Weathering the storm: what does the future hold for the music industry in the wake of Covid-19? 

Words Hannah Edwards

Photography Rob Jones

12.08.2020

ARTS & CULTURE

When the UK went into lockdown on 23rd March, we waved goodbye to our beloved music venues, as across the country, events and festivals one by one announced their cancellations, leaving the music industry decimated. Since then, many clubs and concert halls have been forced to close their doors permanently, whilst others have resorted to crowdfunding initiatives in the fight for survival. The outlook is bleak, but many have been creative in searching for solutions and adapting their approach to stay afloat. 

Over lockdown, we saw live streams replace the physical music events we had previously taken for granted, and when it came to Saturday nights bound to our bedrooms, tuning into a livestream became our greatest form of escapism. James Blake was an Instagram Live regular, performing from his living room piano with girlfriend Jameela Jamil cheering in the background and bringing him fresh cups of tea. Sofar Sounds, known for hosting intimate live gigs in people’s living rooms, created the Sofar Listening Room to share sets from across the globe free of charge, with the opportunity to donate directly to the artists themselves or the Sofar Sounds Global Artist Fund. Boiler Room, who have been streaming live music sets for the past ten years, set up a new live series called Streaming from Isolation, delivering sets straight from artist’s homes. Even DICE, one of the most popular ticketing apps, has changed their weekly “New Shows Thursday” selections to “New Streams Thursday”. Welcome to the new normal. 

Resident Advisor – the industry-leading ticketing platform used by electronic music's most established clubs and promoters – was also involved in the live stream trend, putting on a forty-two-hour virtual rave called Club Quarantäne. This online electronic music marathon of pre-recorded sets provided opportunities to donate to various initiatives supporting the music industry, including their own Save Our Scene campaign. Save Our Scene/SOS is an open letter to the dance music community signed by over four thousand people, encouraging people to buy music and merchandise, make donations to clubs and nightlife workers, not ask for refunds to cancelled events and to do whatever they can to show support. They have also created a downloadable resource pack to allow fans to create their own Save Our Scene campaigns. Resident Advisor’s online blog is funded primarily by booking fees for tickets sold on the site, as well as display advertising. With those revenue streams no longer viable, they have introduced the Resident Subscriber scheme where people can sign up and donate, to support Resident Advisor’s editorial coverage. 

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NTS Radio, a community radio station based in east London, has also introduced an NTS Supporters membership scheme that costs £2.99 a month and comes with all sorts of perks, as well as providing the station with a source of income with which to pay their resident DJs. “NTS is free to listen to, free from ads, and our programming is as freeform as possible – generating revenue has always been a tough square to circle”, says station founder Femi Adeyemi. “We’re hoping that by launching NTS Supporters, music lovers will come together and allow us to keep on doing what we do long into the future”.  

Brainchild, an independent festival in Sussex celebrating emerging artists, creative projects and bold ideas, started a crowdfunder page to raise at least £14,500 to get through the crisis and return in 2021. Thankfully they did it, announcing on 27th July that they’d successfully raised £20,330 with 443 supporters in 35 days. They live to fight another day, but there’s no guarantee that others will be as lucky. 

Small, independent venues and promoters are struggling the most in the current situation, as demonstrated by the temporary closure of Mick’s Garage in Hackney Wick and crowdfunders set up by Secret Sundaze, Five Miles and The Cause, to name a few. Mick’s Garage have closed their doors for now, releasing a statement to urge those who had already purchased tickets for any upcoming events to hold onto them, as they will remain valid for future rescheduled dates. They ended the statement by saying “The world is in real pain right now, but music and community is how we can heal. We are all in this together”. Whilst it is sad to see a much-loved venue close, this closing sentiment is one shared by everyone in the world who cares about music. This community spirit is one also embodied by Secret Sundaze, an events company that runs their own record label as well as a community studio. Their crowdfunder page is offering incentives in exchange for donations, ranging from free event tickets, a Save Secret Sundaze t-shirt, photo prints, studio days, DJ courses and even a Secret Sundaze DJ set for a private event.  

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Five Miles, a multi-purpose club, bar and kitchen in Seven Sisters, who pride themselves on supporting the local creative community and championing diversity, have recently launched a Five Miles from Home digital compilation album to aid their fundraising. The Cause, another community-led, DIY, underground nightclub in Tottenham, often helps to raise money for charities and social causes through their dance music events. Their crowdfunder page aimed to raise £20K to cover their overheads, manage their accruing debts and pay their staff, in the hope that this would help set up new initiatives to adapt for all eventualities of re-opening. Since starting the page seventy-three days ago, they have raised over £40K and counting. All hope is not lost. 

Support from the community has been incredibly generous and humbling to see, but is a temporary fix to a long-term problem. As long as there is no vaccine for Covid-19, large-scale public gatherings will not be allowed and indoor clubs will not be able to host events at the capacity needed to make a profit. So where do we go from here? What does the future hold for the music industry in the wake of Covid-19? For now, there is an increasing number of socially-distanced parties, with Percolate releasing a string of line-ups at Brixton Courtyard, and Origins (formerly at Mick’s Garage) hosting a full programme of events at the Night Tales outdoor terrace. These events are great to see, but come with some downfalls. Being held outdoors means that closing hours are much earlier and the music is far quieter. People want to get up and dance, but mingling is strictly prohibited – it’s hardly ideal. Whether legal or illegal, socially-distanced raves are ultimately unsustainable in the long-run. The prices of tickets are too high and the capacities too low, making it very hard for promoters, venues and artists to make enough money, let alone making it worth the health risk that comes with it. They’re also less fun for the ravers themselves, who are used to large crowds and sweaty basement clubs, and anything less seems a watered-down, cheap copy of the real deal. 

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It begs the question: will we ever experience festivals and gigs again? Does the future of live music look like a socially-distanced outdoor event? Only time will tell. For the time-being, this is our new stark reality that we have to get used to. If this is the only way music venues and promoters can make their money for now, make sure to support them as much as you can. The future of the music industry might be very uncertain right now, but what a global pandemic has made very clear, is that this community is strong and unified across the globe, connecting people, moving people and giving people hope even in the darkest of times. 

When Jamie XX released Idontknow at the start of lockdown, he posted a compilation of videos on his Instagram, featuring a group of friends in Belfast dancing to his track in a little studio. These videos and the accompanying words really stuck with me. The caption read “I made Idontknow as an outlet for my frustration over not being able to finish any music for a while. I tried to be less precious with my ideas and just let go. I then watched this translate onto the dance floor when I started playing it out last year. Now, we can’t go out to dance and we need an outlet more than ever, I hope you dance to it at home and let go for a moment”. Oona, the girl who sent the videos of herself and her friends to Jamie, left him a note saying “no matter what happens look how your music moves people! … just remember, I am, my friends are and lots of people are moving and shaking and making a dick out of ourselves, letting loose, because of your sound. It a powerful thing”. I think this fire and spirit is what will ultimately keep the music industry alive in a world after Covid-19, keeping the heart and soul firmly beating until we can all party together again. As Mick’s Garage articulated so well, “The world is in real pain right now, but music and community is how we can heal. We are all in this together”. 

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