Why the live industry needs more than just money from the government

Why the live industry needs more than just money from the government

How was your weekend? Perhaps you enjoyed your first pub pint for over three months and finally had a proper haircut. But, whatever you got up to, you still wouldn’t have had the chance to see any live music.

It seemed incomprehensible that, while most businesses in England were inching back towards normality after the coronavirus crisis, there was still no plan in place for live entertainment to resume, especially when so many of the scenes from England's first big night out in three months looked about as socially distanced as the average moshpit. And, after pressure from campaigners mounted, last night the government announced a £1.57 billion package of support for cultural organisations and venues in the form of grants and loans.

That's already been greeted with a sigh of relief by many in the music biz. And the money will no doubt help many venues survive in the short term.

But, with details thin on the ground as I write this, there are still many questions to be answered. Will the money be easy to apply for, by the widest possible range of applicants? Are festivals included? Will the government make sure popular music is considered equally alongside other sectors, many of which are more experienced at securing grants? And most importantly, will it be backed by a plan for the return of live entertainment before the grant and loan money runs out?

The #LetTheMusicPlay campaign that launched last week saw a legion of big names pile pressure on the government to provide financial support to the devastated festival and concert sector, as it has for countless other ailing industries.

The trouble is, while UK governments like the cachet and revenues that our world-beating music scene brings (not to mention the guestlist places), they’re usually less keen on backing it with hard cash. Equally, the proudly independent music biz is usually reluctant to ask for government help, which tells you just how bad things are in the live sector right now.

Putting on gigs remains a high-risk, low-margin business at the best of times - and these are assuredly not the best of times

Music Week

Because ultimately, this isn’t about the Ed Sheerans or Liam Gallaghers. Outside of the biggest names, there were few guaranteed paydays for promoters, agents, venues and the rest of the live music ecosystem, even before lockdown. Putting on gigs remains a high-risk, low-margin business at the best of times – and these are assuredly not the best of times. And while the big names and big venues might be confident of a live return at some point, the entire system could collapse if the smaller venues and festivals that feed them with talent are wiped out by the crisis.

The huge TV audience for the BBC’s virtual Glastonbury, and even the illegal raves popping up all over the UK, show that the public’s demand for communal music experiences remains undimmed by Covid-19. And the invention shown through livestreams and drive-in gigs indicates the biz will adapt and deliver, given half a chance. But they need that chance. For anyone who loves music, the absence of live gigs over the last few months has been hard to bear. For those who rely on concerts for a living, those months have been financially disastrous.

That’s why the government needs to not just put its money where its mouth is and, as well as the funding it's just announced, consider ways to back the sector with both a long-term support package to also cover the post-coronavirus outlook, and a clear roadmap back to a fully-functioning business.

Because, unlike your hair after a dodgy DIY crop, the live sector won’t just grow back of its own accord when all this is over.

* To read our cover story on how the live sector is planning for the lack of a festival season this summer, click here. To make sure you can access Music Week wherever you are, sign up to our digital issue by clicking here.

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