer support programmes for those in the live sector; rent breaks for venues; extending the current business rates relief programme to all companies involved in live music rather than just venues; the creation of a government-backed insurance scheme for when shows return but the risk of further lockdown remains; and financial support for lost box office income.

The letter concludes by noting that the government has already addressed getting two “important British pastimes” back into operation post the COVID shutdown, that being football and pubs, but “it’s now crucial that it focuses on a third, live music. For the good of the economy, the careers of emerging British artists, and the UK’s global music standing, we must ensure that a live music industry remains when the pandemic has finally passed”.

Alongside the letter, a new campaign has launched today under the banner #LetTheMusicPlay with fans being encouraged to join artists in posting films and photos of the last gig they attended prior to the COVID-19 shutdown in a “mass show of support” for the country’s live music industry.