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STATE OF PLAY IN THE U.K.

As the U.K. music industry grapples with the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, how are those within the business being impacted? What might recovery look like and when? A few weekend reports in The Times and The Guardian offered some further insight. 

Speaking to The GuardianUK Music estimates that the live industry will take four to five years to reach its pre-pandemic state. CEO of the trade body, Tom Watson, urged for more help from the British Government—specifically, rent-free periods for music venues from landlords. CEO of the Music Venue TrustMark Davyd, noted: “If the government took action on rents, you could stop the live music infrastructure from collapsing. Once these venues close, they won’t come back.”

Ray Winkler, CEO of Stufish Entertainment Architects—a London-based company that has worked on tours for Madonna, U2 and Elton John—predicts that if the live music industry doesn’t survive the pandemic (a rather bleak scenario), technology will take over, most notably in the form of virtual concerts. “In the future, I can absolutely imagine we will be able to sit at home, strap on an augmented or virtual reality headset and … boom, suddenly be in the middle of Wembley,” he says. “Your favorite artist will be performing, you’ll be able to see them clearly, and the only thing missing is that you don’t have to queue to go to the toilet, spend lots of money buying beer and spend two hours getting there.”

Over at The TimesIsle of Wight Festival founder and big-league promoter John Giddings raises the specific issues faced by older musicians, who will be among the last to safely travel and perform. “Musicians over 65 are vulnerable because your immune system deteriorates, however old you are,” he points out. “Then there is the audience. Harry Styles’ autumn tour of Australia just sold out in 10 seconds because his fans are young and they don’t care, but I have U.K. tours of older artists in the autumn. Will people turn up in the face of this virus? Certainly, right now, nobody is buying tickets.” 

Songwriter Kamille (pictured) says the demand for new music has gone up, while producer Fraser T. Smith offers a positive outlook on this period of time for music creation. “There will be permanent changes after coronavirus, but they will be positive,” he says. “Artists feel like they’re on a hamster wheel and it’s brutal, but now they’ve been forced to slow down. They’ve been forced to step back, spend time with nature, develop their technical skills, really think about what they want to do. We’re going to have artists seeing the value in giving months of their lives to creating great bodies of work.”

Across the business at large, promoters, agencies and festivals are suffering as a result of losing what may essentially be a year's worth of income, while musicians struggle with a similar situation. The U.K. Government has offered a number of support packages, including payments for those who have been furloughed and business loans, but many individuals and independent businesses have reported being unable to meet the eligibility criteria. 

Lockdown is slowly easing, but there's no news on when gigs and festivals will be able to safely return, and many within the business aren't expecting that to happen until next year. Will further support help the industry survive the crisis? Or will many casualties result in a significantly reduced industry in 2021 and beyond? Stay tuned. 

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