Sitting down to write about what it’s like to be a musician at home on lockdown is by far the most work I’ve done in the last few weeks. Honestly, it’s stressing me out – working – but whatever, I’ll butch it out.
We touring musicians are well adapted to this sort of life.
I know writers are like 'hey I do this every day, sit in my room not seeing anyone and just getting on with my shit', but they’re amateurs compared to us.
Even on an actual workday, it’s nearly all just hanging out for me, with only a tiny bit of tiresome rock and roll music right at the end. So I get maybe 90 minutes of anything resembling real work; then the rest is pure Me Time – relaxing in the shade of the Me Tree.
So even if this lockdown lasts three months, I could do, like, two days of work at the end and still be in the black, percentages-wise.
But I long to get back to normality. To drinking champagne at noon in my hotel toweling-robe, while getting someone else to buy more champagne for me. I don’t even click ‘buy’. That’s someone else’s job; not my department, baby.
I want to get back to reading a sheet of paper that tells me exactly how the day will pan out; when I can get my laundry fluffed and folded, and when someone’s gonna come along and ask me interview questions so I can talk about myself some more. Just regular life.
But will those days ever return? I have my doubts.
In all seriousness, this crisis has shown that the music industry has become too reliant on touring as the dominant revenue stream. What used to be simply promotion for record sales is now established as the main event.
There’s a newly captive audience-in-isolation out there, which means streaming services will profit, but the artists who supply them may not. While YouTube streams stack up, that cash then hits a bottleneck, after which only dribbles get through to the musicians themselves. In a world awash with content, the content-generators are left out to dry.
I need someone to refresh my glass as I contemplate this inherent injustice.
Certainly, it’s difficult to envisage a just outcome in a battle for compensation between some of the biggest digital players on the planet on one side, and a collection of independent musicians and technicians on the other. It’s scary, but it’s also very real, and if that isn’t enough to cork your Burgundy I don’t know what is.
It cannot be business as usual when we return to the chalkface. Musicians need to be able to earn a decent living with or without touring. That music is undervalued online is a reluctantly accepted fact, but one that perhaps hasn’t mattered in practical terms, as touring has made up the shortfall until now. This lack of diversity in revenue could now mean annihilation for huge swathes of the industry as a whole.
Whilst my smoking jacket warms over the Aga, let’s look at some specifics.
Most bands make the majority of their touring income through festival appearances, the vast majority of which are in spring and summer. Our band, Hot Chip, had a bunch of these festivals lined up, and they looked like they were going to get us into decent figures.
Those forthcoming dates have of course all ‘gone away’, to use the business parlance. Though some have been optimistically rescheduled for the autumn, it seems wise to assume the rest of the year is a write-off.
No festival shows. No club shows. No DJ gigs. That means zero income for us – please, feel free to shed a tear – but also no income for our management team, for our agent, our tour manager and technicians, and all their families.
Lack of cash for a few weeks is one thing. But with no guarantee that anything close to a functioning industry might reappear soon, all these people must now rely increasingly on the UK government. It seems naive to imagine that politicians, who were deaf to the protestations of musicians over the impact of Brexit, would now listen to their plight over the impact of Covid-19. An industry which has always thrived despite past government policy is now entirely at the mercy of it.
It’s enough to take the fizz out of your Perrier-Jouët.
So, please help if you can. Buy some tunes from Bandcamp, buy some merchandise – t-shirts, tea towels, healing crystals – put money into Patreons and, best of all, get some delicious vinyl for your ultimate listening pleasure.
And check in with your favourite musicians and tell them how much you love them. If they’re anything like me, they’ll certainly enjoy bathing in your adoration.
Illustration by Alex Christian.