Covid-19: Cultural and Entertainment Sectors

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:33 pm on 2nd March 2021.

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Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee, Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee 4:33 pm, 2nd March 2021

In the short time available to me, I would like to focus exclusively on the plight of our musicians and those involved in our music industry. This has been an absolutely miserable time for our artists and musicians. Never before have conditions been so tough. Music is a sociable endeavour, and performance is all about people coming together. It is about communion, joy, comfort, solace and release. Quite simply, music is the discourse of the soul. Of all the industries and endeavours impacted by the prohibiting of human beings coming together, live music was always going to be the most heavily affected. A whole sector has effectively been closed down.

This is not just about musicians, miserable though it is for them; it is about the venues, the technical crews, the ancillary staff, the haulage, the band crews—thousands and thousands of people. Music was already just about the most precarious of professions. It used to be a field of dreams, but it is now mainly about ploughing some lonely furrow, hoping to make a few beans. Yes, it could yield great riches for the very few who reach the pinnacle of success, but most musicians will be more acquainted with poverty than plenty. Most musicians earn less than the minimum wage for their art, and traditional career routes have been turned on their heads. Next to no money is now earned from recorded works. That is unbelievable. Streaming and digital services have decimated band incomes, and musicians are subject to one of the most extensive and widest value gaps of any sector. Music is being listened to more than ever and is widely available, and people are indeed getting rich, but it is not the musicians; it is the platforms, the gatekeepers of music and the big tech companies that are earning a grotesque fortune from the wonderful works of others.

I was lucky, Madam Deputy Speaker. I plied my trade in music in the ’80s and ’90s—the good times. That was the peak of record sales, when profitability and touring were just about at their maximum. Sustainable careers were possible, and bands such as Runrig could make a good living. No more. So what do we do? Well, this Government will see what they can do to make a dire situation worse. Just when music is at its wits’ end, the Government want to close down a continent to live musicians, with the ridiculous arrangements they have managed to negotiate for bands in Europe.

What do we do to get out of this? It has to start with the Budget. Extending the self-employed support scheme and furlough beyond April has to happen, and we must ensure that insurance is in place for live performances. We need to ensure that a subsidy is available for venues to accommodate social distancing. My heart goes out to this generation of musicians who are having to confront so much, just to bring pleasure to us all. The Government have the tools. I ask them, “Please now use them. Help this sector out.”