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The Death Of Live?

Leader By Sam Inglis
Published December 2020

One of the cruellest things about the Covid‑19 crisis is that the burden hasn’t been shared equally. Indeed, some manufacturers are reporting record sales, thanks to people spending more time in their home studios. But for anyone who supplies or works in live sound, or the wider events industry, it’s been a disaster. Gigs, tours, festivals: all were closed down practically overnight back in March, and there seems no prospect of them restarting any time soon.

Sam Inglis, Editor In ChiefSam Inglis, Editor In ChiefPhoto: JG HardingLive music is hardly the only casualty of Covid, but a combination of circumstances has meant that it’s been hit particularly hard. For one thing, it’s a sector where conventional full‑time employment is relatively rare. Even at the highest level, it’s normal for people to be self‑employed, working freelance or on short‑term contracts. Such government support schemes as exist contain cracks, and many self‑employed in every sector have fallen through them.

It’s also a sector that is heavily populated by small and medium‑sized businesses, many of a specialist nature. These companies don’t have the reserves to weather a storm that could last a year or more, and they don’t have other lines of business that they can focus on when concerts aren’t happening. They often have a lot of capital tied up in equipment, which makes money only when it’s being used, and requires expensive storage and maintenance when it’s not.

Gigs, tours, festivals: all were closed down practically overnight back in March, and there seems no prospect of them restarting any time soon.

The UK government recently stated that Covid‑related financial support will now be limited to jobs and businesses that are deemed ‘viable’. To be a ‘viable’ employee, you need to be working at least a third of your normal hours. But in a live music industry that remains completely shut down, that’s not going to happen. It’s not as though a third of the planned tours and festivals are going ahead, or a third of UK music venues were open as normal.

The entire supply chain for live events is under pressure, from venues all the way to PA manufacturers. The logistics of tours and festivals are extremely complex, and can’t be paused and restarted at the flick of a switch. People are talking about an ‘existential crisis’, and it’s not hyperbole. If and when live music emerges from the shadow of Covid‑19, it will be much altered, and many of its most talented professionals will have been lost to other, more ‘viable’ jobs.

Is there anything that can be done?

Well, if there’s one thing that live music people are good at, it’s making a noise. Industry bodies including PLASA have teamed up to create the #WeMakeEvents campaign, which aims to highlight the plight of the live events industry, support professionals whose jobs are under threat, and secure government backing for five key pledges that could ensure the survival of the industry. Like any campaign, #WeMakeEvents will be more effective the more people back it. So if you value live music, visit their website to learn more, and consider participating in one of their imaginative fundraising events. But hurry, because it’s getting urgent!

Sam Inglis Editor In Chief

Published December 2020