UK Music's Tom Kiehl on Let The Music Play: 'We face losing iconic festivals and venues forever'

UK Music's Tom Kiehl on Let The Music Play: 'We face losing iconic festivals and venues forever'

Last week saw hundreds of artists, venues, concerts, festivals, production companies and music fans post films and photos of their last live gig under the banner #LetTheMusicPlay. The move followed a letter to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Oliver Dowden, signed by a catalogue of superstar artists, issuing an urgent plea for government support for the UK live music industry.

Here, UK Music's acting CEO Tom Kiehl (pictured) outlines the desperate situation facing the domestic business - and the three-point plan that could save it... (Updated: Since this opinion piece was published, the government has partly addressed the concerns of UK Music with a funding package for the live sector.)

Noel and Liam are reuniting! Sadly I’m not confirming a rumoured Oasis comeback, but instead the Gallagher brothers have at least come back together, along with 1,500 artists, to show their support for live music as part of the Let the Music Play campaign. The campaign calls for more support from the Government in light of the devastating impact of Coronavirus on the sector.

While large parts of the economy prepared to get back to work at the weekend, the outlook for the vast majority working in the music industry is unremittingly bleak.

From Glastonbury to The O2, from The Proms to the Cavern Club, our £1.1 billion live music industry was an economic and cultural powerhouse. However, at least £900 million of the £1.1bn that the core live music sector contributes to the economy is set to be wiped out this year. 

There is even more at risk - taking into account associated spend at gigs, the financial impact of live music events as a whole is reported to have added £4.5bn to the UK economy in 2019 and supported 210,000 jobs.  

The Covid-19 pandemic has silenced live music with thousands of businesses locked in an existential battle for survival. 

Many musicians, venues, creators, promoters, festivals, managers, agents and crew are on the brink of losing their fight to make ends meet.  

Without urgent help, there is no doubt that some of the music industry will be lost forever

Tom Kiehl

UK Music

Since lockdown in March, most have seen their income abruptly dwindle to nothing or almost nothing - a situation made worse because many fall between the gaps of the government financial support on offer. 

Without urgent help, there is no doubt that some of the music industry will be lost forever. We face losing iconic venues and festivals forever. Ongoing costs and zero income mean some will go to the wall within days.

Since lockdown engagement with industry from government ministers and officials has been excellent but now is the time for this to be turned into decisive action to provide the targeted support the sector so desperately needs. 

The Let The Music Play campaign is based on three simple asks.

Firstly, there needs to be a clear conditional timeline for reopening venues without social distancing. Just as other businesses can now plan to reopen, both indoor and outdoor live music events need to be given a date. 

Secondly, there needs to be a full VAT exemption on ticket sales. Such an exemption would reduce the losses to the UK music industry by around £300 million a year. 

Finally, the government should introduce an immediate comprehensive business and employment support package and access to finance.

A support package should include a government-backed insurance scheme to allow shows to go ahead. An extension of the furlough scheme and help for the self-employed and sole traders to prevent mass redundancies; rent breaks for venues to allow them to reopen; an extension of business rate relief to the entire live music supply chain to protect our ecosystem, large single event premises licence fees for festivals to be rolled over to 2021 and financial support for lost box office income to support reopening and recovery, which would also support performers, songwriters, composers and their representatives.

Whilst the focus of the campaign is rightly on the live music sector, it should not be forgotten that no part of the music industry has been unaffected by the pandemic. 

Production and studio sessions were abruptly halted in March. Physical record stores and music shops were closed for months and have only recently started to reopen. 

Rehearsal spaces have also had to remain shut, severely damaging our talent pipeline. There is a need for solutions in all these areas, such as a VAT holiday for physical retailers to incentivise reopening and fiscal incentives to stimulate recovery, so that the industry as a whole can get back on its feet.

But for live music the outlook is exceptionally bleak. Millions of people across the UK and the rest of the world want our live music industry back as quickly as possible. To paraphrase one half of the Gallagher brothers, we don’t want them to look back in anger. It’s time to look to the future and “Let The Music Play”. 

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