It’s felt over the course of the last year, and particularly at the start of 2021 that music is under threat as never before. With tiers and lockdowns stretching on for an unknowable time most businesses are suffering, some have won in the lotto of Government support, many have lost. There are some key areas that we need to reflect on and act on as fans if we are to keep enjoying the music we love.
Live music? “Dead in the water” I hear you mutter. The mainstream media fuss about the cancellation of Glastonbury clouds the water. AUK favourite Black Deer is at this writing still on, as are others – time will tell if they go ahead. My advice book now and assume you are paying it forward for 2022 if nothing else. My Black Deer line up is brilliant, and my tickets are ordered. The other cloud hanging over live music is what I’m going to charitably describe as the Government’s idiotic behaviour in the Brexit agreement over visas for touring musicians. The Guardian summed it up well enough: “The government has been called spineless after a report it rejected a deal with the EU that would have given musicians visa-free touring on the continent, saving acts from expensive and potentially prohibitive post-Brexit bureaucracy.” So, another barrier to the livelihoods of an industry that generated £5.8 billion for the economy in 2019. If Sunak expects us to be able to pay the tax he needs to recover from this mess, he needs to go on bended knee to the EU admit his mistakes and grovel for a rethink. The Musicians Union has provided a helpful guide for touring artists that also bears reading by the average gig-goer.
With government support for the “arts” during Covid derisory to say the least and worse channelled through the Arts Council that well-known supporter of anything featuring an electric guitar, the chances of “our” artists seeing any help, or indeed qualifying for other support are extremely slim. Why does the Government hate “popular culture”? Who knows, but they seem set on a course that will destroy much of the music business, indeed they may already have done it. So, artists are resorting to other ways to keep afloat. Support paid live streams. Laura Marling reportedly sold around 6,000 tickets for two shows streamed from The Union Chapel in North London. Over the Rhine recorded a live show that was sold on a pay once watch as often as you like basis over Christmas, and that tied to special offers in their online shop returned an income, as well as opening them up to an audience who would have been unable to attend their usual Ohio Christmas show.
Celtic Connections is running online in 2021 and has a fabulous lineup. As I write I have seen four shows, all great, including a name to watch for, Josie Duncan, who I would not have gone to see in the real world, but online took a chance and I’m grateful I did. Many other artists are offering free livestreams and holding out a virtual tip jar. A band in a different part of the musical forest report that only 12% of those watching their Facebook stream dropped a coin. If you watch, put your hand in your pocket.
What else? Many artists have got creative with their marketing. Lockdown albums abound and lots are reviewed at AUK. The high percentage of independent acts in our collective albums of the year tells you where the quality is in Americana at the moment. Although adrift from our usual musical coverage, Scottish mainstream country act Ashton Lane have generated revenue by building a VIP Facebook group offering exclusive music, video, and access to the band. Australian Singer-songwriter Rachel Collis has taken a different tack. Offering three free songs as a taster drops you into her marketing system, with some enticing offers on her albums. The use of commercial marketing techniques in music is still relatively new. I found Collis from an ad on Facebook, since checking the Black Deer website while writing this piece I have had retargeting ads for it pop up. Please don’t grumble or pass by. Look at them they are people we love trying to keep their heads above water.
And then there is writing. With print magazines struggling as shops close and WH Smith reduces the number of titles on its shelves where will you find out about the music in future? Most music writing is unpaid, AUK is staffed and run by people whose passion is the music and do it for the love. These are writers, most of whose i’s I’m not worthy to dot, who spend many hours bringing you this site, so please hit the button at the bottom of the page. The same is true in most music publications. Staffed by people in it because they love.
A final Brexit bonus that has gone largely unreported is that most physical product, CDs, and vinyl is produced in Eastern Europe. Your copy of Mojo lacked its CD for February because they are stuck behind red tape of our Government’s creation on the other side of the water. What that means for artist’s looking to issue music in 2021 only time will tell.