Gal Gadot and her A-list Whatsapp dreamers could have stayed in tune, it turns out, if the alternative was losing their houses.
This week the ExcludedUK Choir – 100 health workers, fitness teachers, driving instructors and a fair few musicians who make up a fraction of the three million people left out of governmental Covid support – released a phone-recorded choral rewrite of ‘One More Day’ from Les Miserables that certainly showed the Indie Allstars how to pull your fingers out and agree on a key. There’s nothing like staring destitution in the face, it seems, to make you put some welly behind a show tune.
Though it might look, to the average furloughed cider-swiller growing fat on Rishi vouchers, like another worthy cause that doesn’t affect them, it might just be the most important song for music this century. Booking site Encore have released a study that claims 64 per cent of musicians were considering giving up music because of the financial impact of coronavirus, up from just 19 per cent in May. On average they’ve lost £11,300 from lost bookings since March, and the future, in potential income terms, isn’t exactly Drake-shaped.
So the UK music industry is facing a huge blow not just in the closure of struggling venues, which have yet to receive the £50 million required to keep them all afloat safely through the crisis, but in the decimation of its wide and thriving array of talent to play in them.
The reason? Almost half of those polled – representing one-third of musicians in the UK – are also part of the excluded three million refused a penny from the Government’s Self-Employed Income Support Scheme. You thought that was Dishy Rishi SuperSunak, PM in waiting, flying to the rescue of the self-employed in their time of greatest need? You couldn’t be more wrong.
To recap: on March 26, Sunak appeared at the Government’s daily briefing, stared straight down the camera and singled out “musicians and sound engineers” alongside other self-employed workers, whom he assured “you have not been forgotten”. He added: “We all stand together” and “you will not face this alone”. Then he read out details of a scheme that ignored around half of them.
To date, the Government claims the SEISS has helped 2.7 million people, barely half of the country’s self-employed. ExcludedUK estimates that one in 10 UK workers have received zero meaningful help from the government. Promising musician with a day job? Computer says ‘Have you considered an alternative career as a surrogate sorting machine at the Amazon Wellness labour camp?’.
I’m lucky enough to have been able to scrape some semblance of a living slagging off VICE listicles, but others in my position – live photographers, festival workers, many musicians – are being forced to sell their flats and equipment and live in their vans, driven to the brink, posting online their deliberations over leaving music entirely. My column-writing SMO algorithm is flashing red and insisting I INSERT FLIPPANT GAG here, but I just can’t bring myself.
The huge swathes of musicians falling through Rishi’s gaping holes are largely victims of what’s called the ‘50/50 rule’. This ascertains that you must be earning more than half of your income from self-employment to get any support at all. Now in the age of the streaming micropayment, where billionaire platform owners have deemed it acceptable to pay musicians in grains of couscous, even bands you consider successful often have part-time day jobs to allow them to continue making – some self-funding – their music.
Many take flexible jobs in the gig economy, for exactly the sort of companies that will have fired thousands of part-time employees rather than furlough them. And with music making up the lesser proportion of their income, Sunak, like a sonic Cruella De Ville, is skinning them of their hopes and dreams. At exactly the moment we need a cheering song, he has inspired a generation of murder ballads.
The Musician’s Union estimates that 38 per cent of musicians have received no help from the SEISS, and the ones really struggling are those who would be out there in the clubs and theatres any spare second they have, powering and pioneering our world-beating music scene. To lose them would rip the heart and soul from British music, but the Government’s ears are, predictably, deaf to our finest sounds.
So that Military Wives-style cover, by demanding parity for everyone including the UK’s forgotten music-makers, is actually one of our last hopes at rescuing us from a future of endless, featureless Sigala. If you value the most innovative and creative music, ironically, it’s time to get your Mis on.