Music Australia News

International Music Industry On The Brink

Photo by CDC on Unsplash
Paul Saintilan
| March 23, 2020

While this is evolving so rapidly that anything we state will become out of date very quickly, there is a consensus that without support, musicians, music industry workers and music organisations would be amongst the hardest hit economically by the Coronavirus pandemic. The alarm is being sounded by music organisations around the world. No-one in the music industry wants people to get sick and die, and people have been enormously accepting of the new reality, but it doesn’t stop the bills rolling in. Many musicians and music industry workers (such as technicians and crew) work gig to gig, and saw their future income evaporate before their eyes. In Australia, many were still trying to catch up after bushfires cancelled gigs and destroyed property.  Organisations similarly saw income evaporate while their expenditure was contractually committed and any insurance policies they hold were rendered worthless. This challenged their very solvency.

The first alarming event that commanded international attention was the cancellation of SXSW. It was forced on the festival by the Austin Mayor, leaving the organisation facing financial ruin. While patrons may feel entitled to a complete refund, as events have costs which are contractually committed and need to be borne, the only way refunds can take place is if the organisation is sitting on significant net assets. This was clearly not the case with SXSW, who fended off a complete collapse by offering badge holders future credit instead of refunds. Similarly Miami’s three-day Ultra Music Festival, which hoped to bring 170,000 people to the city, saw patrons only offered credit for 2021 or 2022 passes instead of full refunds, a sign that the organisers weren’t capable of swallowing the loss.

But it was the very muscular edicts issued by federal governments that suddenly saw it dawn on the industry that they could be obliterated in a pen stroke, with incomes going from normality to zero in a few short days. Italy announced all cultural events would be prohibited until April 3. Shortly afterwards France banned public events with more than 1,000 people. This rolled on until 500 was the magic number in Australia, since reduced to 100, and the USA went further still to 10, contributing to the stockmarket going into freefall.

A cascading list of early local casualties, including local events Dark Mofo and the Byron Bay Bluesfest, became a tsunami of tours, concerts, and shows. There is talk of streaming events but musicians need people pay for the content to stem the financial carnage. Regrettably unlike some sports codes, we rarely have broadcast income to provide an offset. The collapse in performing schedules then flowed onto media, with advertisers pulling campaigns and content, leaving magazines and media outlets struggling (eg Limelight’s May edition will be digital only). There is also an international trend for entertainment organisations to reschedule events into the September to December period, so that income still falls in the same calendar year, but collapsing 10 months of activity into 4 months runs the risk of stressing crews and infrastructure support and fragmenting audiences.

While this is evolving so rapidly that anything we state will become out of date very quickly, the status in terms of local support at the time of writing is as follows:

(i) The federal government’s two stimulus packages announced to date are clearly trying to provide cross-industry protections to those out of work and those whose businesses have collapsed or been forced to close. Musicians, music industry workers and organisations will need to see what they can claim from these, which are multifaceted and involve banks, super funds, the ATO etc;

(ii) Last week the music industry encouraged musicians to log any lost income on https://ilostmygig.net.au/  This enables the damage to be quantified and a register created for people to receive additional support. The music industry has also been calling for Support Act to receive more funding to support musicians in crisis. As part of this the industry launched the Sounds of Silence (SOS) Campaign https://thesoundofsilence.com.au/ which seeks to direct public donations towards Support Act;

(iii) There have been clever ideas emerging such as the private Facebook group ‘Doctors without babysitters meet Arts Workers without work’ – https://m.facebook.com/groups/208321047050114/  This started in Melbourne and is looking to expand into other cities.

We know from our addiction project (www.musicianaddiction.org) how much inherent fragility there can be in the quest to earn a living from music, and so this only heaps a mountain more pressure on our brothers and sisters. Let’s do what we can to help one another through this difficult period. Keep safe and well everyone.

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