With thousands of tours across the globe having already been cancelled, along with an increasing number of music festivals in this time of unprecedented uncertainty, the future of the music industry looks bleak due to the ongoing COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. The financial security and safety of many people working in the music industry are shrouded in complete mystery.
The industry relies on a heavily freelance workforce. The Musicians Union reports that 94% of UK musicians work freelance for all or part of their income. There is no security measure in place to cover the loss of income to the millions of workers who are only paid for completed work from live music events. The industry operates in such a way that it is improbable for musicians or crew to receive any financial remuneration for cancelled shows.
Industry “gig workers” don’t get to enjoy the work benefits that many conventional jobs offer. Freelancers forego paid salaries, retirement plans, paid vacation time, health insurance, and job security for the sake of pursuing a career in entertainment. Unlike many jobs, musicians and touring crew members cannot work from home whilst in quarantine to make up for a loss of earnings.
The coronavirus pandemic is proving to be the most devastating challenge ever to face the live music industry and the creative community as a whole. Even more worryingly, as the globe continues to deal with the on-going crisis, it is clear there is a significant lack of economic support for those in desperate need.
The Financial Fallout As We Know It
We still understand very little about COVID-19. What we do know is that it affects the lungs and airways and that the virus is extremely contagious. Governments across the world have locked down populations in an attempt to slow down the spreading of illness.
As the illness continues to spread, so does its impact on the music industry. We have seen dozens of major festivals around the world postponed or outright cancelled as a result of the pandemic. Industry experts and financial analysts are projecting the live entertainment industry will lose billions – an economic fallout nobody was ever anticipating.
Some of the most notable and dramatic music festival cancellations amidst the chaos around the world include Coachella, SXSW, Download Australia, and Glastonbury – the UK’s flagship music festival with over 200,000 attendees. All tickets are either being fully refunded or deferred to a later year’s event.
Financial risk and business consultants claim that Glastonbury could experience revenue losses of over £100 million as a result of being axed, and the total costs of cancelling the event will be in excess of over £60 million, “Once the running costs and refunds are taken into account,” Eventopedia CEO Toby Heelis told Metro. Ultimately the total financial cost the festival will incur depends on the type and level of insurance the festival has arranged.
Other widely celebrated music events such as the Eurovision Song Contest have also been cancelled with short notice due to the current crisis. These abrupt and unfortunate changes underline the devastating impact of the virus on live music. Whilst it’s hard to imagine how large events will survive through this ordeal, these festivals deserve recognition for putting the health and safety of people first.
What Can We Anticipate Will Happen In The Coming Months?
In this time of enormous uncertainty, we can be sure that the number of coronavirus-related music event cancellations will continue to ramp up every passing day. Many countries have placed bans on large social gatherings, including Australia- which has just banned all non-essential gatherings of over 100 people to slow down the spread of the illness. The harsh reality is that as a result of this, Australia’s live music industry is on the “brink of collapse”, according to Billboard, without financial aid from the federal government.
Epidemiology experts warn that large-scale mass gatherings, those where large numbers of people are in extremely close contact for extended periods of time, are at significantly high risk for virus transmissions.
Currently, many music festivals still claim to be going ahead as planned. Whilst the survival of many music festivals may depend on them taking place, for the safety of artists, fans, and staff, we will continue to see many more cancellations as time goes on.
How Will Recorded Music Be Impacted?
The decline of the record industry has forced monumental changes in the music industry as a whole. The advent of digital, with the introduction of leaks, piracy, and app-based listening, has transformed how artists and record labels generate income. The balance has shifted from the sale of recorded music to promoting live music events and merchandising.
Before the coronavirus crisis, it was already challenging for artists, record labels, and music companies to receive sustainable financial compensation for music units sold. This is because the royalty rates earned from streaming music only make up a relatively small part of the total income.
One would presume that overall listenership would remain stable and consistent through the current crisis, as there is still nothing to prevent people from consuming recorded music. The recent stream tallies of Spotify’s weekly ‘Top 200 global chart’ prove that streaming revenues may remain strong in the face of the current climate. The figures suggest that record labels are in a stronger position than live music promoters and booking agencies. Live Nation is a notable example of such a company, having experienced a plunge in share prices of more than 33% in a matter of days.
However, another piece of data suggests that overall streaming levels are declining in the face of the unsettling crisis. The data shows the total number of streams has been steadily declining in Italy, alongside other countries that are profoundly affected by the pandemic. Since introducing a national quarantine on March 9th, there was a 23% drop in Spotify streams compared to before. The results show that those in isolation are listening to less music than they usually would.
It’s clear that everyone in the music industry has seen an impact. The entire live music industry has come to an abrupt screeching halt in a matter of weeks, and unfortunately, everyone is still struggling to adapt to these immense changes. It is not just the music industry, but the coronavirus spread is impacting every industry and sector across the world. Admittedly, the music industry is amongst those hit hardest.
Professional musicians and artists rely so heavily on touring and live performances as their primary source of income, as the decline of the record industry has meant that fewer music fans pay for music. The risks to public health and safety have forced governments to ground the single largest revenue stream for those in the music industry.
The live events industry will continue to face further economic impact, as more large-scale music festivals will close their doors due to fears for public safety. The enormous potential losses may force some event organizers to go out of business, due to the business relying so heavily on revenues from attendees.
We hope that many of the companies we rely on to deliver quality music events around the world will be able to weather the storm and remain resilient in the face of such a period of adversity.
Gideon Waxman is a London-based drummer and music educator who holds a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Westminster. You can find more of his advice over at Drum Helper, one of the web’s most popular free online drumming resources.