In the first of our two-part analysis, Ben Gilbert explores the initial fallout from coronavirus, hearing stories from across the music sector to discover just how disruptive the pandemic has already been to businesses and individuals.
As the tentacles of coronavirus reach into every corner of the planet, it is clear that no area of society will be unaffected. The challenge of COVID-19 threatens the survival of all communities, from the developed world to the globe’s indigenous tribes. “Everybody’s scared. The threat is very real,” said Chief David Monias on behalf of Canada’s Native American population. The industries of entertainment, the people, platforms and performances that shape our experiences of life, are dealing with their own sense of jeopardy.
This includes music and those who power it. While headlines may have been made by the postponement or cancellation of mega events like Glastonbury, on the eve of their historic 50th anniversary festival, Coachella and SWSW, it’s at the micro level that the business really feels as if it is being brought to its knees. The multitude of components, cogs and, well, humans, whose livelihoods depend on the production that has inevitably ceased.
Self-employed workforce in the creative industries set to be badly hit
It’s notable that a recent report in the UK found the creative industries to be “the fastest growing part of the economy”. Sustained by a workforce that totals 47% self-employed people, in comparison with 15% across business as a whole, music sectors such as sync are expected to be badly hit. The impact on visual entertainment is also profound, hitting major broadcasters including Netflix and the BBC and impacting upcoming shows, film releases and even, finally, downing 007.
Naturally, there are obvious concerns about how the development and consumption of music-related content, alongside related markets such as gaming and sports, will evolve during this unparalleled time. Last month’s MIDiA research study into the impact of coronavirus also looked further forward, identifying five potential phases in leisure and entertainment: business as usual / leisure collapse / cocooning / revival / recurrence.
Entertainment sectors may be dealing with the fallout “for years to come”
Their findings predict that these sectors may be dealing with the fallout “for years to come”. MIDiA commented: “Many creators will face economic hardship unlike any other that they have experienced, and there is a responsibility right across the value chain for helping struggling creatives throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Some may even find themselves forced out of creativity all together.”
But what has been the initial impact on people working at the frontline of the sync community? Sasha White, from West One Music Group, says this sector is very much governed by a “trickle down” chain of events. “At this stage many productions are completely on hold. Filming has stopped. Post-production has stopped. Air dates are being cancelled and pushed back.
“All of the European markets such as Promax, Series Mania, MIPTV are being cancelled. This could have a knock-on effect on the sync world whether that be for smaller creative companies, composers and supervisors. Many many people in the varying parts of our industry rely on agencies and productions to pay the bills, so when they stop working, we stop working,” she told Synchtank.
“TV, film and advertising productions seemingly slowed and shut down in one fell swoop”
Pamela Lewis-Rudden, Sync Licensing Specialist at Plutonic Group Syncs, has gone from “a steady flow” to “an intermittent trickle” of music-related briefs since coronavirus took hold. “It was as if overnight, TV, film and advertising productions seemingly slowed and shut down in one fell swoop. With the closure of productions across the board, music supervisors no longer have a need for music submissions nor weekly or monthly updates/newsletters which sync agents regularly supply to the music buying community,” she said.
In music supervision, Rob Lowry, Founder of Sweater Weather Music, strikes a slightly more optimistic tone with regard to his current workload, reporting that, despite the evident challenges gripping most industries in many locations, post-production is able to continue, even if the majority of their pilot shows have been pulled, at least for now.
“Ultimately, the greatest way it’s impacted us is just what we do and don’t have to work on, project wise. We’re lucky in that we can work remotely for the majority of needs, and when projects are in post-production, we’re not really dealing with things that need to be done in person,” he explained.
Onus falls on governments to assist and provide financial help
Meanwhile, although Sound Revolver and Big Noise Music Group’s Jess Furman admits there has been “a definite slow down”, the modern technology that underpins the music industry and their own organisation means “all our files have always been accessible online to ensure that we can seamlessly work remotely. So aside from the lack of in-person social interaction, on the functional side not much has changed for our team from an operational standpoint.”
The onus has now fallen on governments to assist in providing financial assistance and the latest promise of a bail out to steady the crucial contribution of the creative industries. In the UK, Chancellor Rishi Sunak recently revealed plans for self-employed workers to apply for grants worth 80% of their average monthly income up to a maximum of £2,500 per month.
Tom Kiehl, acting CEO of umbrella trade organization UK Music, welcomed the news, calling it “a vital lifeline”. However, he insisted such measures need to be introduced quickly and ahead of the summer timeframe initially outlined. “People are in desperate need with bills to pay. They need financial support now and cannot wait until June for the scheme to kick in,” said Kiehl in a Billboard report.
President Trump passes Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act
In the US, meanwhile, President Donald Trump has passed a $2.2 trillion relief package, titled the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. This will guarantee payments for self-employed workers, including music professionals, and develop a new pandemic unemployment assistance program. Recording Academy interim president/CEO Harvey Mason Jr commented: “In navigating this unprecedented crisis, all music industry professionals across the US…can be grateful that they are included in this extraordinary effort to help Americans.”
It is this sense of community, whether across an entire nation state juggling unpredictable futures or a mobilised body of workers engaged in the creation of cultural texts, that feels paramount. These are truly challenging times but in addressing a collective era of destabilising “uncertainty”, Lewis-Rudden concludes: “I can only imagine that many of my colleagues are in the same boat.”
This is the first of Synchtank’s two-part analysis exploring the impact of COVID-19 on the music industry. Check out part 2 where we look at the industry’s response to the pandemic.
Found this article useful? Why not check out:
- Lockdown – But Not Out: How Music Publishers Are Responding to the Coronavirus Crisis
- How to Continue Making Money in the Music Business During Isolation
- Music Industry Coronavirus Resources – Part 1: Available Funding, Virtual Events & Educational Materials
- This Fortnight in Music Supervision and Sync (03/04/20) – Remembering Adam Schlesinger, Coronavirus Resources for the Sync Community & More