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  • Writer's pictureElliot Porter

Moving on through troubled waters

Lets face it.... 2020 is not a great time to be in the music industry/events business and it is taking all the resolve we have as creative people to ride this storm out. However, since I last posted with a lockdown update, despite nothing fundamentally changing, I have taken the time to switch mindsets and start to look towards the future, and there are just a few shoots of hope I have found along the way which I will endeavour to share with you.

In August we were told that live music was to be allowed again outside, and subsequently this moved on to include indoor performances, but all under strict social distancing and 'covid secure' guidelines. At present there is still little hope for the theatre industry and the touring side of the rock/pop scene is mainly deferring to 2021 as we find ourselves in the midst of yet another lockdown. Despite being technically able to put on shows (when lockdown ends), how do you run a theatre in profit at 50% capacity? The simple answer is you don't! It's the same situation with touring artists, how do you even pay your crew or your band if takings are so significantly restricted - how does the venue even open?. There are some 'super hero' promoters who are still managing to put on shows and this has to be commended, but I can only imagine from my time as a promoter in the past, how tough this must be.

The other side of what I do, and indeed the most profitable is weddings and private engagements. To date I have only played 2 weddings in 2020 despite having over 20 scheduled and one was before lockdown, as I discussed in my last blog. Month after month we have seen clients deferring to 2021 and I now only have one left in December, and I would be very surprised if it goes ahead. The latest 6 person ruling has not ruled out weddings, but with a 15 person limit now in place (under the previous tier system), I do not envy couples having to make that difficult decision. The 6 person rule also scuppered a series of woodland gigs myself and an artist friend had planned, which again, was very frustrating.

Considering the position we are currently in, with little help available, I, along with many other musicians I have spoken to are starting to come to the conclusion that it may be time to do something else - and we should not necessarily see this as a bad thing at all.

With my optimistic head on, music will come back, we just have to give it time, and in that time, why not learn new skills and broaden your earning capacity? I have been lucky enough to make a living solely out of music for quite some time, but with streaming revenues pitiful, touring opportunities looking bleak and the wedding industry struggling to recover it seems that things are not going to get better quickly! I think the days of solely surviving on live income are gone. The market was already a difficult one to navigate before Covid, with fees not having risen in around 5/6 years (and indeed some venues having to lower fees just to stay afloat), an apparent saturation of the market by musicians playing for very low rates and too many venues struggling to stay open, let alone pay musicians. It is time to look at things differently.

Many friends of mine are broadening their creative reach and digging deep into their soul to find new ventures based on their talents and things they love, and I am doing the same. I aim to start a freelance business to run alongside my music career as I have figured out that they can go hand in hand, so I will still be able to satisfy my love for music and have it as my joint career. It will also take some 'money' pressure off of having to earn a living from a career in an industry that is on the rocks. This does not mean I am not standing side by side with fellow musicians in the fight to reclaim our much loved industry - far from it.

Winchester Creatives provide a useful resource

One huge element of this whole pandemic which is routinely ignored or brushed off by the government and the media to a certain extent, is people's mental health - no more so than in music. People were facing a tough time in an already tricky industry to navigate but the onset of a second lockdown and all the measures that have followed have affected people all across society and it only looks like getting worse from here on in. For musicians, having our whole lifestyle and way of earning taken away from us over night was tough. I would equate it to a painful break-up, not knowing whether you will ever get back together - or if it will be the same as it always was. One thing we do have is resilience and creativity - you can't really work in this industry without either so many of us will eventually find other paths - but it is not easy. For other people in society it could be just as bad or worse, maybe they've lost their homes, their jobs and their savings - through no fault of their own. These are terrible times, and I feel more needs to be done before the rates of depression and ultimately suicide spiral out of control in society in general.

There are many pillars of support out there for people to hold on to, and I think they need shouting about a bit more. A fellow musician and friend of mine Tom Ryder is spearheading a charity called 'Retune' who are specifically dealing with mental health, in fact they have even developed an app to help people.

I have attended many of their gigs, and even played one myself and the opportunity they give musicians to come and talk about their mental health and music fans to come and listen and consider their own mental health, is absolutely invaluable, I just hope the live gigs can begin again at some point in the future.

With any changing of life circumstance, there will ultimately be a fair amount of stress and anxiety as you move into uncharted waters, aiming to build a new life. In normal times, changes have been anticipated and planned for to a certain degree, with money set aside, time allocated etc. With the pandemic, people's lives have been turned on their heads unexpectedly and with no real notice. I have spoken to media professionals who are now training to drive delivery vehicles, musicians who are becoming barbers, and photographers who are working in factories because their industry simply doesn't exist at the moment. These are wholesale changes, and the mental effect should not be underestimated.

As far as I can see from this period, these changes happen in the typical cycle that grief often unfolds - shock, disbelief, denial, bargaining, depression, acceptance. I think every one of us who works in a sector that has been greatly diminished or wiped out has gone through some form of this cycle, and the lasting effects should not be downplayed. Yes, many of us will move on - we have no choice, and we will forge new careers, but it could take months, if not years to return to a level of income we were used to before this crisis hit, and for many people it will feel as though their lives have stalled, if not hit the rocks, and this can all add up quickly, and if not monitored, will overwhelm and manifest in a dangerous way.

The government help, while useful and reasonably effective at first, has slowly disintegrated and it is completely understandable that someone working in the entertainment industry, which at present basically doesn't exist, saw being offered 20% of their usual income as a bit of an insult! Fortunately the treasury has seen sense and raised this to 80% again, but not without extreme pressure from society and online petitions. This is still not going to aid the 3 million plus people who have fallen through the net completely - what happens to them? If they are to survive on Universal Credit alone this will not suffice, and if they are being offered no help, then a battle for the non-existent jobs beckons, all in all a depressing thought.

If any of these issues can be resolved it would be very welcome, but all is not lost in many individual cases. Like I mentioned earlier, it is a chance to harness unused skills, maybe a qualification you have which you have never taken advantage of, maybe a skill you find you enjoy, or perhaps just something you love doing which you think you can make money out of - why not have a crack. Times like these are often the birth of innovative new businesses, and if it fails, you can always start again.

So it's time to dig deep, use existing contacts you have built up and look back proudly at all the experience and transferable skills you have gathered through running your own business and as a freelancer. For me, this is not about 'retraining' as the shockingly out of touch government wants you to do... It's about converting what you already have into a new force, using the creativity and resilience within. It won't be easy.... but then nothing worthwhile or remotely fulfilling is.

We are pretty much at the bottom of the pit right now, so anything positive we can get out of the situation is a huge bonus, and who knows, it may lead to a more prosperous and fulfilling life in the long term. Personally I am certainly hoping this is the case!

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