Lead researchers and data analysis: Richard Anderson and Mathew Flynn (University of Liverpool)
Lockdown and social distancing delivered a huge blow to Liverpool’s cultural sector, with its music scene one of the most adversely affected. In response, Bido Lito!, in partnership with University of Liverpool, has carried out research looking into the impacts on musicians across the city region, with initial findings painting a devastating picture.
Back in February, if you’d have prophesised that by the end of the summer the city’s musicscape would be on its knees, few would have believed you. Enter Coronavirus.
When Boris Johnson addressed the nation on the evening of 23rd March, the country was commanded to grind to a halt in fear of the global Covid-19 pandemic. Venues across the country shut their doors not knowing when they could reopen. All gigs in the following months were cancelled. Festivals were called off. Release schedules damaged, stacks of gig opportunities for emerging artists no longer going ahead. The best part of a year of live music and artist progression completely wiped out.
It’s an adjective that has been thrown around the past few months to the point of extreme tedium, but the impact that Covid-19 and lockdown has had on the music industry in Liverpool and internationally is unprecedented.
The loss of live music in Liverpool in the months that followed have had a devastating effect on the city’s musical communities. The Zanzibar and Duke Street’s Sound have now permanently shut their doors after the ramifications of lockdown took their toll. These stages were essential for emerging artists to hone their craft, get key experiences and develop fanbases in the process. The former was a building of cherished memories shared by multiple generations, with the latter a key part of the contemporary DIY scene. Without them, Liverpool is weaker.
While the devastation of the last few months have rightly generated an emotive reaction, this emotion needs to be channelled into cohesive conversations for change. Bido Lito!, in partnership with the University of Liverpool, constructed a survey exploring the impact of lockdown on musicians within the Liverpool City Region boroughs of Sefton, Halton, St Helens, Knowsley, Liverpool and Wirral. It collected data on a range of themes, including the immediate economic implications, quantifying creative loss, how supported musicians have felt during lockdown, adaptations to new limitations and attitudes towards moving forward and social distancing.
The proposed outcomes of this information will allow us to present a data-supported reality to policy-makers outlining how lockdown has devastated local musicians. This will help influence key decision-making processes as musical organisations and the local combined authority aim to roadmap a strategy that will get the region’s music economy and communities back up and running safely. The data further allows the voices of many to be taken into account in the process, and to make the case for what support LCR’s musicians actually need moving forward to offset the losses of the last six months.
The survey was open from July 27th to August 7th. In total 175 respondents took part. We saw replies from all types of musicians from all genres and projects of all sizes, from bedroom producers to bands, community choirs and larger scale groups and ensembles including musicians from the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.
We aim to cover the survey results and what they mean thoroughly in the coming issues of Bido Lito!. This first piece will focus mainly on the loss of live music within the city.
Firstly, 87 per cent of the musicians who took part in the survey had scheduled performances cancelled due to lockdown and the temporary closure of music venues. The combined total number of gigs unable to go ahead between March and July was 2,991. As venue doors shut and the lights turned off for lockdown, the city’s promoters were eager to reschedule, but wary whether this could be achieved. Out of the performances cancelled, 2,584 (86 per cent) have been completely cancelled and not rescheduled, with only 442 shows getting rebooked for potential future dates – which may yet be subject to social distancing measures. More shows are expected to be rescheduled in the coming months, as performers, promoters and venues get used to the new conditions. But it will still be a fraction of what we would have been likely to see had the pandemic not intervened.
While it is possible that some of the same shows would have been included in different individual responses, it is also likely that the number of lost shows is greatly higher than the identified 2,500 when we consider the sample size of the musicians asked and the greater amount of musicians within the LCR that might not have taken part in the survey.
The numbers are overwhelming and hard to take in; at the time of publication, lockdown has closed Liverpool’s music venues for six months. Some of these lost performances were headline shows where emerging acts finally reached that milestone of topping the bill themselves. Others were the acts’ biggest shows to date, and some respondents lost out on entire world tours, with upwards of £1m in performance fees taken away.
One individual said it has been “Totally catastrophic, financially, emotionally, socially and creatively. Everything I’ve worked so hard to achieve has just crashed to the floor”. Although most were understanding, given the global pandemic situation, this sense of a doomed future was echoed throughout the responses.
Performance is a key aspect of being a musician and to some it is a fundamental part of their identity as an artist. For developing a fanbase, live performance is the best vehicle of promotion, with support slots being a key platform for putting an artist’s music in front of an already eager and attentive room of potential fans.
Even when excluding high profile artists’ international tour postponements from the calculations, the financial impact of lockdown on the city region’s musicians is seismic. The estimated total loss in performance revenue for the regional performers asked was a massive £1,747,527. On average, each musician will have lost £2,397 of live fee income so far due to lockdown.
With the venues closed, many musicians’ incomes were devastated with one respondent saying they had “90 per cent reduction in earnings gone overnight”. Another added: “At one point in lockdown I was made homeless as income stopped.”
Creative organisations nationwide, and more locally the LCR Combined Authority, provided funding to support affected musicians. Funds were used to allow musicians to support themselves and to buy new gear to be used at home to help generate new income. Other services like Help Musicians provided important mental health support for struggling individuals and their Coronavirus hardship fund helped out 19 of the artists surveyed. Organisations like PRS and the Musicians’ Union were also praised for the direction, advice, funding and support they gave during this time.
However, only 23 per cent of respondents actually sought funding. And although the majority of those who did were successful, 45 per cent received less than £500 and half of them received less that £100. The funding received has been a drop in the ocean compared to the amount of money lost to cancelled performances.
A further concern is that 44 per cent of those surveyed were unaware of the range of specific support available to assist musicians as they continued to struggle, uninformed about the potential help on offer.
Funding pots continue to be created to help support musicians as lockdown continues for the performance industry. The National Lottery is the latest to open funds to help support artists. Details on how to apply for this funding can be found on the Arts Council website.
Aims to get the live music sector back onto its feet and running to a pre-Coronavirus level have moved at a snail’s pace. As we saw at the start of August, moving into stage four of the reopening strategy was postponed as the infection-rate nationwide remained too high. However, the government has since announced that socially distanced events can take place from 15th August. Yet it must be noted that the Music Venue Trust remain sceptical of making live performances financially viable under social distancing. More clarity from central government is clearly needed.
The nauseating figures noted so far were regarding the six months of lockdown. Looking ahead to the rest of 2020 the scene is pretty bleak. The survey ended on 7th August, and from then an expected 143 shows were still scheduled for August, few of which actually took place. The financial loss of just these shows alone was an estimated £56,443.
Looking at the remainder of 2020, only half (49 per cent) of the surveyed musicians have any shows booked, and though these could potentially generate nearly half a million pounds (£496,622), even with the easing of certain restrictions most of these are unlikely to go ahead. If venues remain shut until the end of 2020, Liverpool’s musicians will have lost out on over £2.2 million in performance revenues. Furthermore, this estimated figure does not include the loss to the 38 per cent of respondents who had gigs cancelled but are yet to have any new performances booked in.
The return of live music raises as many questions as it actually solves. Yes, live music can return in front of an audience within a venue, albeit with stringent safeguarding measures in place, curtailing the very essence and enjoyment that live music offers.
Interestingly the split in confidence between the artists towards the viability of performing with social distancing was quite even in the results, with those confident or unconfident both at around 37 per cent, with 24 per cent left undecided.
“I feel if we are innovative, patient and willing to do things differently to what we’re used to, then it could possibly work out,” said one respondent. Contrastingly one unhopeful reply said “my job is to bring people together, to make them dance and create an atmosphere. This is now entirely discouraged.”
Audience rules for limiting transmission of Covid-19 are almost draconian. No singing along, no dancing with other people, as little contact with others as possible within a set one-to-two metre distance. The prospect of going to a show and being unable to sing along and dance is otherworldly. It eliminates the collective voice and humbling moments that are only available when hundreds of people sing along to their favourite act on stage. Replacing it with subdued applause in-between songs just isn’t the same.
Worse still for venues, socially distanced shows put immense stress on the organisation, the logistics, staff and finances of the building. Live events are a financially precarious business at the best of times, and it just isn’t possible for both venue and artist to benefit from a 10-20 per cent capacity of a usually sold-out room.
The first analysis from this study proves that the impact of Covid-19 on not just Liverpool’s but the nation’s musicians is massive. But without proper intervention on a national level the state of play will only get worse and more venues will be forced to close, more jobs will be lost and more musicians will simply not have the capacity to continue. This cannot happen. Damningly for the Tories, 55 per cent of those asked didn’t feel supported at all by the national government. Put simply, more has to be done to support the music industry.
The next issue’s analysis of the survey will investigate how musicians have coped and adapted during lockdown while moving operations online to try to stand out and break through the cacophony of online gigs and promotion. For now, we long for the first encore, sing-along chorus and the joyous escapism that fans and musicians get from live music.
The next stage of this research will take place via a consultation event led by Bido Lito!, University of Liverpool and other musician support organisations set occur in October via Zoom. The event will consider the wider impacts across the sector with venues, promoters, educators and other industry professionals encouraged to take part. REGISTER YOUR INTEREST IN TAKING PART HERE.