#SaveLondonMusic – Response to the statement by Rishi Sunak

Yesterday the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak was asked by ITV News about the struggles faced by musicians in the current Covid climate. His response was that they should consider retraining.

The chancellor has since stated that this was advice for people in all sectors facing problems, but having reviewed the clip, we think it is clear what his message was. We can only conclude that the Chancellor really doesn’t understand the UK Music Industry and the benefits that this generates for the wider economy.

Faced with a backlash, he issued a ‘clarification’ and the story on the ITV website was updated.

We urge the Chancellor to have a long, hard think about the music industry. The industry generates £4billion per annum for the economy (in normal times). It is one of the few areas where the UK still leads the world. The indirect benefit to the economy is many times larger. Tourism is driven by interest in our music venues, theatres, films and festivals. All of these rely on the UK music industry and UK musicians., not to forget the technicians and back office staff also involved.

Musicians are amongst the most highly trained area of the work force. Many children start taking music grades at the age of six or seven. To get to a Grade 8 qualification will take a period of years and a significant cost in tuition. The time put in practicing is unprecedented in any area of work. The cost of professional quality instruments is another part of this investment. Many musicians already have second jobs to help meet the bills. Any rational policy for post covid rebuilding of the economy should have music and the creative industries at the heart of the plan. There is no evidence of this whatsoever.

The Save London Music Campaign was originally founded by a group of recording/rehearsal studios, grassroots venues, small festival organisers and working musicians. All of these have been massively impacted by the current situation. Around 30% of the studios who signed up to support the campaign have closed. The people who have run these studios for years and sometimes decades have simply no faith in the governments strategy. The musicians who have had no live work for over six months are now reaching tipping point. We know of musicians working for funeral directors, supermarkets and delivery firms to make ends meet. Whilst the campaign fully accepts that we all have to make sacrifices, if  musicians are made destitute by these circumstances, they will be extremely cautious about resuming their careers when the situation improves.

Without a live music scene, our cities will lose much of their attraction for the night time economy. This won’t only hurt musicians and those technicians and other people who support the shows. It will mean less people in restaurants, less people using public transport, less people in pubs for pre show drinks. Of course the Save London Music Campaign is primarily focussing on London’s music scene, but every major UK city will face the same issues and we stand with them.

The Music Venues Trust has been doing a great job campaigning nationally on the subject of support for venues, but we need positive action NOW from the government to support the musicians that give the venues their reason for existence. It is our opinion that the Chancellor should view support for the professional and semi pro music sector as a national investment. Our suggestions for supporting musicians include.

1. A pay to practice grant.

The government should reimburse musicians all costs for rehearsals, and pay them 1.5 times the national minimum wage for any time spent in rehearsals. This would help studios and venues, as closed venues could rent out closed space for rehearsals. This would incentivise musicians to practice and maintain their skill levels.

2. A new music grant.

The government should be encouraging artists to be creative. There is a fantastic BBC Introducing site that allows artists to submit music. We would like the government to support this with payments for submissions. We would like to see musicians register and be able to submit up to four pieces a month and receive a minimum £200 payment per piece. This should be funded by the government and not via the BBC license. This would be a huge incentive for musicians to be creative. We would like to see all of this music being made available to the public. Musicians would also get a click through bonus. This could be supported by advertising revenue along the lines of Youtube etc.

3. Paid training schemes for music back up staff.

Back in the 1980’s, the UK government set up the Training Opportunities Program, that provided training for people having difficulty getting jobs. Sound technicians, lighting technicians, etc should be offered training to brush up their skills. This would mean that when the situation abates, they would have better skills and the grant would support them through the difficult times. Musical Equipment manufacturers should be encouraged to set up training schemes to be supported by the Government.

4. Pay promoters for empty seats in socially distanced gigs.

The economics of putting on shows doesn’t work with social distancing in most venues. The government should provide an empty seat payments to make up for these seats. The condition should be that the venue has a full complement of staff. It would be far cheaper and better for the government to pay people to work at venues running at a sixth capacity than it would to pay them to be on the benefits and see the venues lost.

UK Musicians are a resilient lot, but we need help at this time. This should be considered an investment in the future of the UK, not a handout.