Every industry and business out there had one specific moment when the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic hit them. For showbiz, it was probably the cancelation of South by South West (SXSW) that made the hit. The news came on the Friday before the festival was due to happen, with the city of Austin deciding to cancel or postpone all group gatherings when the virus hit Texas. The music, film and technology festival is one of the biggest cultural events that happen yearly in the world and responsible for a huge parcel of the city’s economy. This would affect not only creators but small businesses that waited all year for the revenue that SXSW brought. That cancellation, not by the choice of the festival organization but by governmental pressure raised questions about the future of the music industry for the coming months.
Six weeks later, things are pretty different from that Friday. It’s safe to say that the biggest music festival of 2020 happened this Saturday (18): Global Citizen’s Together at Home was an 8-hour event that brought together over 60 musicians and was watched by millions of people around the world, with $127.9 million dollars donated for COVID-19 relief. Said relief is focused on the research for a vaccine and of course de funding of equipment and support for healthcare professionals.
Together at Home was expected to reach over a billion people but early reports state it around a couple hundred millions. That might have been caused by all the other benefit concerts and livestreams happening simultaneously and, of course, the amount of information and content available online and offline for the estimate 4.5 billion people self-isolated right now, as the World Health Organization calculates. The celebrity filled concert was also a benefit., with none of the acts being paid for their performances.
Although all festivals, tours, release parties, awards shows and even small performances at bars and restaurants were canceled for public health concerns when social distancing measures were recommended all over the world, it was clear pretty early on that every kind of art and technology was going to be essential to keep people connected. Musicians caught up to that, launching a series of livestream concerts on several platforms. Most of them were free and simple, a couple were paid for and beneficial for causes about the pandemic, and recently some super productions were scrutinized for breaking several social distancing rules behind camera. The point that seems to be getting lost for many watchers, however, is that there’s a tremendous loss of revenue going on behind the scenes and that’s mainly for people who you won’t see on your TV, recording from their multimillion dollar houses.
The most impacted
On March 23rd, UK musicians had lost an estimate £13,9 million ($17 million) in earnings, according to a survey made by the Musicians Union. By March 29th, that number was £50 million ($62 million). In Brazil, the expected loss of revenue for copyrights is at R$140 million ($26,7 million), according to the Directory of Copyrights (ECAD). In the United States, that number could reach billion of dollars. That includes commissions and legal rights paid through streaming and legal reproduction of tracks, but most of that money would come from the same thing that represents musician’s income almost completely: performances.
Now that streaming is the norm, CD sales and even virtual purchases of songs have become less and less popular. Streaming also pays musicians next to nothing: Napster is the streaming service that pays the most with a whooping $0.019 per stream. That payment is shared by songwriters, producers and performers, and then there’s the largest share, that goes to the record label. Numbers get lower and lower in other streaming services until it hits YouTube, that pays $0.00069 per stream.
To put things in perspective, the average rent price in Los Angeles, according torentcafe.com, is $2,524. That means your favorite indie musician would have to have written, produced, performed a song, while holding all the rights for it and then get over 3.657.971 streams per month to be able to rent a one bedroom apartment in the city of angels. And that is not considering taxes.
Naturally, for several artists that’s an easy reach, but for small indie musicians, those numbers are unreachable monthly. Thankfully, concert houses, festival producers and such are willing to pay more, as are fans, since nothing could replace being face-to-face with your favorite artist and hearing them sing your favorite song. Performances represent the biggest part of the income for any artist, and for most small artists who live off music, they represent affording food, healthcare and housing.
The prohibition of group gatherings affects everyone involved on the music industry, from technicians, to producers, to performers — and while livestream concerts allow you to stay entertained, they aren’t a replacement for the real income people are not getting this year.
Thankfully, some specific online actions are happening to shine a light on the struggles the music industry is facing during the COVID-19 pandemic. The UK Musicians Union is receiving donations for the musicians affected during the pandemic, while in the US, the Recording Academy’s MusiCares, created in 1989 to provide assistance to music people in times of crisis, is redirecting donations and their safety net to everyone in the music industry affected by COVID-19. Spotify is also matching donations for each 10 million dollars donated for their emergency found, that is being redirected to several musicians associations all around the world. They haven’t announced any change in pay for the artists on their platform, though, and they have the 4th worst rate per stream.
If you want to directly support your favorite artists, make sure to check their social medias for ways you can do so. One safe and direct way is buying merchandize but other ways include requesting paid videos from them, supporting Patreon pages or even directly donating for their accounts. Don’t forget to stream their music and share it a lot too. The pandemic caused a 11% dip on music streams on the month of March, making that already short pay even shorter