The coronavirus crisis is hitting the entire music business, but few have been hit as hard as the industry’s army of self-employed workers.
This week’s edition of Music Week, available now, features a special report into the plight of the industry’s small businesses and freelancers.
After intense lobbying from music trade bodies and an appeal from Music Week, Chancellor Rishi Sunak did announce an unprecedented package of measures to help the self-employed. Those measures were broadly welcomed by the industry, although there are concerns that workers will not receive the help quickly enough.
But what’s it like for those on the frontline? PR veteran, crisis management specialist and Velocity Communications founder Andy Saunders is a familiar face to most in the biz, and legendary enough to have taken on our Aftershow feature.
But even his business has been hit hard by the pandemic, with many of his contracts disappearing overnight as firms grapple with the impact of cancelled tours and shelved releases.
We spoke to him about the crisis – and what needs to be done to help…
What do you think of the government measures to help the self-employed?
“The package will definitely help a lot of freelancers, so that is to be applauded. But the obvious omission is any help for the many self-employed people, like myself, who run limited companies and pay themselves primarily through dividends. There is absolutely no assistance for us so far which, when you consider the majority of the working population are now having their livelihoods protected, is perplexing. The music industry is a very entrepreneurial sector and there are lots of people and businesses affected by this, so we urgently need our trade associations to step up and apply pressure on government to rectify this situation as soon as possible.”
How badly has the the crisis impacted on your business?
“Quite badly. If you’re a consultant like I am, it’s difficult sometimes to justify your role to a company whose main concern is to stay afloat as a business and do the right thing by their salaried, full-time staff. Unfortunately, the consultants and third parties that work with those companies come down the list of priorities. I totally and 100% understand that. The priorities are what they are but, unfortunately, it does mean that quite a few of my clients have had to pause our relationship. I’m reliant on retainer income and it impacts me massively. What gives me comfort and solace is that I’m not alone. There’s a huge amount of people in this position throughout the music industry so I don’t take it personally, I’ve just got to get on with it. I know it’s going to come back, so it’s hard and stressful on a family and human level, but you’ve just got to get on with it.”
Why has it hit so hard?
“Even though my business is not directly associated with the live music industry, many of my clients are reliant on live music income. I work with a lot of management companies and other companies where the majority of their income comes from the summer festival and touring circuit. If you’re a major management company, up to 80% of your income can come from that period, so those clients are quite rightly saying, ‘We can not justify having you here at the moment’. It’s very difficult and I feel very sorry for all of the ancillary workers, the people in catering or trucking or security, stage management, lighting, production... All those people must be suffering hugely.”
There have been reports of some companies pulling retainers unnecessarily, even for on-going projects. Should the industry be doing more to help freelancers?
“Morally, they absolutely should. I have clients who are sticking by me and I’m very grateful to those clients that can see the bigger picture and realise that I’m very much part of their team and what they do, and they have committed to looking after me through that period. And that’s across the industry, consultants do have clients that have stuck by them, it’s not the case that everybody has terminated their agreements. But it’s absolutely imperative that, if you are in a position as a company to help those third parties that are an important part of what you do, you absolutely should. And if you don’t and you behave in a manner that’s not fitting during this crisis, that will define you moving forward and people won’t forget that. Like Music Week said on your front cover, we are all in this together. The music industry isn’t going away, people will still want to listen to music and attend live events. When this is over, we will move forward together – but we won’t be able to move forward together if we have destroyed a whole strata of our industry by not supporting them through this very difficult period.”
Are you confident your company can weather the storm?
“Well, I’m Andy Saunders – and there’s only one Andy Saunders! [Laughs] But I am concerned. I don’t necessarily think that this particular crisis is going to go on forever. What I’m concerned about is the lag that’s going to occur, how quickly people can get back up and running to the same level they were before. So whilst we might get the all-clear after three or four months, it may be a longer period after that before everybody feels confident enough to re-engage consultants and third parties and get their business up to a level where they can afford to do this. I’m OK personally, I have a bit of a cushion, there are people in much worse positions than me. But if you’re asking about the business that I’ve built up over the last 20 years, it’s saddening to see it falling to pieces before my very eyes. But that’s the case for so many other people and we’ve just got to stick together. It’s so depressing to see some people lose everything.”
* To read our full investigation into self-employed workers during the coronavirus crisis, see the current edition of Music Week, available now, or click here. To make sure you can access Music Week wherever you are, subscribe to our digital issue by clicking here.