So much of our socialising and employment has moved online during the past year. For many, it’s been Zoom calls and pre-recorded culture on YouTube and Facebook. However, for those who work in live performance, opportunities have been few and far between.
From our contact with musicians, we’ve learned their difficulties in pursuing their work and their passion of making music face-to-face: from not being allowed to meet up with bandmates, to not being able to find a safe rehearsal space and the constant flux of Covid rules. A report by the Musicians’ Union published in September 2020 indicated that half of UK musicians have been forced to leave the industry, due to a lack of government support and a need to maintain their financial obligations. One musician told us: “For the first time in my life, I had thoughts of changing my profession, doing something else to establish myself in other areas.”
Performers have told us of needing to turn down online performances as they clashed with new-found employment in other sectors. Others have felt overwhelmed by the need to learn new skills such as recording, hosting, editing and broadcasting whilst juggling childcare, digital technology and internet connectivity issues.
Data released by the Office for National Statistics in May 2021 indicated that around 21% of adults experienced depression in early 2021, more than double the number that did before the pandemic. For a musician, faced with a sharp decline in earnings but with financial burdens remaining the same, this can manifest itself in many ways, from a lack of creativity to reduced motivation to keep practicing their instrument. Musicians told us: “I became incredibly jaded with music to the point where I couldn’t listen to or play music for about 4 months. I felt like I had lost my identity.” Add to this the tone-deaf suggestions by the government to “retrain in cyber” and a perceived lack of support for the culture sector, and you can well imagine how a lot of musicians are feeling.
Ad (later pulled) for October 2020 Government-backed Cyber First campaign
But there are uplifting stories too. A number of the Live Music Now musicians we’ve been in touch with have found the pandemic an empowering time. “I’ve had to adapt, learn new skills, and be more independent as a musician,” says one. “I managed to build up a good amount of online work,” says another, “with more pupils and online streams/workshops.” Several others have moved into teaching to supplement lost performance income.
Tom Hawthorn, drummer for Backchat Brass
Tom Hawthorn, drummer for Backchat Brass, also used lockdown to learn new skills, saying: “Time to learn how to record the drums at home has also meant that I have started to develop a totally new skill set, allowing me to do things like remote recording sessions and online Zoom teaching.” Read more from him here: bit.ly/LMNTomHawthorn
Musician, dancer and poet, Akeim Toussaint Buck performs as Toussaint to Move
Akeim Toussaint Buck performs as Toussaint to Move and is a London based multidisciplinary musician, dancer and poet. He says: “It was great to get a new perspective and take time off from the treadmill… I’m coming out of this period more empowered as an artist. I’ve realised it’s no longer up to the venues – I have some responsibility to get my work out there.” Read more about Akeim Toussaint Buck’s pandemic journey here: https://bit.ly/3woGeCc
Siân Dicker, opera singer who retrained as a carer
Siân Dicker, an opera singer, retrained as a carer for people living with dementia, and says: “Working as a carer has undoubtedly given me invaluable life experience which I hope will in turn continue to have a profound impact upon my creative output.” Read more about her lockdown journey here: bit.ly/3cF2lgf
The path for performing musicians over the past year has been an incredibly challenging one, and Live Music Now is incredibly glad to be able to offer its musicians a return to some form of normality through live performance. Kicking off on 14 June and running throughout the summer, #ReturnToLive will be a joyous celebration of live music for performers and audiences alike. We simply can’t wait.
You can read more about Live Music Now musicians’ pandemic experiences in our diary series here: bit.ly/Pandemicdiaries