All Points East

Let the Music Move on the Future of Live

It’s no secret that the live music industry is experiencing an unprecedented crisis. With the spiralling complications of international touring following Brexit combining with the major impacts of Covid on venues, we speak to Let the Music Move and ponder if there could there be any way back for the live industry as we know it?


All Points East


Remember 2019? Seems so long ago now, doesn’t it? Back when the Brexit deal was still in a state of hypotheticals, and ‘the Coronavirus’ was a term best ascribed to those suffering with an aching head after a night over-indulging on bottled Mexican beer, the live music industry had never seemed in ruder health.

At the end of those twelve months, it was widely reported that the live music industry had been valued at a record-busting £1.1 billion. The sector celebrated its position at the core of the music industry’s overall contribution to the British economy (a total of £5.2 billion). Two years on from those halcyon days and the picture is a very, very different one. The live music sphere stands – shell-shocked – among the UK’s most ravaged industries, following months of dramatic, existential harm from various quarters.

Firstly, the Covid pandemic resulted in the collapse of the UK’s live music revenue. With the central appeal of venues built on gathering people closely together to experience the artists and performers they love, totally unviable as 2020’s lockdowns forced people to remain indoors. The sector’s income rapidly diminished by more than 90%. The live music drought negated the need to continue expanding its workforce, with 69,000 fewer jobs in 2020 when compared to the previous year. It also saw numerous personnel jumping ship to work elsewhere, as road crew, sound engineers, live gear haulage firms, road managers and gigging musicians found their primary income stream completely evaporate.

As 2021 saw a gradual loosening of restrictions, and a trepidatious re-opening of the live sector, in 2022 the industry now attempts to precariously walk an unsteady road to recovery. As this was happening, beyond the UK’s shores, the paramount European touring framework was completely re-written. The result of a Brexit deal that neglected to guarantee visa-free travel for musicians, entertainers and their respective crews. The hiked cost of arranging a tour in Europe is now a daunting prospect for all. With numerous stops and inter-country travelling required. The result is a transformation of what was once the lucrative bedrock of the live sector, into a series of seemingly insurmountable roadblocks.


Live Gig 1 - Let the Music Move

LET THE MUSIC MOVE

Established to mark the five year anniversary of the Brexit vote, organisation Let The Music Move is driven by a clear objective – to unpick the post-Brexit complexities that have so entangled the live music industry, and demand greater support for this once booming industry after months of neglect. “#LetTheMusicMove invites all artists, music professionals and fans to call on the UK government to do more to support the future of the music industry, and mitigate the Brexit-related impacts of restrictions, costs and delays on European touring.” States the organisation’s manifesto.

We spoke to David Martin, the CEO of the Featured Artists Coalition – and a prime instigator of Let the Music Move, to first ask whether any progress had been made since its inception.


Let the Music Move


“In short, we have seen practically no progress from the Government on our four key asks”, David tells us, “These were, to deliver a temporary support package for the industry while Brexit negotiations continue, to deliver permanent long-term solutions so that UK artists can tour the EU with the minimum red tape, to ensure these rules are reciprocated for international artists and their crews wanting to tour the UK, and to change the current rules on cabotage: UK vehicles must be able to make more than 3 stops when our artists play across Europe! (Currently, that’s all they’re permitted.)”

While David does admit that some very limited progress has been made in terms of clarifying the situation for touring, this has generally peeled back further technical obstacles. “That clarity has normally resulted in us uncovering more complexity and bureaucracy. Little has been done by the UK Government over the last 12 months to improve the legal or practical barriers that exist.”


David Martin Let the Music Move
David Martin – CEO of the Featured Artists Coalition and co-founder of Let the Music Move



So why, oh why, is the UK Government seemingly resistant to engage with the industry, particularly when tens of thousands of hard-working Brits are being directly affected by this spiralling morass of bureaucracy. Wasn’t that something that the whole notion of Brexit was intended to eradicate? “You would have to ask them.” David shrugs, “But, for a Government that charged itself with ‘getting Brexit done’, it needs to do a lot more to demonstrate that it can make a success of it and a lot more to convince many across our sector that it cares enough about us to make a success of it.”

Despite the bleak outlook, David, and the spirit of Let the Music Move, remains hopeful in the face of these mountainous issues. “I think it will take years to repair.” David says, “But I’m confident that with the right support, attitude and willingness from policy makers to get us there. That is a big *but* right now.”

WORST CASE SCENARIO

While fighting the headache-inducing complications of European touring continues to dominate the live for many, on our Covid-devastated home soil we’ve seen venues shuttered, gradually re-open and yet still struggle to entice back their former capacity. Particularly as new variants (i.e. Omicron) emerge, rapidly spread and insist on keeping prospective punters at home. Not to mention that the rules on self-isolation often force touring bands and there road-crews to avoid seeing their friends, families for the duration of the tour, and if anyone does become infected, it can mean a hasty end to the planned tour, date re-arranging and financial loss.


Let the Music Move - The Magic Gang


Case in point, one of the UK’s biggest bands, Wolf Alice. On the heels of a sublime new record, the four-piece were due to embark on a country-wide tour in January, but the insecure nature of the Covid situation
resulted in it being postponed. “As the Covid pandemic seems to be getting worse and with an overwhelming number of daily cases it feels like a particularly volatile time to go ahead with such a large tour. People’s safety and access to our concerts is of the utmost importance to us and we feel that is something we can’t ensure at these large indoor shows” the band wrote on their social media platforms.

But, should the restrictions associated with Covid ease further, and the sprawling Brexit complications find resolution, does that mean the music industry would flourish the same as before? David Martin ponders the question; “COVID-19 and Brexit remain the biggest, immediate challenges for our sector.” He tells us, “These are closely followed by the issues of unfairness and disparity that persist in the recorded sector. We’ve seen the spotlight on this over the last 18 months via the DCMS Select Committee Inquiry and various campaign efforts from those in the industry.”

Beyond that, there’s an even more terrifying, looming planetary threat to worry about. “Of course, not exclusive to our sector, but nevertheless arguably the largest challenge to us all is the climate emergency, which the music industry does need to try to be at the spearhead of, given the influence we can have. Likewise in bringing issues of social justice to the fore, there appears to be some momentum on a number of issues now, but that impetus must continue and remain energised. The worst case scenario; for the former is that we will continue to see talent leave or not even enter our music scenes and we will see the UK’s status as a music powerhouse, greatly diminished, for the latter, it doesn’t bear thinking about.”

As 2022 begins, the future health of the live music sector remains thoroughly clouded. A sad state of affairs for an industry that seemed as robust as ever a mere handful of years ago. But the unshaken demands of both musicians, crews and gig-goers coupled with the tenacious efforts of organisations like Let the Music Move instills in us a cautious confidence that one day, this ever-durable sector will weather this hardship and bloom once again.

For more reading on this topic, check out the following:

Live music in the pandemic: The 13 lessons learned
UK government publishes Covid-19 findings from live music test events, recommends reduced crowds
‘If COVID hadn’t stopped European touring, Brexit would have’: Inside UK’s first live music industry body