How can we help stabilise the music industry after COVID-19?
Written by Pete Armitage and edited by Sarah Martin
To onlookers whose sole interaction with the music industry is via artists on social media, it may appear that everyone is just having a little holiday. A casual break from touring and some valuable time in the studio to reflect on their last EP’s performance.
The reality is that everyone that comprises the industry has been affected, and even major artists and labels have been completely devastated by COVID-19. The hit to smaller outfits doesn't even bear talking about. Already in Berlin, droves of up-and-coming producers have left the city, simply because they've run out of cash.
That’s the first thing that needs to be addressed here - the prime destabilising force is a lack of funding. Few industries have been hit worse than music. With gatherings of more than a handful of people being illegal for the best part of four months, nobody is playing gigs; the predominant revenue stream for artists regardless of the size of their following.
Even prior to the crisis, the music industry was running on low battery. Ever since the ‘napster disruption’ (as coined by WMG CIO Scott Cohen1) to recorded music, artists’ bread-and-butter has been live performance revenue and it comprises over 50% of revenue overall in the business.
Perhaps now is the time to finally demystify the common misconception among the public that musicians live like ‘traditional’ rockstars. With a few exceptions, this existence is a vestige of the past, rendered almost impossible for all but the 1%. Yeah some DJs in Berlin are stinking rich but most aren’t.
So let’s cut to the chase. There are over 1,450 music companies with over 13,000 employees in the city of Berlin along with over 400 clubs and countless DJs4. Artists, promoters, agents, venues, roadies who have been affected and need financial help.
On a global scale, projections suggest a $10< billion dollar contraction1 to the music industry as a result of the pandemic. In addition to the loss of performance revenue, there was a reported 7-9% reduction in streaming in some markets.
Let’s look at ways we can get the music industry back on its feet:
It sounds like a reductive suggestion, but rather than only listening to tunes on Spotify or TIDAL, why not actually buy an album or two?
Although streaming revenue is steadily increasing for artists, it still pales into insignificance compared to actually buying their record. Despite royalties from streaming improving, artists still only receive approximately $4,000 per 1,000,000 streams2, whereas up to 15% of royalties from a digital sale end up in the artist’s pocket.
It is now possible to tip artists on some of the bigger platforms.
Back in March during the onset of the pandemic, Spotify launched their COVID-19 music relief fund3. They promised to match contributions up to a total of $10 million and donate the proceeds to several international industry partners including PRS music, Initiativ Musik and MusiCares. To quote Spotify, ‘...The Coronavirus Music Aid project was launched to strengthen the efforts of organizations that focus on helping those who need it most.’ Get involved.
- Change your habits and try new things
It’s easy to get complacent with our music consumption habits. The big streaming platforms are so integrated into our digital lives that many of us have forgotten other options with which to enjoy music.
United We Stream is a fantastic not-for-profit service livestreaming performances from some of Berlin’s finest crop. Users can choose to become a sponsor and receive a ‘virtual club ticket’ by making a donation to the club commission via the website: https://en.unitedwestream.berlin/
100% of income from the streaming service goes directly to a relief fund which supports promoters, artists and venues in need. Reassuringly, the distribution of these funds will be decided by an independent jury formed by Clubcommission Berlin e.V. based on their criteria. A real glimmer of hope for the scene and one of the easiest ways to restabilise the industry on a local level.
Artists need to be reassured that their fans are still there. It’s not too difficult to hop on social media and see what your favourite singer is up to. Platforms such as Berlin’s HÖR5 allow artists to maintain and foster connections with fans without traditional live performance.
Established in 2019 by Charli and Ori, HÖR (german for ‘hear’) came about as a response to a gap in the market and as a fresh local alternative to Boiler Room (which is now about as leftfield as Robbie Williams). Operating out of an über-distinctive tiled DJ booth in Kreuzberg, HÖR have deservedly amassed over 40k instagram followers since their inception. Bigger acts too such as Ellen Allien have performed on the channel and it’s the perfect place to engage with local talent.
Also perhaps to note is a growing realisation that consumer behaviour will change radically post COVID-19. This is probably true and not necessarily a bad thing. This is a time where artists and labels will benefit from any support financial or otherwise - show them some love.
The recent press footage of the ‘quarantine disco’ attended by 6,000+ revellers in Manchester, UK demonstrates that clubbers are hungry for the dance. Being locked away for months is sending people bonkers, and naturally illegal shindigs will go down. Not to be a party pooper but the reality is that the less we obey social distancing, the longer it will be before venues open again.
If we all adhere to the guidelines things will move more swiftly.
The harsh reality is that when clubs and venues do open again, things will be very different. Potential attendees will have less cash to spend and promoters may resort to increasing fees to compensate for losses. Add to that that some revellers may have just realised that they don’t need to go out to have fun. All of which are problematic scenarios for the industry.
Alongside the above mentioned ways we can help re-stabilisation of the industry as individuals, our governments and councils are also scrambling to prop up the economy by dishing out aid packages to vulnerable sectors. As is usually the case, the arts sector is proportionally malnourished for no apparent reason.
Get involved and share your thoughts with the Senatskanzlei: