Supplementary written evidence submitted by the Musicians’ Union
Musicians’ Union (MU) second response to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee’s Inquiry into the impact of COVID-19 on DCMS sectors
- The MU represents over 32,000 professional musicians working across all sectors of the UK music industry. In addition to the previous submission that made on the impact of COVID-19 on musicians, we now wish to make this further submission to focus on ideas for the recovery of the sector.
What will the likely long-term impacts of Covid-19 be on the sector, and what support is needed to deal with those?
- The live music scene has been temporarily wiped out by social distancing and, even with the Government’s plans for the relaxation of lockdown, it is difficult to see how many musicians will be able to return to work this calendar year.
- As set out in our previous submission to this committee, most musicians have seen their work and income dry up overnight, and only 45% of musicians who responded to our survey were eligible for the Government’s assistance schemes.
- We would urge the Government to continue to provide SEISS support alongside support for employed workers and to plug the gaps that mean that so many musicians currently do not qualify for support.
- The MU can envisage a time later this year where most workers may be back at work but where musicians working in theatres, live music venues, opera and ballet companies and festivals are still unable to return. At that time, it will be vital for the Government to help musicians to survive until they are able to return to work.
- We also have some suggestions for how DCMS could support the sector to ‘come back to work’ as much as possible over the coming months. Not only would a phased return of live music be a lifeline for musicians, it could also provide a much-needed morale boost for the rest of the UK population.
Supporting Pop Up Gigs, Busking and Reduced Capacity Live Events
- With the new Government advice allowing people to spend more time outdoors, we will be encouraging our members to busk in areas that are not likely to cause social distancing problems. Some local authorities are already much better than others when it comes to busking licences, and any support that DCMS could give to ensure that as many musicians as possible are able to make money by busking would be very welcome. Contactless payment options are already in regular use amongst buskers in London.
- Similarly, as long as social distancing was observed, we would like to be able to encourage musicians to put on ‘pop up gigs’ in places like car parks, beaches or public parks. Government issued guidance for local authorities in order to enable or encourage this to happen would be very helpful.
- There are already plans being developed for ‘Drive in Cinemas’ where the audience stay in their cars and small digital speakers are provided. Whilst this will not replace the many cancelled festivals this year, a gig, concert or musical staged in a similar way would at least allow a paying audience.
- When high profile sports events recommence, albeit while observing social distancing, it should also be possible for live music to be held in the same stadiums under the same rules. Where no audience or a very reduced audience can attend, gigs and concerts could be broadcast and broadcasting fees would provide a small supplementary income for the event, including for the musicians involved.
- We and the Music Venues Trust have also looked into some promising ‘stage buses’ which could be used to put on small scale outdoor local gigs with social distancing in place. There are very few of these available in the UK, however.
- Cabaret-style gigs with tables 2 metres apart may be an option for some venues and increased ticket prices could be possible where performers are high profile and there are added benefits such as table service. However, these are unlikely to be an option for the many at-risk grassroots music venues which have small capacities and are unlikely to attract very high-profile performers. Grassroots music venues are likely to need subsidy in order to either stay closed or partially reopen.
- We understand that cinemas are exploring dynamic ticketing systems which could allocate tickets according to social distancing guidance. Members of the same households could sit together but be sufficiently separated from others. If cinemas use these systems successfully, they will no doubt be adopted by organisers of seated live music events. Again, this is unlikely to be an option for grassroots music venues.
Fixing the unfairness of Streaming
- Covid-19 has hit songwriters, musicians and composers hard. Gigs and commissions have been cancelled, festivals and performances postponed, and recording studios closed. Since early March, over 20,000 applications have been received to music industry Hardship Funds. This crisis has brought into sharp relief the fact that creators and performers are sustained primarily by income generated by the live side of the music business and that streaming royalties are woefully insufficient.
- MU members have reported over £21m of lost income since the Covid-19 lockdown came into force and members of The Ivors Academy anticipate a loss of £25,000 per person over a six-month period. It would take 62 million Spotify streams to break even on a £25,000 loss, a figure that is unattainable for most music creators. One in five respondents to an MU survey said they were considering leaving music altogether.
- The Keep Music Alive campaign aims to ‘fix streaming’ and calls for industry stakeholders to come together to agree an equitable, sustainable and transparent model for royalty distribution in the streaming era. As a first step, we are urging Government to urgently undertake a review of streaming to ensure that the music ecosystem is transparent and fair.
- We believe that paying streaming royalties on a sales basis, the current standard practice, makes no sense and is unfair to the artists because it is no longer necessary for a record company to pay to manufacture, store and distribute physical product. In the pre-digital era, artists understood that these costs went some way to justifying the low royalty rate. There are none of these costs associated with streaming.
- We believe that as well as the royalty received from the record company, which is almost always very low or non-existent; there should be an additional payment akin to the money the performer receives when their recording is played on the radio. These payments should be collected and distributed via collective rights management, e.g. PPL. The session musicians on the recording should be included in this, as they are for broadcast, as at present they receive no income from streaming apart from their upfront session fee. The reason artists rarely receive a royalty is often because they haven’t recouped the advance from the record company even though the record company, in many cases, has made substantial profits from the exploitation of the artists recordings.
- Most musicians earn a very low royalty on streaming due to their contract with their record label. If streaming was dealt with as radio is, the majority of musicians would earn more from it. Without changes to the rights management regime and/or adjustment to existing contracts, the majority of performers will never earn more than a pittance from streaming.
- Streaming services are, essentially, a sophisticated version of radio. Consumers using Spotify to download a track do not feel they are purchasing the music they listen to in the way they do when using iTunes. The most popular services on Spotify are the curated playlists where the listener chooses, for example, ‘modern country’ or ‘heavy metal’ and a selection of music is then streamed to their device. The listener only knows the type of music (not the specific tracks) he or she will be listening to. The experience is no different to listening to a specialist internet radio station inasmuch as you aren’t ‘pulling’ the tracks, rather, they are being ‘pushed’ at you. We believe that the mixed services that the streaming platforms offer include a substantial element of Communication to the Public and therefore musicians should receive Equitable Remuneration through a collecting society such as PPL, as they do when their performances are played on the radio or in commercial premises.
- Streaming is a phenomenal success and labels are reporting record profits from it. It offers music lovers the opportunity to access an enormous catalogue of music either free (supported by advertising) or at a very low price. Moreover, there’s growing evidence that these platforms are leading people away from illegal sites and helping to reduce music piracy. This is all very good news for the music industry. But, at the moment, it’s not sufficiently benefiting musicians and songwriters themselves at what is an incredibly difficult time for them.
Paid broadcasting opportunities
- It is great to see that Wigmore Hall and the BBC have come together to broadcast some live concerts on weekdays in June, and the musicians who have been offered these paid opportunities have been extremely grateful.
- Any possible encouragement that can be provided to others to do a similar thing would be extremely welcome, as this was only possible thanks to an anonymous donor.
- Social distancing guidance will be difficult to achieve in any theatre pit setting and in most venues where a full orchestra is involved.
- While it may be possible for venues to reopen for gigs or concerts with no audience in attendance but where there is an opportunity for a broadcast, they cannot afford to do this if it means they will lose access to government support. It is crucial that subsidy is in place for reopening and that it is gradually phased out in consultation with the industry to ensure the survival of businesses. Many orchestras are reliant on venues they perform at regularly but do not own. There may come a time when they are able to safely perform for broadcast or streamed concerts but will be at the mercy of the venue’s decision as to whether it is financially viable and practical for them to open without an audience. Particularly with the heightened cleaning regime that would be required for this. That is of course if the venue even survives the period of closure. A major concern of orchestra managements at present is whether there will be a performance infrastructure on the other side of this.
- The MU urges the Government to consider some assistance funds for musicians and the creative industries along the lines of what has been set up in other European countries and indeed in other nations in the UK. Some examples of these are:
- In Denmark the Government has launched a £10.95M package of direct aid for those who would otherwise be organising gatherings (festivals etc) of over 1,000 people.
- In Germany, the total package for the arts is worth £46.3B and the German government is also promising financial help to micro businesses of up to 5 employees of a grant of £8,330 rising to £13,890 for those with up to 10 employees.
- In France, a support fund for music professionals has been established with the National Music Centre administering individual grants from a total budget of £9.14M.
- As well as Denmark, the other Nordic countries have also announced that they will be setting up specific grant funds for the culture sector. £22.59M in Norway, £37.4M in Sweden and a more modest £1.34M in Finland. Norway has also announced that there will be a VAT and employer’s contributions holiday in April and May.