It feels redundant to still be talking about Covid-19, but it’s undoubtedly a concern for everyone in the industry. Thousands of people are left at home, asked to retrain, most of the people we know are seeking other jobs after 40, 50 years in the music business! I am more preoccupied for young people though. I am more preoccupied for all those kids who were just starting out, and to hang the guitar and give up on their dream, I am preoccupied for those who are just entering university and will choose more practical subjects. But more than anything or anyone, I am more concerned about the venues.
I come from a country where venues are scarce, they are not pubs or clubs, and if they exist is only through the constant exchange of people, bands, tours, musicians you will never hear about again, and the occasional big band that comes to the city. When Covid-19 hit, they started dropping like flies. I have since stopped to frantically read the news looking for my favourite venue, but I get the casual tweet ‘That place where you spent half of your teenage years is now closed forever’, and I can’t stand this anymore. It’s the same in the UK, where although charitable associations such as Music Venue Trust and the government’s Culture Recovery Fund have been fuelling venues in need, our historic theatres are still shutting down. Our great government gave £1.57 billions, and still it wasn’t enough. We risk losing The Lexington (Islington), Windmill Brixton, and funnily enough, the majority of venues that are suffering the most are in London.
The impossibly high rents, the cost of operations, everything adds up until you’ll never play these venues, they’ll probably become shitty pubs and bars, and a piece of history will be down the drain. I don’t understand how can people not consider historic venues as cultural heritage of the country. The Beatles played here! David Bowie! Pink Floyd! But music will never be a priority for anyone. You could commute without music, heck yes. You could smash your workout without music. You could meditate, you could even watch a movie! You could go to the club… well, actually, no. You couldn’t do anything without music because it would be boring as fuck. You couldn’t even retrain without music because you wouldn’t stand a 45 minute commute on the Northern Line without someone screaming in your ears that it’ll be ok. And if you are like me, you have been suffering like crazy this past year. The real issue is that this has been going on for years before Covid. The Mayor of London set up a task force to find out why venues are closing and one of the main issues reported was residents complaints. Between 2007 and 2015 we lost 35% of our venues. Where are independent musicians going to play if all the venues are shut down? Not to mention that most of the gigs start way too early, so if you have a 9-to-5 you’re likely gonna miss the opening act. Moreover, night-time economy suffers from the decline in venues, too. And again, light engineers, sound technicians, roadies, bartenders are at high risk of losing their job. And nobody wants to enter an industry that’s so fragile, so influenced by factors you can’t change.
I will not talk about Brexit and its impact on live music, when London is one of the first cities in Europe (well, not anymore) for music tourism. It’s just one big mess that we can’t fix.
Chances are that when everything opens again, the industry will be far more competitive than it was before, especially for what concerns indie promoters. It’ll be hard to find a space for everyone, as there will also be far less venues than before.
When gigs are back, you should hang out to watch the support acts, buy something to drink or the venue’s own merchandise, speak to people and keep an eye out for petitions and fund raising.
Please don’t give up.