400 musicians to perform in London and Birmingham in bid for government support

At 12pm today (Tuesday, October 6) 400 freelance professional musicians will gather at Parliament Square in London and Centenary Square in Birmingham to raise awareness of the urgent need for government support in the creative sectors.

The musicians, including leading performers such as David Hill, Raphael Wallfisch, Emma Johnson, Tasmin Little and Bill Barkley will be joined in solidarity by the Musicians’ Union, The Incorporated Society of Musicians, The Musicians’ Answering Service, Emily Eavis, Jools Holland, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Dan Smith of Bastille and more.

Conducted by acclaimed director David Hill in Parliament Square, the freelance musicians will perform a short section of ‘Mars’ from Holst’s The Planets before standing in silence for two minutes. The 20 per cent of the piece that they will perform represents the maximum 20 per cent support that freelancers receive from the government through the SEISS grant.

The two-minute silence highlights the 33 per cent of musicians currently not covered by the SEISS grant (MU). The event will follow social distancing regulations, facilitated by support from #WeMakeEvents.

Jools Holland commented: “I fully support these wonderful musicians in their actions.  They are part of an industry devastated by this crisis.  Most importantly they bring such joy to our spirits, our country and our world.   Post-apocalyptic scenes are often portrayed in fiction as places where there are no leaves on trees and the birds don’t sing.  If we don’t support our musicians now, who find it impossible to work, I fear we are all taking a step closer to that nightmare world.”

The arts and culture industry contributes £10.8 billion every year to the UK economy (ONS). For every £1 directly spent on music and events, an extra £2 is generated in the wider economy (ACE), powering a network of businesses across the country.

The largely freelance workforce that makes up the music industry has been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic, with Musicians’ Union research showing that 70 per cent of musicians are unable to undertake more than a quarter of their usual work, with 87 per cent of musicians facing severe financial hardship.

A significant portion of the £1.57 billion government fund for culture is thought not to have reached freelancers, with the funds largely earmarked for venues and organisations, many of which remain closed or at severely reduced capacity.

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The Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) grant extension announced by the government will likely not be enough to prevent many freelancers from going out of business, offering support at 20 per cent of average monthly trading profits, capped at a maximum of £1,875 over the months of November, December and January. And, according to the Musicians’ Union, 33 per cent of musicians are currently not covered by the SEISS grant.

Horace Trubridge, Musicians’ Union general secretary, said: “We know from the Union’s recent research just how many musicians are struggling financially and at real risk of leaving music for good. In better times, our members drive a £5bn music industry with their talent. One artist’s gig will create a domino effect of jobs, from lighting technicians to ticket sellers. If one musician is out of work, you can be sure many others will be affected too. We appreciate all the Government has done to support our members through the furlough and self-employment income support schemes so far, but they must not abandon musicians now. With social distancing measures still in place, venues can only sell at around 30 per cent of usual capacity.

“We are calling on the Government to implement a seat-matching scheme, which would take venues’ potential revenue to 60 per cent, providing a lifeline to musicians and the wider industry. Getting musicians back to work is the priority. However, this is simply not realistic for so many of our members while social distancing remains in place. We strongly urge the Government to recognise the unique situation that our members are in, and to provide sector specific financial support for musicians.”

Deborah Annetts, chief executive of The Incorporated Society of Musicians, commented: “The ISM is proud to back this important campaign which calls on the government to provide support for the thousands of self-employed musicians that have not been able to work since March and are now facing desperate financial hardship. The government must introduce a measure similar to the Self Employment Income Support Scheme so that self-employed musicians can keep going until they can work again. The UK music industry is known for its world-leading talent which makes a huge contribution of over £5bn annually to our economy, so it is vital that musicians are not forgotten. These are dynamic entrepreneurs who will be back on their feet as soon as the sector can reopen and any support measures need only last until the necessary safety precautions are eased.”

Last week, over 25 countries took part in the We Make Events day of action (September 30). A range of activities were held throughout the day, such as lighting iconic buildings in reds and beaming shafts of white light into the sky, all in the name of highlighting the perilous state that the sector has been left in due to the COVID-19 pandemic.