Few sectors deliver for Britain in quite the way our music industry does. It is an economic powerhouse, contributing £5.2 billion to our economy each year, generating £2.7 billion of British exports, and supporting 190,000 jobs across the UK.
It brings huge benefits to wider society. Speak to NHS clinicians working on social prescribing, community workers helping disadvantaged young people, or pioneering teachers like Katharine Birbalsingh who are preparing children to succeed in the future economy – they will tell you that the value and importance of music extends far beyond just the cultural sector.
And the soft power benefits for the UK are vast. The music industry has always punched above its weight internationally, and today it projects a sense of British exceptionalism across the globe. The Beatles. Ed Sheeran. Sheku Kanneh-Mason. Adele. Last century, British ambassadors mostly hailed from Eton and Oxbridge. Now they are coming from the BRIT School in Croydon.
On any metric, our music industry is a key national asset that delivers for this country at home and abroad. And its impressive trajectory meant it was set to be the British success story of the coming decade.
The devastating impact of Covid-19 has put all that at risk. The pandemic’s impact on the music industry has been catastrophic. Social distancing rules make it difficult to break even, so the majority of music venues remain dark and under threat of permanent closure. Festivals and international tours have been cancelled. Thousands of musicians are unable to work, with many considering quitting the sector for good.
And the effects go wider. The music industry is a vital part of our country’s societal ecosystem – indeed, the pandemic has laid bare just how integral it is. For many bars, pubs and restaurants, the absence of live concerts and theatre has impacted footfall just as much as the absence of workers from offices.
The health and wellbeing benefits of music-making have become even more obvious since activities like singing in a local choir or playing in a band with friends have been denied to us. And the cancellation of festivals across the country has exposed just how dependent local economies are on events like Download festival and Glastonbury.
However, the music industry has worked hard to help itself. Two Manchester venues - Gorilla and The Deaf Institute - were saved from closure after gig promoters and one of the city’s best loved singers, The Charlatans’ Tim Burgess, stepped into help. As the new chief executive of UK Music, I am immensely proud of how our industry has stepped up to the plate to support its own at this time of need.
Many musicians have embraced some brilliant ideas to cope with Covid-19. Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s Kitchen Disco was a ray of lockdown light with her live concerts from home. English National Opera staged the world’s first drive-in opera in a car park at Alexandra Palace.
Our sector has shown incredible ingenuity and creativity to survive, and has arguably done more than any other to adapt to the new reality. We are braced for this pandemic to continue for many months – but we need the right support to ensure we can make it through the other side.
Our overriding priority is helping all those who work in the music industry get back to doing what they and audiences love and, once again, contribute billions of pounds to the economy.
Getting venues reopened and the live music sector back on the road is a vital part of that process. We all look forward to a time when we can have full capacity events without social distancing. But until that point, we need to find a way to ensure events can happen in a way that is both safe and also financially viable.
The £1.57 billion government support package for the arts has been incredibly welcome. That funding will make a huge difference to venues when it is distributed next week, and we thank the Government for it. But more help is needed for the music industry where 72 per cent are self-employed and aren’t eligible for much of the support on offer because restrictions mean they cannot work. As Arts Minister Caroline Dinenage said this week, “our world-beating cultural and creative industries are absolutely nothing without the people who work in them”.
Critically, the music industry needs an indicative date that it can work towards as part of the government’s road map for the reopening of venues. We want to be able to stand on our own two feet, support ourselves and generate income for the economy once again.
The UK music industry is a commercially successful sector that was growing before the pandemic, and can grow again. It has the potential to become one of our country’s most important national assets over the next decade, a British success story that delivers at home and abroad. But that future depends on us saving the cultural infrastructure we have today.