Live Music Exchange Blog
In this post, Professor Paul Carr of the University of South Wales outlines a recent report presented to the Welsh Government’s Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee on the impact of Covid-19 on the Welsh music industries. Here, he summarises key findings and recommendations, and reflects on the process of conducting the research.
I have long had an interest in the relationships between government policy and the music industries, having been a professional musician for a number of years prior to moving into academia. After moving to Wales in 2003, I quickly formed a relationship with The Welsh Music Foundation, a now defunct organisation that done a great deal of good in terms of being a central source of information and advice for stakeholders in the Welsh music industries. This relationship eventually resulted in the first report I documented on live music in 2011, which I presented at two events (Kingston and Leeds) in 2012. A recording of the Live Music Exchange session in Leeds can be found here.
This blog post is related to an extensive report I documented for the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee, which was published last month on the Live Music Exchange website. You can also access the report, some final reflections and watch the evidence session I gave to the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee via this link.
Although the report was targeted towards the Welsh music industries more broadly, its main focus was live music. This was for two reasons:
- The Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee had already been focusing its concerns on live music prior to the pandemic. This was obviously interrupted, and my evidence session was the last of the series of evidence investigations.
- All experts agree that live music is the sub-sector that has been most impacted by the pandemic – this is discussed at length in my report.
Before I focus on some ‘post report’ thoughts, I would like to say a few words about the construction of the report and the process of information gathering. The report is split into six Chapters (including the introduction and conclusion) cumulating in 14 recommendations, which I outline below.
After the Introduction, Chapter 1 outlines the contextual backstory of the emergence of private and public support for the music industries in Wales since the pandemic commenced, with public support falling into the following categories: music specific (for example the Grassroots Music Relief Fund managed by Creative Wales); creative/performing arts sector specific (for example the £53 million ‘Cultural Recovery Fund’ allocated in July to the arts and culture sector as part of the £59 million allocated to Wales by the UK government); and pan UK/pan sector (via the Coronavirus Jobs Retention Scheme (CJRS) or the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) for example). Due to many music industry stakeholders being ineligible for any of this public funding, this initial chapter also outlines the pan UK private sector initiatives instigated by the likes of Help Musicians UK, the Musicians’ Union and the Association of Independent Musicians.
Chapter 2 begins by examining advice given to the music industries by the UK and Welsh Governments concerning roadmaps out of the pandemic, with both noted as being on similar trajectories, although implementing distinct methodological approaches. As the pandemic progressed, these distinct approaches have resulted in Welsh performance venues still not being open for business, which caused concern and at times confusion, as other nations such as Germany, the Republic of Ireland, France, Finland and indeed England appeared to have clearer, more rapid protocols.
In order to provide further context on the impact of the pandemic on the Welsh music industries, Chapter 3 focuses on current research, ranging from UK based industry surveys (including the analysis of a project instigated by the Forté Project) to academic research, including journal articles, research projects, symposia and more informal ‘thought pieces’.
Entitled ‘What Wales Can Learn and How Does it Compare to Other Nations’, Chapter 4 initially compares the support packages of the Home Nations, before examining available support mechanisms in other parts of the world. The chapter highlights the problems of comparing support in Wales to many other European nations, who have a history of supplying far greater sums of money to artists and art-based organisations—which obviously leaves UK venues and other music industry stakeholders more exposed during a pandemic such as Covid-19. The chapter also highlights some of the problems with comparing ‘like for like’, with many funding packages elsewhere in the world not being clear how music is included. The chapter concludes with an overview of initiatives from nations around the world, which have been incorporated to support and kick start their respective music industries.
The report concludes by considering the following recommendations for the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee to consider, prior to making suggestions to Welsh Government. These can be outlined as follows.
Recommendations for Action
Reopening and Recovery Strategies
Recommendation 1: For the Welsh Government to develop a detailed and clear short-term reopening strategy for the Welsh music industries, which outlines what is possible now; what is not possible yet; what will never be possible and what support will be available for all of these outcomes. This strategy should closely consider how sub-sectors that are open for business can maximise income, in addition to considering closely how it can support the strategically important parts of the industries that are closed for public health reasons get back on their feet.
Recommendation 2: In conjunction with relevant expertise from the music industries, the university sector and the Arts Council of Wales, for the Welsh Government to develop a long- term three-year music industries recovery strategy, which takes the ongoing impact of Covid- 19 into account. This plan should have a range of outcomes and consider via an action plan factors such as how it can sustain, retain and incubate talent; how public confidence can be re-established; how the various parts of the music industries can be supported and invigorated; how realistic alternative business models can be implemented; how industry training can meet the needs of the ‘new sector’; and how the technical infrastructures of venues/rehearsal rooms/recording studios can become ‘covid-proof’.
Recommendation 3: For the Welsh Government to commission detailed research into the role music plays in the Welsh economy and the impact of Covid-19 on its sub-sectors. In addition to outlining the financial, societal and cultural contribution of the music industries various sub-sectors, the research should identify gaps in the ‘talent pipeline’ that exist as a result of sub-sectors closing. The overarching objective of this work should be to verify how much income the Welsh music industries generate; how much currently remains within Wales; and what can be done to ensure the nation (i.e music industry stakeholders) can retain more of it.
Recommendation 4: For the Welsh Government to build on the venue mapping research that has already taken place, by financing a searchable public facing database of the Welsh music industries and an interactive map of its music venues, which outlines venue types throughout the country and how these resonate locally, nationally, globally and ecologically. This map and database should be regularly updated.
Recommendation 5: For Creative Wales to develop and agree upon a comprehensive Taxonomy of the music industries in Wales, to ensure all relevant sub-sectors are supported and represented.
Recommendation 6: For Creative Wales to review its membership to ensure it reflects relevant expertise related to the aforementioned taxonomy.
Recommendation 7: For Creative Wales to consider the viability of not only promoting Welsh talent, but also, following European nations such as France, Norway, Denmark and Switzerland, to set the necessary protocols in place for Welsh music to be prioritised on radio and T.V, working with UK Government when necessary.
Recommendation 8: As part of a digital strategy, for the Welsh Government to explore an online ‘culture at home’ initiative (including both live and recorded work), which not only showcases Welsh music alongside other art and culture, but also encourages and finances digital capacity and creativity. This digital strategy should ensure that all households in Wales have access to fast reliable broadband.
Recommendation 9: To ensure the general public continue to have access to a broad range of live music, for the Welsh Government to work with local councils in order to action ongoing business rate relief and flexible licensing (for pop up events and busking for example), in addition to ensuring the ‘agent of change’ principle is implemented.
Recommendation 10: For the Welsh Government to consider the viability of changing from a ‘mixed economy’ grant funding model, to one which relies less on commercial income.
Recommendation 11: For the Welsh Government to work with the UK Government departments such as DCMS to reduce the ‘value gap’ for Welsh artists (the gap between a music creator’s income and the commission of ‘tech giants’).
Recommendation 12: For the Welsh Government to ensure that the various skills required in the ‘new music industries’, are reflected in school, college, university and private industry curriculums.
Recommendation 13: For the Welsh Government to begin to consider and plan for the potential of a mental health crisis in the music industries, as the creative job market continues to be decimated as a result of the pandemic.
Recommendation 14: For the Welsh Government to work with Arts Council Wales to ensure funding is available equitably across the music industries, and that the grant application process is demystified, reaching deep into the various networks of the music industries.
When I think about the four-month process of writing the report retrospectively, there were a number of challenges. The first is that this is the only research I have ever undertaken where there was virtually no literature when I started—although it was gratifying to see it slowly emerge as I progressed. I attempted to capture this emerging work in the report. Secondly, although I was thankful for the industry data that emerged as the pandemic progressed, it was frustrating to note that this ‘world’, ‘European’ and UK data did not answer one important question—how does this relate to Wales? As I outlined in the aforementioned report I documented for the Welsh Music Foundation in 2011, the Welsh music industries have a distinct set of challenges, that have been around for many years. Indeed, many of the recommendations I outlined in this earlier report (such as the importance of ‘mapping’, sympathetic licensing, specific Welsh industry data and venues strategically working together) have still to be actioned.
As my research progressed, it became apparent that specific Welsh data was essential if a) we were to understand the impact of the pandemic on the nation, and b) are able to formulate a detailed consideration of how the nation can recover from it. As the reader can see above, I have recommended that Welsh Government action this issue, but whether this happens remains to be seen. The third challenge when writing the report was keeping up to date with the ever-changing landscape of government policy and understanding the often subtle differences between ‘UK’ (which often meant English) and Welsh guidelines. I attempted to capture the emergence of Welsh Government advice and financial support mechanisms over a four month period and there is no question that although it is very well intended—much of the guidance is vague, open to interpretation and does not offer any clear guidance for the sub sector most impacted by the pandemic—Freelancers. This is not to criticise Welsh Government, as this challenge continues to be significant and unprecedented, but as a number of commentators have noted— Covid-19 somewhat magnified knowledge gaps in government understandings of specific industries.
I close this brief blog post in anticipation of the future, waiting to see how Welsh Government respond to the advice it has been given over the last two years and considering how I can personally ‘fill any gaps’ that are not actioned. Any improvements in the live music industries in Wales will be the result of a joint effort, which includes the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee and all of those that gave evidence and submitted statements of support—be it the Musicians’ Union, experts from the industries, or indeed academics such as myself.