We brought together a panel of musicians to discuss the coronavirus and its effects: Sara Quin from Canadian pop duo Tegan and Sara; pop singer-songwriter Ella Eyre; James McGovern of Dublin punk group The Murder Capital; Jeremy Pritchard, bass player for Everything Everything in Manchester; and singer-songwriter Jack Garratt.
Lockdown pointed out that most musicians make a living playing live, not recorded music. How has the closure of all live sites for the foreseeable future affected you?
Jack garratt I have an album coming out on June 12, so what do we do? It inspired some really creative and interesting conversations, but the fork on the road is a very big fork. Tours have dried up completely for the foreseeable future. Everything is pushed until 2021, and maybe it is. So, not only the promotion that I can no longer do – what I like to do – the income that I was going to make shows, it just went away.
Ella Eyre I’ve always struggled for different sources of income: publishing, writing for other people, branding deals. So even if my tour has been postponed, it won’t affect me heavily as such. But in the future, if I couldn’t tour, it would be a huge problem.
James McGovern We created our own label with our management company, which saved us. We have been able to cut our spending completely and the Irish government is looking after artists and the unemployed very well. We stopped paying ourselves because our income comes from live music in force and we receive € 350 (£ 320) per week from the government, which is completely viable.
Jeremy Pritchard We released an album in August. I doubt we will do anything [live] this year. It’s not the only way to promote music, but it’s certainly the most important way for me because that’s how I understand what music means to people – playing it in front of them. There was a brief inspiration period at the start of the lockdown when we realized we couldn’t get together – we managed to make some videos and use 3D modeling software to take photos – but the novelty s fades. I just miss playing music with my friends. All of our income for this year should really come from summer festivals and tours. We asked for the same government plan as any other self-employed worker.
Sara Quin We too are fucked up. It’s not just about making money, it’s about this ecosystem of our agents, managers, group, crew, our creative collaborators, our merchandise activity; they are all so integrated and the engine is that we get on the bus and play for people. We see the pain of all the people who work for us on commission, who rely on our contract work. We are in emergency mode, thinking about: what if we never get back to normal? Is there a standard we can build for our business that will not require us to return to what it was before?
The performance halls are in critical condition. Should governments get involved? and if yes, how?
Pritchard The British music industry is worth £ 4.5 billion to the public purse. If another industry was worth this amount, it would be funded locally by the government. This is not the case, as it is considered a thrift store that should stand on its own two feet. The government is rightly proud of the music industry as a cultural export, but it chooses not to recognize it as an economic export because it means it needs funding to stay afloat. He really needs it now.
Quin In Canada, the government is very supportive of the arts. But there are currently varying degrees of catastrophic situations. It’s difficult for artists to make the headlines when they talk about mass infections in meat packing plants, health workers or the indigenous population. It’s hard to say, “Guys, what if the folk festival scene goes down? I am kind of a hard love with our community. Although I want the government to rush in and fix everything, I’m not afraid there won’t be a music scene. Some sites will survive and others will not. people who survive survive, people who don’t, they find something in the ashes and build something different.
Is there a positive side to this?
Quin We were already talking about the climate crisis, the cost of shipping and flights, travel around the world, building this huge production; how long can we maintain this model? As a small business owner, I feel inspired to think about what my future business will look like. How do we build something that will thrive? It’s really exciting.
Garratt It really forced me to put myself in, and I’m not very well at the moment, so it didn’t help my creativity at all. To be in [my studio] I feel like I’m torturing myself because I don’t necessarily give a lot of myself. Like Sara, the thing that I’ve really been able to thrive on is thinking about how we create new ideas that end up being sustainable, whether or not everyone is there.
McGovern I found myself able to write again and reconnect with the reason I started playing music when I was a kid, which was to connect emotionally. Writing full songs via email doesn’t work for us – there are too many human elements in what we do – but having time to spend the whole day finding a guitar line or a vocal melody, there is no there is no immediate pressure from something around you, it was interesting. It’s a sad positive.
Eyre When the reality of how long it was going to last set in, I didn’t want to force myself to be creative, but I think that by having no pressure, I was able to enjoy the Zoom writing sessions and m have fun with the people I work with regularly. I already had a bunch of songs ready to go; if anything, the lockout relieved the pressure of their release. You don’t have to worry about a £ 70,000 music video or marketing strategy or the number of bloody TikToks, I just enjoyed being able to stream music. The wait is different. It allowed everyone to relax and be creative about how we present and do things to keep our fans in touch.
Do you feel pressured to constantly create content for your fans?
Quin: My hesitation is that it is a form of work we do for free that generates money for Instagram, Facebook and Twitch. I know it’s not cool to be sold out and say you need money and want your fans to pay for things, but I think as artists we have to be comfortable being transparent about it. I’m inspired by people who do live broadcasts and create content, but I don’t feel inspired to do it, because I hate playing concerts with people holding their cellphones, and I don’t want to play a concert with my cellphone.
Garratt: It’s a technical experience, not an emotional one. But I have no choice not to do it because I release an album and I want as many people as possible to experience it in the most honest way possible. I’m lucky to be able to recreate it with precision in the studio, but I would absolutely exchange this sofa over there for some warm bodies.
McGovern: I’m not turning my nose at this stuff in any way, but I don’t know how we could get there in a way that we would be happy. There’s no point in doing it if we don’t think it’s good. I’ve seen some great ones though – I’m really comfortable watching James Blake’s Instagram Lives.
We live in an era where fans expect to be more directly linked to artists via social media, which can be a difficult relationship. Has the lock improved or worsened this relationship?
Eyre: I’ve always had a direct relationship with my fan base. I was really active on Twitter before Instagram was a thing, and I’m still pretty cool. To be honest, I think it was a mistake on my part from the start, because they expect a lot more from me now. But I think locking offers a more intimate experience for them – you literally let the fans come into your house, you wear the same clothes twice, there is no glamor team. And the way they count on us to entertain them, as an artist, I count on them – the song I released a few weeks ago is not a single, I played it a demo on my [Instagram] story and everyone wanted us to put it out, so we did it just for fun, we didn’t push it anywhere. I think that ultimately brought us closer.
McGovern: I have moved away from it more and more. We hosted Tim Burgess on Twitter, which was good, but I actually turned off my phone now. It’s been eight to ten days, and it’s been good, to be honest. My attention span wasn’t there to read a novel if I wanted to do that, so I thought, damn, I’m going to turn it off. I bought a Nokia 105 when I go out.
Spotify has introduced a tips pot for artists – what do you think? There has been much discussion of the injustice towards artists of the streaming service charge system; is it time to change it? If so, how?
Garratt It’s offensive to the artists who put music on this platform and it’s offensive to the consumer. It is a platform that recognizes the fact that there is a problem, and the bandage that they put around this problem is to make it the problem of the consumer to solve it.
McGovern It’s a fucking shit. This is exactly what you are saying: PR coverage for a situation where we are not paid clearly for having our music on their platform.
Quin We are not asking people to go to the grocery store and decide how much they will spend on a loaf of bread; it costs what it costs. Instead of asking consumers to fix it, the industry has to have an account of how we value music, and it has to be platform-wide. All the different streaming platforms, record companies, publishers, artists who have their masters – we have to decide the price of music, then go collectively to consumers and say, “How much does a loaf of bread cost? ” It would be a good RP for Spotify: “We are going to increase everyone’s subscription by a few dollars and instead of putting those dollars back in our nest, we are going to distribute this money fairly to the people who create the music. “
Pritchard Spotify is the whip of the whole cultural problem, but compared to other digital platforms that don’t even have the decency to identify themselves as streaming services, it has at least tried to monetize things for artists . The problem lies in the barriers between digital service providers and artists; it’s with the rights holders, it’s with the majors. And they are all under non-disclosure agreements; you can’t go anywhere with it because you can’t get direct answers. The consumer does not know what is going on and he must know it, otherwise change will never happen.
Before the pandemic, progress was made in areas such as gender imbalance and representation. Is there a danger that it will slip off the agenda as the industry concentratesAre you getting back on your feet?
Eyre I don’t see why it should make a difference. These conversations should not be seen as less important while trying to rebuild and make a better future for music.
McGovern I hope this gives people time to have a broader perspective on these things. I still feel like 50-50 queues… it’s going in the right direction, but I think that overlooks the major problem of how women are spoken from an early age, their parents and in the classroom, and how they perceive what a viable career is and in which industries they are welcome.
Quin What I rarely hear is what we are going to do with young men to teach them how to be better as adults when they get these jobs, or become members of groups, how they can be better allies , how they can use their power. While it is lip service to say that we are going to achieve gender parity at festivals, I think that is really up to you, festival programmers and music programmers. You can tell an eight-year-old girl that she can be a mixing engineer or EDM artist, but if every time we watch a Coachella line, it’s all men who make money on DJ sets or whatever , it’s hard to inspire young women until these things change.
Name one thing you want to change in the music industry after that?
Quin Tegan said she is thinking about how to make our digital footprint more meaningful and our carbon footprint smaller. This is how we go forward. The future will force us to do a lot more online interactions and have more connections with our fans than ever before. I want to make sure that we don’t do it out of obligation and just to market things. I want to feel that we are in contact with an audience that we love.
Pritchard More understanding, more transparency at all levels: between artists, consumers, digital platforms, government, places. More mutual support.
McGovern I hope musicians and fans realize how special the show is and no longer take it for granted. I just hope that everyone goes out on their own and realizes what’s going on around them and how special this connectivity is.
Eyre My relationship with my label has changed because we have to communicate via Zoom; the time we saved without having to travel and try to put 15 people in one room! I feel like my label is more engaged than ever because it has more time. I would like to see a more relaxed energy from the big labels on what they broadcast, without putting too much emphasis on radio shows and streaming. That brought it all back to the music release and to see what’s going on.
Garratt I don’t want anyone to start making the same mistakes as me. The insane pressure on young artists to be a finished product before they even start releasing their first album, the expectations of labels, managers, journalists – it’s way too much. If I can speak about it publicly enough for someone else to start thinking smarter, working harder, and considering the ethics of their decisions, environmentally, spiritually, emotionally, physically or otherwise – I really hope this will happen.