Why I’m worried about the music industry

September 8, 2020

My heart is breaking. The music industry is in pieces. It’s been part-inspiring, part-depressing seeing people from all over the sector try to patch things up or make ends meet during this pandemic.

A lot of attention has been focused on musicians… How will musicians cope if they can’t write, record and perform music? How will they connect with their audiences? How will they make money? Are live streams supposed to replace touring income?

All very fair and important questions, especially since the industry but would be nothing without artists. But there are some deeper layers to look at, and some less obvious concerns that worry me deeply right now:

  • Performers in the lime line (i.e. talent) can still make an income via live streaming, or using their clout for income (e.g. partnerships, social media posts, Patreon) but other live staff (e.g. sound engineers, lighting engineers, roadies, tour managers) do not have this luxury to fall back on for income.
  • Furthermore – a lot of these ancillary staff have skills that translate well to other live settings (all cancelled, thanks COVID) but not so well online.
  • A lot of these ancillary staff are also contractors, and may not be eligible for government payments, and/or redundancies packages.
  • Recorded music is not being churned out at the same speed as previously, with musicians not being able to travel or necessarily be in a room recording without breaking COVID protocol. The recorded industry is currently releasing music that was recorded pre-COVID, so we may see a ‘bald spot’ in release calendars in coming months. (Although some artists have been super productive, and writing and recording like mad from home.)
  • There’s less ‘business’ happening, meaning there is less need for internships and work placements right now. This will effect incoming talent, meaning we may have ‘talent leakage’ over the next few years. Many bright minds who may have chosen to work in music (if not for COVID) may have decided to start a sensible career in a more stable industry instead. (Especially because research shows that Gen Z are super responsible and financially savvy… unlike us millennials who were bad with money and are big dreamers.)
  • There are less jobs in the industry, meaning the job market is competitive. Overqualified established professionals may take taking pay cuts or less senior roles (temporarily) to stay in the industry, making it harder for emerging music industry professionals from getting a foot in and gaining experience. Same as above – this may cause talent loss to the sector.
  • Less music events and money floating around means less advertising revenue to media outlets that specifically service music and entertainment audiences. This may mean fewer resources to fund good content, or compensate their creators appropriately. (I would say the majority of these creators have never been compensated properly but that is a whole other conversation.)
  • Closing down hospitality and retail also affects licensing, and reduce income artists would earn from said venues playing their music.
  • The film industry has also been hit hard, with less movies being produced or released this year due to logistical nightmares. This means less sync deals for artists, which especially hurts because these can be very good coin.
  • Also less music events and new music mean less editorial content for outlets, meaning that they may be getting less traffic to site, therefore less impressions they can sell. (Some Aussie music media right now cannot serve out normal ad impressions due to severely low traffic.)
  • Medium sized businesses may struggle to stay afloat with this Melbourne COVID wave. The big boys have big cash reserves and can stay afloat by restructuring and jettisoning assets. Small operators run lean, and likely don’t fully rely on music industry income to survive. But the guys in the middle? They are likely to be newly established and potentially just breaking even before COVID-19 hit. Removing these actors out of the music industry ecosystem can spell trouble because they service an area of the industry, and help small artists/venues etc until they move up the chain.
  • Same with music venues. Small neighbourhood dive bars may seem shitty to some, but they are the hidden gems of the live music scene. They serve as a testing ground for new artists to cut their teeth, and develop their performance skills until they can move up to medium sized venues. Without these, it may prove harder for new artists to prove they have a track record with punter attendance, and also for getting used to performing to crowds.

Written from my couch in the heart of Melbourne’s lock down. xx

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