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.