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UK music: Is it all doom and gloom?

The pandemic has ravaged the music industries, in particular the live sector, the future of which has looked cloudy at best. But now we have light at the end of the tunnel, are there any positives from this period of lockdowns? Does anyone really care about music and its creators? The answer thankfully is a resounding yes! 

Let’s take a moment to step out of the gloom and on to the dancefloor (albeit within the confines of your own home for now); celebrating the great genius and ingenuity of many. After all the arts are nothing if not resilient, and times of hardship and trouble are often narrated and navigated by our artists, pioneering new ways to survive, and eventually thrive beyond the bad times and in to the good! 

‘Lockdown 1.0’ forced our artists back in to their bedrooms. The need to perform and connect with fans saw hundreds of musicians take to live streaming platforms with great success; after all, those that would normally find themselves at gigs and concerts were stuck at home too. These streams progressed to include links to PayPal accounts, with even grassroots artists generating thousands in generous and supportive donations from fans. This quickly developed from basic phone streams, to fully ticketed, production laden and venue based online shows.  

Many thousands of tickets have been sold by mainstream artists such as Laura Marling and Biffy Clyro (as well as orchestras), but smaller acts also gained access to venues and spaces to create similar performance opportunities. This style of online gig will be with us long after the pandemic. It provides a unique experience for a punter, one that often can’t be produced in a normal concert setting, and gives our artists another way to flex creative muscles and demonstrate their craft. 

While streaming platforms found listeners going back to their roots, primarily playing their old faithful artists for comfort and ignoring new music releases, direct to fan platforms such as Bandcamp saw booming business. These sites have long been a friend to the musician, providing a sustainable way for artists to sell their music and merchandise directly to their fanbases, cutting out intermediaries like labels or Amazon. Bandcamp saw a huge surge in those using the site and fans came to the aid of artists to the tune of over $100m in 2020. This has reinvigorated the DIY ethos, giving the power back to the musicians and their fans. It also displays the variety of merchandise supporters are willing to purchase, with sales of cassette tapes well over the hundred thousand mark. 

Innovation in the health and tech world is also seeing artists explore new ways to generate income. The creation of applications like Calm (addressing stress and sleep), or Peloton (an online fitness streaming platform), all of which have seen an increase in usage over the last year, creates a new demand for tailored, platform specific music. 

Although we are looking at the positives here, we must acknowledge those that have suffered at the hand of the pandemic. The teams of professionals that make live performances happen, including the venues that host these shows, haven’t worked for over a year and have received little support. Artists have raised funds for these key partners via the mediums discussed but that won’t pay bills for long. The cultural importance of musical output (and the creative sector in general) in the UK has never been in doubt, but let’s hope the lack  of live entertainment puts this in to further perspective and we get back out there and support one of our nation’s greatest, and most exciting exports very soon. 

 

James Warrender, Enterprise Coordinator, Leeds Conservatoire 

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