Coronavirus stokes fears for UK music industry

London (AFP) –


Classically trained singers Mark Nathan and his partner Carolyn Holt had bookings stretching into next year until the coronavirus pandemic struck.

Restrictions imposed because of the outbreak, including venue closures, have instead seen those concerts put on hold -- or cancelled altogether.

"It's crushing and disappointing for this to happen through no fault of your own," said Holt.

But the pair, from Epsom, just outside London, are not alone. Musicians and performers across the world have been plunged into uncertainty because of the global health emergency.

In Britain, UK Music, an industry body representing artists, record labels and music venues, estimates that 65 to 80 percent of performers' incomes will be lost this year.

Many have already seen their income fall to zero since March, the organisation said.

Its annual report, published Wednesday, indicated the British music sector grew by 11 percent in 2019 and was worth 5.8 billion pounds ($7.68 billion, 6.5 billion euros) to the economy.

However, it has been dealt a "catastrophic blow" in 2020.

- Hustling for cash -

Many UK music venues have been shut since March and those that reopened in England from June before new restrictions were reimposed in November only did so at greatly reduced capacity.

As a result, live music venues have seen revenues fall by 85 per cent this year, with a knock-on effect across the industry, the report said.

"Every part of the industry has felt the impact of what's happened," UK Music chief executive Jamie Njoku-Goodwin told AFP.

This year should have been a "British success story", he added.

The sector had been kept on its feet with 250 million pounds' worth of the government's 1.6 billion-pound Cultural Recovery Fund to help keep the arts afloat during the outbreak.

Venues now needed to be reopened when it is safe to do so and with sufficient time for preparation.

"I don't want to be in a position where we're hustling for more money to extend that fund," Njoku-Goodwin said.

He added it would be a "real tragedy" if reopening events was technically possible in 2021 but the industry had not been given enough warning by government.

- Future impact -

Music industry representatives are increasingly worried about the lasting legacy the pandemic will have on a generation of British talent.

Nathan, a 30-year-old baritone, and mezzo soprano Holt, 28, have managed to earn money by creating musical video greetings and birthday messages to order during lockdown.

Their requests have had them singing up-beat medleys of Sinatra and Mozart, Elvis and Tchaikovsky, Puccini and Johnny Cash.

The pair's income is less than they would have made on the stage.

But Nathan, who should have made his debut with the Scottish Opera company this year, said it had been a "privilege" to keep singing when so many of their peers cannot.

"Everyone is sitting around, and loads of people had really exciting stuff coming up -- and it's just gone," he added.

Some colleagues who had also only recently finished training have decided they may now not be able forge a viable career in opera in the future.

"It's been a huge, huge percentage," Nathan said.

- Young musicians -

The director of the Association of British Orchestras, Mark Pemberton, said he was critically concerned about what the future could hold for up-and-coming young talent.

Research from his organisation has indicated 30 percent of the UK's freelance orchestral musicians were ineligible for the government's self-employed income support scheme.

In many cases, this was because they had only just started their careers and had no proof of past earnings.

"Right around the one-third mark are getting nothing. And if you're getting nothing you're going to simply give up," he said.

Pemberton's concerns are focused on whether orchestras would be able to play at reduced capacity in line with social distancing guidelines in the normally busy Christmas period.

He is also looking to see if the Cultural Recovery Fund would be extended beyond March.

"One fundamental message is you can't make a concert viable with only 25 percent capacity," he said.

"If this is this does indeed stretch beyond March then financial viability returns as a serious issue."