Business News Industry People Labels & Publishers Live Business Management & Funding Marketing & PR Top Stories

Support for freelancers still key concern for music industry as COVID-19 crisis escalates

By | Published on Thursday 19 March 2020

Houses Of Parliament

The music industry across the globe continues to deal with the ongoing COVID-19 crisis as an ever increasing number of festivals cancel and venues close, with measures to restrict and delay the disease still being ramped up in multiple countries. In the UK, a key message from the music community to government remains that economic support is urgently needed for the large number of freelancers working within the industry.

The UK government announced a £350 billion package of support for British businesses affected by the crisis on Tuesday, as well as a 100% cut to business rates for the next year across the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors. Some of the measures in that package will help support some music companies. Though the devil is in the detail of course, and the industry is still scrutinising the government’s big announcement, as well as concurrent announcements in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland where matters are devolved to the national executives.

However, what is clear is that big concerns remain for the large number of freelancers in the artist and wider music community. As the UK’s Music Managers Forum said after the government announced its economic measures on Tuesday night, “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”.

The Musicians’ Union echoed those concerns yesterday in its latest call for more support for the many self-employed people in the music community. “Freelancers do not qualify for many of the rights other working people take for granted, including sick pay”, it explained in yesterday’s statement. “And even though the government has said it will make it easier for self-employed people to access benefits, it is not enough to cover the loss of income people face”.

“The system also does not reflect how self-employed people work or pay insurance – we’ve heard from musicians who are disqualified from help because they set aside money to pay their taxes”, the MU’s statement added. “Musicians who work freelance are worried about how they will pay the bills. That’s not something anyone should have to worry about in 2020”.

UK Music boss Tom Kiehl also again raised the freelancer issue when asked to comment on yesterday’s news that this year’s Glastonbury Festival had been cancelled.

He told the Press Association: “Glastonbury is the flagship festival for our £5.2 billion UK music industry. Its cancellation is a bitter blow and underlines the devastating impact the virus is having on the music industry. It’s vital that the government provides support for the many self-employed musicians and all those workers who would otherwise have been involved in this wonderful event”.

Obviously securing support for freelance workers goes well beyond the music industry, although the various creative sectors are notable for including a particularly high portion of self-employed people. A fact strongly noted by the Creative Industries Federation in its response to Tuesday’s economic measures package.

While welcoming those measures, it said: “A third of the UK’s creative workforce is self-employed and they will be hit hard. The measures announced on mortgage payments and alleviating hardship are welcome but fall short of guaranteeing these workers’ income – a government measure that is now desperately needed”.

“A Creative Industries Federation survey today received over 2000 responses in a matter of hours from creative industries and creators being affected by COVID-19. 54% of the respondents expect income to decrease by over 50% due to the fallout from the pandemic, with many already experiencing immediate losses”, they went on,

“Our creative industries are one of the UK’s leading success stories. They are vital, not only for our economy, but for our way of life, bringing communities together and joy to millions around the globe. It is vital that our creative businesses are able to survive”.

The government has said that the measures announced on Tuesday were just “the first steps”. It remains to be seen if the next step involves specific support for the self-employed.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, music industry reps are also calling on lawmakers there to recognise some of the specific challenges faced by artists and other creators as the COVID-19 crisis forces the live entertainment sector into shutdown.

In a letter to Congress on Tuesday, the Artists Rights Alliance wrote: “As Congress continues to assess the impact of the ‘social distancing’ effort needed to mitigate the spread of this disease and to consider additional measures to offset disruptions, we write to draw your attention to the unique plight of musicians, vocalists, and other creative performers who have been particularly hard hit by the lockdown”.

The Alliance’s letter went on: “Live performers were among the very first to suffer economically as a result of shutting down large gatherings, starting with the bellwether cancellation of the South By Southwest music festival and continuing this week with thousands of Saint Patrick’s Day performances cancelled from coast to coast”.

“Unlike many jobs, musicians and performers can’t work from home or ‘replace a meeting with an email’. Our performances are often planned far in advance, with significant financial outlays most of us will never recover; and many traditional forms of relief like paid leave or a payroll tax holiday will not reach us or account for how we are paid”.

While noting that Congress faces “a profoundly challenging job” as the COVID-19 crisis escalates – and that in the US the impact is being felt differently in different states – the ARA urged lawmakers to consider the specific unique challenges faced by artists.

“For different organisations, businesses, and individuals, different forms of relief will work best and we support the ongoing collaborative effort to find effective measures that will work most quickly”, they said. “In the case of working-class musicians and performers, we believe the best solution is direct financial relief that can immediately replace lost income”.

As in the UK, it remains to be seen how political chiefs in America – at both a federal and state level – respond to the calls of the music and wider creative community.

READ MORE ABOUT: | | | | |