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Music Business and the Coronavirus

“Of all cultural activity, music is perhaps the most impactful, engaging and resonant artform to help people get through the coronavirus pandemic.”

Music may be more important now than ever; but conducting business around it will undoubtedly be challenging. Among the challenges there are some opportunities. We also need to find ways to support each other and work together.

As the coronavirus pandemic response unfolds, cautionary measures to delay the spread of infection will impact us all in some way. The economy is going to take a big hit. Different nations are dealing with COVID-19 in their own ways, which is right and appropriate. Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced that all events with over 500 attendees should be cancelled from Monday 16 March onwards.

This decision will, of course, have a massive impact on music businesses, especially in the live sector. While smaller grassroots venues, events and activities with audiences under 500 can continue to take place, we can expect reluctance of gig-goers and clubbers to participate. Attending gigs and clubs in intimate environments does present an increased infection risk. However, the percentage of the population that goes to gigs and clubs is relatively small and therefore not the greatest concern currently. But whether attending the event is a good idea or not, public advice and the concern, caution or fear of audience members will be the deciding factor of whether or not small events are viable.

Everything feels pretty gloomy at the moment (whatever the weather) so before we consider how to approach the biggest challenges, we should consider some opportunities.

People and businesses working in digital sectors of music — and the wider creative industries — are probably in a less fragile financial position, and potentially poised to carry on working relatively normally. This is especially true for anyone who does, or can, work remotely. These sectors include some forms of music making, music production, mixing and mastering, (digital) distribution, (digital) marketing, media, record label management, artist management, legal and accountancy representation and some forms of education. These sectors can, and should, carry on as normal, as much as possible.

It is the live sector that will be hit the hardest. This includes live music performance, promoters, venues, event management and production, booking agents and tour managers. Recording and rehearsal studios and music teachers may be affected too.

As society changes its behaviour and people stop going out to shows, self-isolate or work from home, they will crave entertainment, escapism, distraction; finding something to identify with, lift their spirits and give them hope. Of all cultural activity, music is perhaps the most impactful, engaging and resonant art form to help people get through the coronavirus pandemic. People will need and want to listen to, watch and experience new and existing music. And there are a variety of ways in which we can all help them do that.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we think all business will need to be conducted either digital-first, live audience second or digital-only. For the digitally-orientated sectors listed above, this is no problem. For the live sector, recording studios and music teachers who teach in person, however, it can be a real challenge. There are opportunities, though, which we want to help explore and examine.

Live streaming can connect audiences and customers with gigs, rehearsals, interviews, discussions, talks, workshops and classes. Although it has been challenging to make this pay normally, these are not now normal times so there may be more willingness from the market to pay for access to original and unique content. While YouTube, Spotify, Netflix, iPlayer and so on offer many thousands of hours of entertainment and information, the proliferation of on demand content has left people devoid of shared experiences. Live streaming, and other forms of remote participation and online interaction, create shared experiences where people can connect. These experiences don’t all need to be entirely screen-based either. Audio, gamification, virtual reality and augmented reality all help integrate and extend the digital experience into the real world.

While many platforms and apps make it possible to live stream, video conference and otherwise interact, knowing how to get started and what to consider is another matter. For those who want to learn more and explore opportunities, the SMIA will hold an advice and information session in the near future; as a live stream, of course.

Remote and flexible working is encouraged. For many businesses this is not an easy option. Some companies are splitting their workforce up into teams with some working remotely, some working onsite and those at risk staying at home. Facebook has launched a Small Business Resource Hub to help inform and equip people who want to explore remote working practice.

We will continue to research information and present ideas. In the meantime, please share your concerns and suggestions with us and each other on the SMIA’s social profiles, especially Facebook and Twitter. Dealing with this crisis will undoubtedly be difficult, to say the least. But we can, and should, work together, support those around us and help each other get through this.

Dougal Perman is Executive Chair of the SMIA.

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