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Live Audio Concert

Independent venues: the backbone of the live music industry  ·  Source: Pixabay

COVID-19 killed off live music virtually overnight as it swept across the world earlier this year. It has left many yearning for a return back to the way things were, before the spread of the virus. But shouldn’t we be aiming for a live industry that’s better than the way things were? Now might be the perfect time for introspection, and to rebuild the industry on a better and fairer model.

Live Music: Worse than you Remember?

If, like us, your life is heavily interwoven in the fabric of live music, you’re probably feeling a hole in your soul right now. If you’re a professional making your living through live music, you’re probably feeling a huge hole in your finances too. Scanning across social media, the general theme is clear that everyone is eager to get back to live work as soon as it is safe.

But, let’s pause for a moment and consider the situation. Aren’t we all viewing the live scene through rose-tinted spectacles? Could it be that we have somehow forgotten all that’s broken and unfair about the music industry? Maybe we should use this moment to reflect and focus on rebuilding the industry as a better, fairer place. There are huge issues that affect everyone at every step on the ladder; perhaps now is the time to force change.

A Broken Model

Ask yourself this question: what other jobs would force a worker to graft 12 hour days, purchase their own tools and work in poor conditions with no promise of pay? Imagine driving to an office job, for three hours, and being given an uncomfortable office space. Imagine then, that after 8 hours at work, doing your best, you’re told they didn’t like your work and no one else does either. Oh, and by the way, you’re not getting paid because the company isn’t doing well today…

If that was any regular job, you’d go home, possibly file a dispute, and never ever go back. And yet, as musicians and technicians, we’ve all suffered that situation on the road. The difference is, out of the love and passion we share for music, we’ve gone back time and again, like idiots.

It’s an upside-down model which treats those most essential to live music with the most contempt. Musicians get paid last, after technicians; an absurd situation as without either there would be no live music in the first place!

Time for Change?

There was a time when live music was used purely as a promotional tool for recorded music. Large budgets were thrown at tours, as they’d assist in the promotion of albums and artists’ careers. With the onset of the digital era, artists’ earnings from recorded music collapsed. This led to live shows often being the only source of income available to musicians.

The recently launched Keep Music Alive campaign by The Musician’s Union and The Ivors Academy seeks to fix the current unsustainable streaming model, which has subsequently forced musicians into earning a living solely from live shows. This broken model, across the whole industry, consequently forces musicians into a “take it or leave it” position regarding live shows.

Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed musicians to seek alternative income streams. Some have been forced to accept charitable aid, others have been fortunate to turn towards live streaming. Undoubtedly, things need to change across the board, but for that to happen we must take our own share of responsibility…

It’s Time to Up Our Game

How many times have you been to a show with a terrible live mix? How many times have you been waiting around at soundcheck because a band is running late? I’m sure we can all list half a dozen venues we’d never want to play again as long as we live! If we all expect to be treated and, importantly, paid like professionals, we all must behave and act as professionals.

We think it’s time the live music industry was rebuilt as a better place to work in. Let’s not be too eager to jump back to work and accept poor deals and poor working conditions.  That was the past, and it’s time to focus on the future of live music and rebuild it in a better and fairer model for all.

7 responses to “Live after COVID-19: Do we really want Live Music back the way it was?”

  1. Gee says:

    Great writeup, had to lean on government aid myself with no idea of when I’d be able to return to work as a full-time musician. And for someone who isn’t keen to meddle with streaming and video production, it’s definitely not looking too good.

  2. Your right, live was always a loss to sell albums.
    live wages haven’t moved from the 60’s!
    Don’t ever see venue owners paying more though.

  3. O.Z. says:

    I work in the studio so I am confused about the office analogy. Which workers experience this?

  4. I fear it will get worse before it gets better. With venues suffering catastrophic losses due to the collapse of the live entertainment industry, bands and audio/video/lighting technicians will be asked to work for even less to help venues “get back on their feet.” The resulting devaluation of what we do to make live shows happen could take years to build back to pre-COVID levels, which were, as Mr. Malkowski accurately describes, already unfairly low. The road back looks long, indeed.

  5. Rob says:

    Our dreams crushed.. Our life’s work, the struggles We endured to get to this point, look waisted.. Sad times indeed.. I ponder quitting, but the word perseverance runs through my mind.. Music now is simply for personal reasons, You get to show yourself that you achieved this, and be proud of yourself.. Sad that thousands of hours and sacrifices are not even worth a penny.. Screw you Capitalism, Ya done f’ed up.

    • Claudio says:

      Actually capitalism might be the ONLY thing that could help you if you’re a musician. Get a day job and use your free time to build other sources of income with your music.
      If we turn away from free markets and ask governments to force higher wages people are going to turn even further away from live music.
      You have many successful stories among musicians adapting to the new business model in music so start acting and less complaining.

  6. Anthony ‘bass’ says:

    Sad state of affairs to be sure right now; will miss almost a whole calendar year’s worth of gigs; last live performance was the last weekend of February! Optimistic things WILL get better, but when?? And some live music venues closing for good?? Yikes! I feel for them as well…..
    Just hoping for a better 2021 right now..

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