One-third of professional British musicians are considering giving up their careers amid the coronavirus pandemic.
A survey of 2,000 members of the Musicians’ Union found that 34% “are considering abandoning the industry completely”, because of the financial difficulties they face during the pandemic, as performance opportunities are severely curtailed.
Almost half have already found work outside their industry, and 70% are unable to do more than a quarter of their usual work. Eighty-seven per cent of musicians covered by furlough and self-employment support schemes say they will face financial hardship when the schemes are due to end in October.
“Musicians are working in supermarkets, being Deliveroo drivers, going back to things they trained for early in life,” Horace Trubridge, the union’s general secretary, told the Guardian. “Anything but music – that’s the problem.
“We’re going into an autumn and winter with months of no work, and no financial support from the government at all apart from universal credit – which is appalling for an industry that’s worth £5.2bn.”
Concert venues have been allowed to reopen with social distancing, but there are scarcely any concerts taking place compared with the start of 2020. Weddings, conferences and other live events, where professional musicians often make a portion of their income, have dropped in number, as has the amount of music teaching.
A third of Musicians’ Union members have not been eligible for financial relief schemes, due to various factors including individuals being set up as limited companies; having their earnings split between self-employment and non-furloughed taxed income, so they don’t quality for either scheme; or earning more than the £50,000 threshold for self-employed earners. “Which, if you’re living in central London, as the breadwinner with a family, isn’t that much money,” Trubridge says.
The UK government has supported arts and culture during the crisis with a £1.57bn package that is being distributed to arts organisations such as museums and venues, but not individuals. Trubridge says that the funding has done “nothing for the workforce … You need creators to create new art. But you need extremely skilled and talented musicians to deliver that creativity, and those are the people who have been left out of the equation. Those world-leading musicians who have spent all their lives perfecting what they do, there is no lifeline for them whatsoever. There is a lack of understanding of our profession, even within the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and no understanding within the Treasury.”
A DCMS spokesperson told the Guardian in response: “We are working flat out to support our world class performing arts sector through challenging times. Our unprecedented £1.57bn Culture Recovery Fund builds on £200m in emergency public funding to stabilise organisations, protect jobs and ensure work continues to flow to freelancers. We have already provided emergency funding to support 135 grassroots music venues and are processing applications for more than £800m of additional grant funding. We are working closely with the sector to ensure this funding is distributed quickly and fairly.”
The Musicians’ Union is proposing a “2-for-1” scheme similar to the government’s eat out to help out scheme, in which the government would underwrite the cost of a second seat at a concert – effectively allowing those seats to be removed or blocked to ensure social distancing. But as the UK anticipates more stringent measures to contain the virus, Trubridge says: “It’s all looking extremely bleak again. We’d love to have a date we can move to stage five of the roadmap, where indoor music can occur without social distancing, but that seems a long way off with the current state of the pandemic.”
Musicians including Nick Cave, Laura Marling, Bicep and Sleaford Mods have turned to ticketed livestreams to make money during the pandemic, but Trubridge warned that with other stars performing for free online, “it’s very difficult for a jobbing musician to compete with that”.