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Music industry assesses the UK government’s £350 billion package of support for businesses facing COVID-19 challenges

By | Published on Wednesday 18 March 2020

Houses Of Parliament

The UK music industry is today busy assessing the economic measures announced by the British government yesterday designed to support businesses facing unprecedented challenges as a result of COVID-19, and the increasingly severe efforts to restrict and delay the spread of the disease.

Chancellor Of The Exchequer Rishi Sunak announced a £350 billion package of support yesterday to help businesses stay afloat. Most of that will take the form of loans, though grants will also be available to some companies. The previous decision to cut business rates by 100% for smaller high street operations – including music venues – will also be extended to all businesses within the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors.

Announcing his package of support, Sunak stated: “This is not a time for ideology and orthodoxy, this is a time to be bold, a time for courage. I want to reassure every British citizen this government will give you all the tools you need to get through this. That means any business who needs access to cash to pay their rent, their salaries, suppliers or purchase stock will be able to access a government-backed loan or credit on attractive terms”.

He then added: “If demand is greater than the initial £330 billion [for loans] I’m making available today, I will go further and provide as much capacity as required. I said whatever it takes, and I meant it”. While on business rates he said: “Every single shop, pub, theatre, music venue, restaurant … will pay no business rates for twelve months”.

Some of the measures announced yesterday – including the extension of business rates relief – will help some music companies in the short term. However, many challenges remain as an increasing number of venues close and festivals cancel, both in the UK and across the world. The extent of those challenges – and the degree to which government loans and grants will help – greatly depends on how long the live entertainment sector remains in shutdown.

The Musicians’ Union welcomed the announcement on business rates, with its National Organiser For Live Performance, Dave Webster, stating: “Support for our globally respected network of live performance venues at this time is crucial. The issues triggered by the virus outbreak, and the resulting threat to our music culture base, demand that clubs, pubs, managers and promoters receive such key financial assistance”.

However, the MU noted Sunak’s assurance that last night’s economic measures were just “the first steps”, and that conversations with unions, trade bodies and businesses will continue. With that in mind, the music industry – like all sectors – will be assessing the key issues and main priorities before making further demands of government.

Support for the large number of freelancers in the artist and wider music community will be a big part of that conversation, of course, as the Music Managers Forum noted in its response to Sunak’s measures last night.

The artist manager group’s CEO Annabella Coldrick and Chair Paul Craig said in a joint statement: “On Monday evening, the Prime Minister recommended people should avoid mass gatherings and no longer visit venues or pubs and clubs. This evening, we heard details of countermeasures to alleviate the impact of this strategy, in the shape of a £330 billion guaranteed loan package for businesses – with a promise from the Chancellor that he will do ‘whatever it takes’ to save jobs and livelihoods, and will go further if required”.

“On initial glance this looks a welcome step for more traditional music businesses which will help maintain employment and capacity for the future”, they went on. “However, we maintain significant concerns that the benefits will not reach the music makers, their representatives and their teams, who are predominantly small-scale, self-employed or freelance”.

With that in mind, the MMF has launched a questionnaire for the artist and management community which, it says, “aims to quantify the profound and potentially long-lasting losses that will result from this crisis for those who make the music we all live from. It is vital we can gather this evidence as quickly as possible, and we urge all artists, musicians, music producers, songwriters, engineers, DJs, as well as their managers, to get involved”.

Anyone in the artist and management community can fill out the questionnaire here. The MU is also surveying its community to assess what the biggest issues are as the COVID-19 crisis expands – you can fill that out here. And the Creative Industries Federation has set up a survey for the wider creative sector, details on that are here.

Beyond seeking government support for those in the music community likely to lose their income as the live sector goes into temporary shutdown, a number of formal and informal initiatives have sprung up to try to provide short term cash for grassroots acts who are facing immediate financial hardship.

A key message is that fans can help too by spending money with their favourite grassroots artists via their direct-to-fan channels, where affected artists are assured to directly enjoy the financial rewards relatively quickly.

Recognising that fact, one of the big direct-to-fan services – Bandcamp – has announced that it will waive its commission on any sales that take place on Friday, in part seeking to create an impetus for fans to spend money with their favourite artists this week.

The company announced yesterday: “To raise even more awareness around the pandemic’s impact on musicians everywhere, we’re waiving our revenue share on sales this Friday, 20 Mar – from midnight to midnight Pacific Time – and rallying the Bandcamp community to put much needed money directly into artists’ pockets”. There’s more info here.

Some artists are also newly dabbling with the live streaming of their performances and testing how you might go about monetising such things. Live streaming has been a practical option for the music industry for years of course, but – while some artists and brands have embraced it – it has never really taken off in a major way, especially as a revenue generator.

That could be about to change. A number of artists have already taken to the various live streaming platforms out there in the wake of the COVID-19 shutdown, some also using those live streams to make money for them or their teams.

For example, Frank Turner last night used live streaming to raise money to help support his band and crew. Fans committed £41,346 via GoFundMe, even though Facebook cut off his live stream before the show was complete. As each live stream venture takes place, the wider community can learn what platforms and fundraising options are the best – ie GoFundMe is worth considering for raising money, Facebook for delivering the stream possibly not.

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