These are worrying and uncertain times as COVID-19 impacts across the world and we are all having to adapt to a new age of social distancing and lockdowns for the coming weeks or even months. This is, in the modern age, without precedent and our priority must always be to do what we can to prevent spreading the virus further and, in doing so, protecting lives.
All industries are going to be hit hard by this and it will take a long time for them to rebuild themselves when things finally – and we will get there – return to as normal as they will ever be. Music was one of the first sectors to be hit and hit hardest, initially with festivals being cancelled and then all shows being pulled. The music industry, however, was swift to swing into action and to work collectively in order to help those whose work and ability to earn had evaporated overnight.
For music publishing in particular, there is light to be found cracking through the darkness, with a variety of lifelines being thrown to songwriters to see them through what will be a painful period in the short term and will also have long-term repercussions.
From emergency grants and royalty advances to lobbying and information sharing, a lot has happened in a very short space of time. Here is how the publishing world has risen to the threat and what it is doing to safeguard the business and its writers for the future.
The most immediate response to plug the gap for creators whose livelihoods are on hold during the crisis has been making emergency grants available to them. Publishers, collecting societies and organisations’ existing charitable arms have all made money available to those struggling the most.
Around the world, different collecting societies stepped forward with their own relief packages for creators and writers in their own markets.
SACEM in France set up a €6m relief fund for writers and musicians hit by the implications of the virus. It is making grants of €1,500, €3,000 and €5,000 available to those in need depending on the gravity of their particular situation. In the early days of the pandemic it also added €1m to its existing aid programme for publishers.
PRS for Music in the UK set up its Emergency Relief Fund via the PRS Members’ Fund and PRS Foundation. It is making grants of up to £1,000 available to individuals depending on their needs. To qualify, they need to have been a writer member for at least two years and have earned a minimum of £500 in PRS royalties in the preceding 24 months. It also stated that royalty payments will not be affected by the closure of its offices and that they would be processed and paid as scheduled.
In Germany, the federal government immediately stepped in with an aid package of €50bn for the creative and cultural sectors in the country, designed specifically for small businesses and freelancers (which will include songwriters). This was followed up by German collecting society GEMA opening up an initial emergency aid programme of €40m that will be bifurcated. The first tranche, classed as Schutzschirm LIVE (translating as “protective screen”), is for composers and lyricists who also work as performers; meanwhile the second tranche, Corona Relief Fund, offers financial transitional aid based on individual cases of hardship.
“From the very beginning, our association GEMA was driven by the idea of solidarity and mutual protection and assistance,” said Dr Ralf Weigand, chairman of GEMA’s supervisory board, in a statement. “And when, if not now in this unprecedented crisis, will these great principles be in demand and demand immediate action!”
SGAE in Spain has increased its programme of financial aid to its writers – adding a further €7m to the initial €8m it had made available. Grants of up to €3,000 are being opened up to songwriters and composers in need and SGAE will arrange delivery of meals to older members confined to their homes.
In India, the IPRS swung into action with its own emergency relief package. It has not stated how much money will be in this fund but it did stress that it would be distributed across all of its 3,150 author and music composer members from around the country. “It is in times like these that bodies like IPRS can provide much needed help and succor to its members,” said Rakesh Nigam, the CEO of IPRS. “I am glad that we can contribute in this fashion to our members.”
DSPs were also digging deep by donating to and supporting a number of different relief funds. In the US, Amazon Music, SiriusXM (as well as Pandora), Tidal and YouTube Music all announced that they would be donating to the Recording Academy’s MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund in the US. Spotify is also donating and on top of this it has created its own Spotify COVID-19 Music Relief initiative where it will not only donate money but will also match donations through its own fund-raiser page up to a collective total of $10m. The participating organisation whose own efforts will benefit from the money raised here include Centre National de la Musique in France, both Help Musicians and PRS Foundation in the UK, MusiCares in the US and Unison Benevolent Fund in Canada.
With a variety of revenue streams being cut off for all in music – most notably in live – there will be a disruption to income in the medium term as the industry tries to recalibrate and rebuild itself. With no clear indication yet on when live music venues and festivals will be allowed to get back to normal, one important source of writer income – that would normally be heading towards its peak during festival season across the US and then Europe – has disappeared completely.
To help cushion such potentially enormous losses or reductions in income, collecting societies are delivering a variety of responses.
Irish collecting society IMRO is making its distributions from radio income happen monthly as of April in order to ensure songwriters have a more regular flow of royalties coming in
In Australia, APRA has moved its live performance royalties payment date forward from November to May.
SOCAN in Canada has unlocked $2m in emergency royalty advances for creators in desperate need. These advances will be delivered interest-free and will be calculated on applicants’ most recent earnings.
And in France, Sacem has said it has earmarked €36m for what it is calling “exceptional royalty advances” for members especially hit by everything that is happening. This is in part because it is forecasting a “sharp drop in royalties paid out, notably starting in January 2021” as the business struggles to return to normal later this year.
This is something all organisations, publishers, collecting societies and more will be doing to ensure that music creators are covered in government support packages. Key here is an open letter that 40 pan-European music organisations have signed and sent to both the EU and the governments of the individual member states.
“[W]e call for emergency as well as sustainable public support and structural policies at EU, national, regional and local level to consolidate the music ecosystem, and help it thrive again in all its diversity,” says the letter.
Key to the demands of the assorted organisations – among them Impala, the European Composer & Songwriter Alliance, the European Authors Societies, the International Confederation of Music Publishers and the Independent Music Publishers International Forum – is that under the EU Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative the music sector should get “swift and comprehensive access” to structure funds at this time of great need.
“This reminds us that music is a vehicle to recreate a sense of community,” the letter says, underlining the towering cultural importance of music. “In times of containment and pressure, music builds bridges between individuals and cultures irrespective of social, ethnic, cultural backgrounds.”
The good news is that – as noted above – there is a lot of help out there for everyone financially affected by the impact of coronavirus. The less good news is that being able to navigate the application forms and knowing just what you are eligible for (and from where) is not always straightforward.
When finding the relevant information and submitting applications for emergency grants, speed is of the essence. As are clarity and transparency.
In the US, the Covid Relief Fund has been set up by a huge array of music industry organisations and bodies – including the National Music Publishers’ Association, National Songwriters Association International, Songwriters of North America and the Association of Independent Music Publishers – to help musicians and writers in need navigate the red tape around the funds being made available through the US government’s CARES Act.
It lists not only all the organisations making grants available here but also how (if necessary) to claim unemployment benefit and apply for small business loans to help weather the COVID-19 storm.
Spotify’s own COVID-19 Music Relief project (as mentioned above) will also help people identify “verified organisations that offer financial relief to those in the music community most in need around the world”. Among them are MusiCares and PRS Foundation.
And Help Musicians has created an information hub for musicians that not only includes government advice on staying safe but also links for mental health and wellbeing as well as what the UK government is doing to support businesses and individuals through this.
Compassionate licensing and deals
It is sometimes the small gestures that mean the most. In the UK, fitness coach Joe Wicks has created a phenomenon by setting up the P.E. With Joe series on YouTube where each weekday morning he goes through a 30-minute home exercise regime for children now confined to home and missing out on daily exercise.
Each video gets views in the millions but Wicks mentioned during one episode that he was finding it hard to clear music for use during the workouts. This ultimately led to George Ezra persuading his label and publisher to waive royalties on his songs ‘Shotgun’ and ‘Paradise’ in the videos Wicks was creating.
Wicks has also stated that all revenues generated by the series on YouTube will be donated to the National Health Service. In the grand scheme of things, for an act of Ezra’s size, he would probably not miss these royalties, but it is the fact that he made this a public cause that really resonates here.
Finally, the Music Managers’ Forum and the Featured Artists Coalition in the UK – responding to the results of a survey of their memberships on the economic cost to them of the coronavirus crisis – are calling on labels and publishers to grant a “recoupment holiday” to writers and artists on their books.
“[M]ajor labels, major music publishers and others who can afford it should offer artists and songwriters a ‘recoupment holiday’ during a defined short-term period and pay streaming royalties straight through music makers regardless of the state of their balance,” the MMF and FAC said. “We would also like these companies to consider additional advances and moving contractual deadlines where possible.”
They also back the proposal of the Ivors Academy for collecting societies to divert black box income into an emergency hardship fund for those in the music world most in need during this time.