For every social-media hashtag campaign that takes off, many more wither and die without anyone noticing. So hats off to the British music industry for avoiding the latter fate with its #LetTheMusicPlay campaign this week across Twitter, Instagram and other platforms. Artists, industry folk and fans alike were sharing their memories of live music, and the campaign undoubtedly made a splash.
It’s not just about nostalgia though: it’s a well-crafted attempt to add momentum to a letter sent to the UK’s culture secretary (minister) Oliver Dowden, asking for greater government support to help the live music sector survive the Covid-19 lockdown, and thrive once concerts and festivals return. More than 1,500 artists have signed the letter, from Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones to Skepta, Rita Ora and FKA Twigs, via Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and Slade (which, by the way, is a potential Christmas-single collaboration for the ages).
“As important as it is, our national and regional contribution isn’t purely cultural. Our economic impact is also significant, with live music adding £4.5bn to the British economy and supporting 210,000 jobs across the country in 2019,” explained the letter. “Until these businesses can operate again, which is likely to be 2021 at the earliest, government support will be crucial to prevent mass insolvencies, and the end of this great British industry. Government has addressed two important British pastimes – football and pubs – and it’s now crucial that it focuses on a third, live music.”
Ticketmaster, which is part of the campaign, has outlined some of the specific requests for the government, including a “clear, conditional timeline for reopening venues without social distancing”; a comprehensive business and employment support package and access to finance; full VAT exemption on ticket sales; and for the support package to include measures like a government-backed insurance scheme for live shows; an extension of its ‘furlough’ scheme and help for self-employed workers in the live industry; and rent breaks for venues.
This is just one of a number of cross-industry campaigns launched around the world, and there’s something to learn from all of them for industry bodies who are still formulating their strategy for appealing to their governments for more support.
Such campaigns are by definition at the mercy of events, from potential ‘second waves’ of Covid-19 infections to politicians sympathies for and knowledge of the music industry (and, frankly, their competence – the British government’s has been regularly questioned during the crisis across a host of different issues). #LetTheMusicPlay is at least the latest example of how the music industry can pull together behind a single, important policy goal.
Will it work? Dowden has tweeted the right sentiments this week in response to the letter. “I understand the deep anxiety of those working in music & the desire to see fixed dates for reopening. I am pushing hard for these dates & to give you a clear roadmap back,” he wrote. “These involve v difficult decisions about the future of social distancing, which we know has saved lives.” Tweets are one thing, but of course it’s the behind-the-scenes work that will really count.
In the UK and well beyond, it’s also important to remind ourselves that ‘music concerts’ take many different forms. Concerts in all-seated venues, for example, are more like plays in theatres in terms of being able to enforce social distancing. They should be able to return sooner. As we’ve seen in the US this past week, standing concerts are a much bigger headache. This is why, even with the understandable desire for a clear roadmap to opening venues, the industry is rightly pushing for that business and employment support too.