Musicians and crew call for ‘Seat Out To Help Out’ scheme and tailor-made job support to survive until April

"We must act now and show the government how much we care about protecting this industry for our future generations"

Industry figures representing musicians and live crew have called for more financial protection to help them survive until gigs can return in April.

Yesterday saw over 1,000 venues, theatres, festivals and arts spaces in England celebrate in being awarded in the latest wave of £1.57billion Cultural Recovery Funding, helping them to weather the storm of coronavirus closures into next Spring. However, with full capacity live shows set to return in April 2021 at the earliest, many fear that freelance and self-employed workers and road crew are being “ignored” by the chancellor’s new Job Support Scheme and that the CRF bailout favours bricks and mortar establishments and the people employed by them. They continue to warn of potential bankruptcy and longterm industry damage if help is not provided.

“It’s quite good news about the venues, and we’re quite pleased to see that the venues are getting some support now,” Musicians Union General Secretary Horace Trubridge told NME. “What we’re most concerned about is that we haven’t yet seen a stimulus package for our sector. While the £1.57billion cultural recovery fund is great for venues, organisations and institutions, it’s not putting the workforce back to work and it’s not putting money in their pockets.”

As well as a sector-specific furlough offering, Trubridge also suggested a version of the government’s ‘Eat Out To Help Out’ scheme which saw discounted and subsidised meals out with the help of the government, but adapted to sell tickets so that some venues can safely reopen at reduced capacity for musicians and crew to work.

“We’d welcome a kind of ‘Seat Out To Help Out’ scheme so they can put on socially-distanced gigs and break even, or some kind of sector-specific financial help for the self-employed workforce – like Wales and Scotland have done with their portion of the CRF.”

Trubridge stressed that action was required to stop musicians and live music workers from leaving the industry and creating a talent gap when shows can eventually return.

“The Cultural Recovery Fund is enabling venues to say, ‘Right, we’ll hunker down until we can make money again’, the problem is that in the meantime musicians and those who work with them have no work,” he said. “A lot of our members have had no income and been unable to access the government’s various financial schemes. These people are extraordinarily talented and gifted and would normally be paying their taxes and contributing, but are being forced out of the industry because there’s nothing to do. We need to put on Glastonbury next year, and I don’t know where you’re going to find all the sound and lighting technicians to do that.”

He added: “My members are telling me that they want to be able to work. They don’t want to go cap in hand to the government. It’s a viable industry which is being prevented from working by the government. If the government is stopping them from working, then they have a duty to support them financially until they can.”

CREDIT: Andrew Chin/Getty Images

Featured Artists Coalition CEO David Martin said that he was “buoyed” by the first funding announcement and “happy that the government is recognising the importance of music to this country”, but was keen to see what steps would be taken next.

“As we look towards the second announcement and the winding up of the current self-employment income support scheme at the end of October, we will be watching closely to see if this vital resource reaches the struggling artists and other freelancers who create the value within the venues, clubs, festivals, and other institutions that are being supported today by the fund.”

Andy Lenthall is the general manager of the Production Services Association and also founder of the charity Stage Hand, who provide financial support to live production workers in times of need. He was also grateful for the recent CRF funding that some companies received, but a lot was left to be desired for a fully-functioning industry.

“As far as the £1.57billion goes, some of the technical suppliers that applied have received funding, between £50,000 and £460,000 from the initial round, so there’s positive news for about half of the production suppliers that applied,” he told NME. “We helped with a lot of those successful applications by hiring in specialist advisers. For some, that not only means survival but survival whilst retaining some staff that were under threat of redundancy.”

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A concert crowd at London’s O2 Academy Brixton Credit: Ollie Millington/Redferns

He added: “Funding for venues will include projects that may well create work for techs and musicians; nothing like the levels we’re all used to but a lifeline for some. The need for support remains and we can’t forget those that are still struggling to survive, those in the entertainment ecosystem that have been forgotten, event though the industry they serve has been prevented from operating at anything approaching sustainable levels.

“For those individuals and small businesses, the ones that once again fell outside of generous support, we need the support of fans either through contacting their local MP or contributing to the Stagehand crew relief fund.”

Tomorrow (Wednesday October 12) at 7pm, the Save Our Scene campaign and fundraiser will be embarking on a bike ride from Hyde Park to The House of Commons where hundreds will join alongside rickshaws kitted with DJ equipment and speakers to “make noise and protest against the government’s announcement of zero support for musicians”.

“From one music lover to another, we must realise how important music is to our very own well-being,” said SOS founder George Fleming. “We must act now and show the government how much we care about protecting this industry for our future generations.

“The entire industry is on its knees and the rumours and whispers are true. Live music will not survive with the current plans from our government. If we let that happen, the industry will see ultimate failure and there will be no escape, other than the odd pint in a local pub listening to Katy Perry.”

He added: “All we have to do is make a little bit of a racket and show our support for our most loved industry.”

Earlier this summer, the Music Venue Trust told NME that only one third of the UK’s grassroots music venues would be able to viably hold socially-distanced gigs.