How Musicians are Paying for the Cost of the Cost-of-Living Crisis

Cost-of-Living Crisis

Earlier this week, the Guardian disrupted its doom-harbingering narrative to portray how the Manchester music scene is weathering the cost-of-living crisis and creating communities away from the sonic nostalgia that chokes the city. Apparently, the writer didn’t get the memo about Disorder; the new tawdry Joy Division-themed bar that would have Ian Curtis spinning in his grave if he caught wind of how his tragedy of a legacy is being perpetuated.

While there is no disputing that there is a handful of acts making fresh waves across the Hacienda-branded landscape, the rose-tinted view doesn’t feel like the full picture. When you push aside the music mascot of a Mayor, Andy Burnham, with his BBC Radio phone-in sessions support independent artists, you will see an infrastructure crumbling. With affordable practice rooms repurposed for extortionate housing (R.I.P. Brunswick Mill) and Night & Day is still struggling to remove their abatement notice. Even after the person that made the original complaint has moved out and there have been no further complaints. It seems like Andy Burnham could be putting his mayoral powers to better use to address these issues, rather than pratting about playing radio DJ!

To shed an even more insidious light on the reality for professional musicians, a recent survey conducted by the booking platform, Encore found that 26% of professional musicians are now skipping meals to make ends meet. For what it is worth, the national UK average is 14%.

Inflation and higher energy bills aren’t the only sources of economic hardship in the UK and EU either. The economy is slowing, and there are signs we haven’t reached the peak of the decline.

64% of the 301 professional musicians surveyed disclosed that they booked far fewer gigs in the past 12 months, and even if bands can garner the interest of bookings, 39% of artists claimed that their existing tour dates are being cancelled due to the economic crisis. Want the cherry on the touring dystopia cake? 79% of artists felt restricted in how far they could travel due to the rising fuel costs.

Following the survey, the CEO and founder of Encore, James McAuley, had this to say:

“The Budget this week is one of the most important for musicians in recent times. The vast majority of musicians are still recovering from the devastating impact of the pandemic on their livelihoods, and Brexit has made touring significantly harder and significantly less viable for musicians.

Rishi Sunak and Lucy Frazer mustn’t neglect the impact of the rising cost of living on our musicians. Energy companies are making record profits while our musicians are reporting skipping meals, taking on additional jobs, and switching off their heating. Government confidence in the live music sector is low, and it’s not a surprise that 90% of the musicians we surveyed don’t have faith in the government’s ability to handle the Cost of Living crisis.

Live music is one of Britain’s greatest exports. The Budget on Wednesday is an opportunity for the government to demonstrate that it values British musicians’ contributions to the economy. Now is the time for strong and decisive action to ensure our thriving industry, which contributes so much to the economy, isn’t left behind.”

It comes as no surprise that 68% of musicians claim that the financial pressures have adversely affected their mental health, and with over half of the artists surveyed revealing that they felt forced to take a second job, the mental health of artists is only going to diminish further when burnout hits and trying to make an impression in an overcrowded industry becomes secondary to the banalities of non-creative work.

The Guardian article made one hell of a song and dance about how female-identifying artists are thriving, making an example of Loose Articles, Witch Fever and Red Stains, who found the scene they are in to be supportive, but that doesn’t correlate with the fact that young and female artists are the ones that are most likely to have holes in their touring calendar in 2023. It was only in June 2022 when a Kerrang article highlighted how Witch Fever was struggling to make ends meet, despite having day jobs and support slots for My Chemical Romance.

“The current cost of living crisis will widen the gap between people who can afford to build a creative career and people who can’t because they need their basic needs met,” sighs drummer Annabelle Joyce, who often travels back from gigs overnight to hold down shifts at a fashion retailer. “It’s a concern on an individual level, a social level and a music industry level.”

While the token efforts of creating communities around accessible music certainly shouldn’t be dismissed, it benefits no one to paint a city with toxic poverty and insinuate that artists are winning in this current hellscape of an economic climate. Ultimately leading artists to believe that if they are failing, then it is of their own doing, not the fault of this impossible climate they to try to make a mark within.

Since musicians were overlooked by the government when they drafted their bullshit Brexit deal, which only worked to appease racists and disaster capitalists, the outlook is going from bad to worse. Let’s not forget these impediments that were infringed on UK musicians post-Brexit:

  • The requirement of visas and work permits to travel and perform through the European Union, making it more expensive for UK artists to tour in Europe in addition to limiting opportunities and income.
  • The potential loss of funding through EU programs, such as Creative Europe, which allowed hundreds of artists to undertake projects and advance their music careers.
  • The limited access to the EU market; before Brexit, approximately 60% of all UK music exports went to EU countries before additional barriers were put up, limiting growth opportunities.

There is no room to wonder why 90% of the musicians surveyed feel unconfident in the government’s ability to handle the crisis and level the playing field. And while I would love to be as optimistic as the Guardian writer, who probably had an agenda to push his positivity puff piece, if there was ever a time to have a healthy dose of realism, it is right about now.


Article by Amelia Vandergast

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