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Musicians’ Union boss calls for more financial support and a streaming rethink to help music-makers get through COVID-19

By | Published on Wednesday 10 June 2020

Musicians' Union

The UK Parliament’s Culture, Media And Sport Select Committee yesterday held a virtual meeting to gather evidence about the affect of the COVID-19 shutdown on the creative industries. Speaking for the music industry was General Secretary of the Musicians’ Union, Horace Trubridge.

Understandably, Trubridge’s evidence primarily focussed on the financial difficulties being faced by musicians. He began by presenting the results of the MU’s recent impact survey, explaining that musicians have been hit particularly hard by the shutdown because key income streams – live in particular – were immediately cut off. As a result, he noted, more than 20% of musicians are expecting to have to leave music for a new career as a result of the financial losses they are currently facing, particularly while there is no clear indication of when live music will become viable again.

Asked by Labour MP Kevin Brennan how government support schemes were helping musicians affected by the shutdown, Trubridge explained that as many as 40% did not quality for any sort of financial aid from the government. That’s a point that has been pushed by various music industry organisations as the COVID-19 crisis has continued, but has so far not been addressed.

Calling on government to address these gaps, he said: “Music is worth £5.2 billion to the UK economy and the Chancellor needs to bear that in mind. Our industry is the envy of the world, but we won’t retain it unless we invest in it during this difficult time. Our sector must have further financial support from the government if it is to survive in any shape or form”.

He added that music is not just a source of income for musicians, but has a wider impact on society too, saying: “Our wonderful orchestras do masses of outreach. They are in care homes, schools, prisons, they are in hospitals helping patients. All of that stuff has stopped. That’s a great loss to society, not just to the music world”.

One suggestion to deal with the current crisis was that the government launch a specific cultural fund, similar to that already implemented in Germany.

In a somewhat loaded question, Brennan also asked why musicians couldn’t just rely on income from their recordings while the live sector is out of action. The MU has joined with the Ivors Academy and others, of course, in arguing that the COVID-19 shutdown has exposed inequities in how monies generated by streaming are shared out between artists, songwriters, labels and publishers.

Expanding on that theme, Trubridge said: “At a time when record labels are making record profits it cannot be right that established musicians are left to rely on hardship funds. There needs to be a full review into the streaming model to see where the money is going, because it is not going to the musicians’ pockets”.

Assuming that any such investigation on streaming monies will not happen quickly, Trubridge also spoke about how live music could return safely as soon as possible. He called for an investigation into whether two metre social distancing was necessary in every situation, and whether it might be possible to reduce it to one metre – as suggested by the World Health Organisation – and still be safe.

It remains to be seen if yesterday’s discussions in Parliament have any tangible impact on the decisions made by ministers in government.

Meanwhile, as an aside, MPs involved in select committees are obliged to declare any connections they have to the witnesses that have been called to give evidence. In one of the more unusual of these declarations, Brennan was forced to confirm that Trubridge had played saxophone on a recording by Parliament’s own rock band MP4, which is fronted by the MP.