• Nikos Papanikolaou

It might get loud: How can the live music industry return safely?

Updated: May 4, 2021

Photo by Andre Benz on Unsplash

If you were walking in London on a typical Friday or Saturday night, you would probably find yourself walking outside of one of the city's many concert venues. Semi-drunk people, laughing, cheering, and smoking, enjoying the music and their night out. The air was full of music. And then, silence.

By Nikos Papanikolaou

It has been almost a year since the lockdown started and since COVID-19 has entered our everyday lives. A year where the Government tries to balance public health and the economy. The UK live music industry contributed £4.5 billion to the UK economy in 2019. The same year, live music supported 210,000 full-time equivalents, including 52,000 full time, salaried roles, according to a report by LIVE, a collective representative that promotes the interests of artists, venues, festivals, promoters, booking agents, crew and production suppliers.

But during 2020, things changed dramatically. The live music sector has been in a coma; almost three-quarters of employees are furloughed, and more than half will lose their jobs by the end of the year. Yet, when Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out his four-step plan to release England from lockdown, the industry comes last.

Michael Kill

"Most of the employees, crew members, have been furloughed. We are trying to support them through funds and asking people to contribute to our crowdfunding. The Government did not do enough for us. Even if now they seem to acknowledge the problem, we're last in the queue again," says Michael Kill, the CEO of the Night Time Industries Association.

But with the NHS under pressure, how can the Government allow hundreds or thousands of people gather inside a concert venue? According to the Prime Minister's announcements, that is not possible at the moment. The live music industry has to work with social distancing measures, like cinemas, theatres, and other indoor entertainment. On the other hand, people from the government demand from the Government to help them reopen the venues and make them safe. Last summer, the Government that £1.57bn would be given to tackling the industry crisis. However, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden admitted that the cash could not save all employees or all venues.

"There are ways to make our venues safe. We can make rapid tests on the spot and allow only negative tests to enter the venue. But here comes the cost of the rapid test. Each one of them costs £5-7, who is going to cover that cost? Us? The ticket holders? The Government? No one knows," says Maggie Stones, 29, a freelance lighting engineer in London. The sector wants to reopen the venues and make sure that people will be kept safe. Otherwise, they are afraid that the venues will be forced to closed again, with unpredictable consequences for the industry workers.

"Apart from the rapid testing option, there are countries that have been experiment with concerts without social distancing to measure the danger of spreading. Here we haven't done a trial concert to have some data. There is also the suggestion to change the ventilating system in every venue, with new ones. But this will cost more than £100,000 for each venue. How can they pay for that when they are on the brink of collapse?" Stones adds.

But people working in the live music sector still feel unsafe, even if the Prime Minister has given a timeline for the sector for the first time. Apart from the pandemic, they also have to face the consequences of Brexit, which are still unknown. Live music – apart from the financial contribution – has been ingrained into the country's cultural identity. Getting back to where things were can be done, but not without losses. The remaining question is which side is going to suffer them? The live industry or the Government? No one knows yet. The future still remains unknown.