In the second of our two-part analysis, Ben Gilbert examines the response to the pandemic and speaks to industry figures to find out how a business founded on creativity can find solutions to the improbable impact of COVID-19 (check out part 1 here).
In a music industry that has already seen the rug pulled from beneath it once in this new millennium, COVID-19 must seem about as masochistically funny as Gary Glitter’s comeback in Joker. The demolition of recording revenue that accompanied a technological revolution birthed by Napster and raised by Spotify left live performance as something to be relied upon. Right now, that too is gone, a touring scene lain waste, like every other public gathering, by the improbable impact of coronavirus.
Or so you might think. Because this is an industry stacked with creative talent, the kind of imaginative minds that would bless any sector. For example, a recent piece in The Guardian, titled “Instagram! How are we feeling tonight?”, highlighted the invention of British star L Devine. Unable to embark on her European tour because of the pandemic, she instead played a series of URL dates, rerouting to new digital destinations and performing headline shows on Twitter, Facebook and TikTok.
“While perhaps not a long-term solution, the language of digital is likely to prompt a fresh rewiring of our understanding about what’s possible in challenging times, when it comes to engaging an audience and building momentum around music content.”
“I can’t believe I’m in the front row,” declared one fan during Devine’s Instagram Live, which attracted an audience of approximately 1,000 fans. Like the aforementioned era of disruption, artists are having to reconfigure approaches to their art once more. While perhaps not a long-term solution, the language of digital is likely to prompt a fresh rewiring of our understanding about what’s possible in challenging times, when it comes to engaging an audience and building momentum around music content.
What can fans do to support creatives and their teams during the pandemic?
Donating to livestreams is one of the methods recommended to support those affected during this unprecedented time in an NPR piece by Cherie Hu. She suggests fans donate to their favourite acts and music-industry workers via Venmo, PayPal, Cash App or Patreon and buy directly from e-commerce channels, while being wary of physical merchandise. She also points to state and national-level emergency funds for musicians and their teams and, of course, official music streaming services.
Such independent thinking, alongside guidance from organisations such as SyncSmith, illustrate the sense of community that has emerged in response to coronavirus. At the other end of the spectrum, key conferences like AIM Sync and Midem have also acted swiftly, with both reconfiguring annual showpiece events into virtual conferences. The latter’s Digital Edition is now scheduled to take place on June 2-5, 2020.
Current situation is no less than devastating, artists entire ecosystems have been decimated with diminishing hope of any immediate reprieve. As one of the last bastions of cashflow we needed to do something, so we spoke to leading music supervisors to get their advice… pic.twitter.com/8gXMUTyUrX
— Syncsmith® (@syncsmith) March 17, 2020
Official bodies mobilising to support the music community
Naturally, music bodies and streaming platforms have also mobilised. UK songwriting organisation The Ivors Academy recently proposed that unallocated “black box” streaming royalties be reserved specifically for those who have been directly impacted within the music community, while PRS for Music also launched a relief scheme to support its members.
“The live industry has halted globally, television and film production is on hold and businesses are closing, causing a dramatic reduction in music used. Collectively the livelihoods of creators, many of whom are freelance or small businesses themselves, are at significant risk during this crisis,” PRS commented in announcing the move.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles-based Songtradr, who licence sync music across the entertainment sector for clients such as Disney, Netflix, Apple, Coca-Cola and Amazon, took the decision to waive its usual licensing fees for a month, passing the money directly to artists instead, reports Music Business Worldwide.
Spotify partners with MusiCares, PRS Foundation and Help Musicians
Elsewhere, Spotfiy has responded to an appeal from musicians to triple royalty rates during the pandemic by partnering with MusiCares, PRS Foundation and Help Musicians to establish the Spotify Covid-19 Music Relief programme. Alongside a donation to the aforementioned bodies, they intend to match pledges to their initiative up to a total contribution of $10m.
Such measures, in tandem with government finance and expansive digital databases such as Corona Advice For Musicians, provide a modicum of reassurance and point to a way forward for industry professionals. To find out how things look on the ground, Synchtank has canvassed views from a practical standpoint. In response, Jess Furman, of Sound Revolver and Big Noise Music Group, called on her peers to “use the good health and tools that we have to stay productive, connected and creative, safely.”
Her suggestion that such extensive levels of home working right now present a unique opportunity, particularly for those operating in synch, is reiterated by Will Chadwick, founder of WhatDoYouSync? licensing agency. “We are still receiving some requests for music, especially for adverts. I think brands want to stay relevant and in people’s minds during these times when a lot of people are home and the engagement of an advert is potentially higher,” he said.
“We are still receiving some requests for music, especially for adverts. I think brands want to stay relevant and in people’s minds during these times when a lot of people are home and the engagement of an advert is potentially higher.”
– Will Chadwick, WhatDoYouSync?
“As a creative industry we are going to find solutions to the problem”
West One Music Group’s Sasha White is encouraged by the intelligent harnessing of digital tools and virtual spaces that have popped up in recent weeks. She commented: “I think as a creative industry we are going to find solutions to the problem. And as creatives we may be able to bounce back in a more malleable way. We just need to make sure that our synch community supports one another and we need to make sure we are reaching out in the coming months to those who have felt the knock-on effect of coronavirus.”
“We just need to make sure that our synch community supports one another and we need to make sure we are reaching out in the coming months to those who have felt the knock-on effect of coronavirus.”
– Sasha White, West One Music Group
Pamela Lewis-Rudden, Sync Licensing Specialist at Plutonic Group Syncs, agrees, pinpointing the potential impact of this pandemic on the creative community. While highlighting the important role political figures have in influencing the discourse surrounding this landscape and pushing for stronger engagement with many of the unions and music companies featured in this piece, she suggests it is “artists who need our support now more than ever.”
This is the second of Synchtank’s two-part analysis exploring the impact of COVID-19 on the music industry. You can find part 1 here.