Every tour cancelled! Recording studios closed! Album releases delayed! Record Store Day postponed! Summer festivals in jeopardy! Careers in the balance! Bands on the rocks! Who on Earth could have seen this coming? And we thought Brexit was going to turn our world upside down. (Footnote: it is.) Without any precedent, it's impossible to gauge the long-term effects of Coronavirus on the music biz, but one thing's for sure: we'll never take our industry for granted again.
UNLEASHING THE STREAM
So here we are, a week into lockdown, and it's all about the livestream performance. Everybody's at it, from the biggest to the smallest, best to the worst crooner. Livestream-enabling websites are springing up faster than you can shout "It's not a holiday!" In-house sessions, in-studio sessions, split screen harmony videos, cyber fests, all kinds of virtual variations on a theme (alongside a flood of music lessons, singing tips, tutorials and more). And with the welcome arrival of spring, I'm sure the garden gig, backyard bash and rooftop recital will prove popular. In the absence of any other current means of performing, online shows are the working musician's lifeline. Not necessarily in terms of income (donate generously to artists and their causes!) but most certainly in terms of visibility. With almost everyone at home, on their computers, overdosing on Netflix, starved of live musical entertainment, there's never been a better time for musos to insert themselves into the living quarters of the planet's population and peddle their wares. It's impossible to imagine how we would have coped with this virus before the advent of social media. Maybe this is all part of God's plan. (Footnote: it isn't.)
CASH FOR CORONA CREATIVES
Of course, the financial repercussions are no joke. Musicians, sound engineers, tour managers, drivers, techs, crew, bookers, promoters, labels, (record manufacturers!) et al, not to mention grassroots venue owners and staff, are taking a huge and prolonged hit that shows no sign of abating. A lot of music industry workers are well acquainted with poverty and fluctuating incomes, so this dire situation will push a lot of us over the edge. But help is out there. If you're broke, desperate and need a quick fix, there are a handful of worthy avenues to explore. Help Musicians are offering grants of £500 to eligible applicants. You simply need to answer a few questions pertaining to your predicament. If you're successful, the one-off payment should be in your account within a few days of applying. If you're a member of PRS For Music and have earned more than £500 in royalties over the past three years, you may qualify for a hardship payment of up to £1000 through their Emergency Relief Fund. Again, you have to satisfy certain criteria in the application process. Finally, the Musicians' Union have established a £1M Coronavirus Hardship Fund for members who have been with them at least 12 months. The initial payments are restricted to a maximum of £200 while they monitor the level of applications. I'm sure (hopeful) that other hardship funds will spring up over the next few weeks as demand increases. We'll aim to update this article as and when.
The State, as expected, is slower to respond. Self-employed musicians will have to wait until June for any help from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), with the Government announcing single payments that amount to 80% of earnings over three months. This will be based on your average earnings over the last three years. If the crisis extends beyond three months (footnote: it will), further payments will hopefully be approved. Other new DWP initiatives for the self-employed include: the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme; the Job Retention Scheme; grants for businesses that pay little or no business rates; a deferral of self-assessment income tax payments; and, the one that will help us all in real terms, an increase in Universal Credit. Apply now, if you haven't already.
LOOK OUT FOR ONE ANOTHER
One aspect of all this that can't be solved with wads of cash is musicians' mental health. All of the above websites have services that help with the needs of vulnerable artists but, if ever there was a time for us to reach out to each other, it's now. It may be a cliché (and a myth) that creatives are more prone to mental illness but the vast majority of us tick all the right boxes. And this bizarre, frightening and dystopian situation we find ourselves in will make things far worse. So keep an eye on your muso friends. If they were prolific Facebookers or Instagram addicts and have suddenly gone off-grid or have started posting troubling status updates, give them a call, a nudge or send a message, and privately consult with their family where possible. It goes without saying that this applies to all of our friends. Needless to say, the proliferation of autonomous mutual aid groups can only be a good thing for our short- and long-term survival. Whatever it takes to make us a more compassionate and less insular society. Of course, whether these egalitarian values will persevere, post-pandemic, remains to be seen. (Footnote: they must!)
A PERSONAL FOOTNOTE
I feel duty bound to end this piece by saying something like: stay safe, stay inside (until you're outside), stay apart, stay connected, don't panic (buy), help those in greater need, move your limbs, mask up, hunker down and read like there's no tomorrow. But, instead, I'll finish with this, my Top Ten activities since lockdown began:
01: Binge-watched all of Narcos, Tiger King and new season of Ozark #amazing
02: Took a bike ride to Saltram (Plymouth) and got a puncture on the way home #annoying
03: Watched Naomi Klein discussing How To Beat Coronavirus Capitalism #informing
04: Started learning how to play clawhammer banjo #infuriating
05: Registered as an NHS Volunteer Responder #aspiring
06: Watched an Austin Lucas studio livestream performance #inspiring
07: Sunbathed on my quiet, seagull-less roof terrace #perspiring
08: Listened to a lone neighbour politely applaud the NHS #endearing
09: Filmed myself performing a Franz Nicolay cover and sent to a friend in need #endowing
10: Applied for two musician hardship fund grants #enduring
And one more for good luck...
11: Spent an inordinate amount of time worrying about the growing mole on my temple #expiring