Questions: Lockdown and sound work

Florence:

Hi Brendan, I am trying to look into how Covid-19 is affecting venues, creative businesses and artists and look at how we can improve support for them both from Cornwall Council and Gov. Would you be able to give me a brief overview of what support you are currently getting (if any?!), how the lockdown is affecting you, how long you can keep going in this state and whether you have found any innovative ways of continuing so far?

Brendan:

It’s a bit of a conundrum for us in the entertainment industry for sure! Big and small event businesses have all been affected massively. At the start, big touring companies and road crew were forced to make the decision to run their stadium concert tours or not, during the weeks running up to the lockdown, completely unaided by the late response by the government to apply the lockdown. Tens of thousands of pounds were lost while no government decision or early support was made. Early doors, venues and bands were forced to cancel shows without support, due to safety. I gathered in a crew who were about to do a run of 10 bands (to start with) to record and film live sessions without an audience (just band and crew) to stream during full lockdown. At the very final hour, we had to cancel due to crew and band members going into quarantine.

Currently I’m getting the SEISS grant at 80% of my last 3 year’s profits. I would have been ok, but 3 yrs ago I made big investments in gear, so that 80% figure dropped. I’m ok and have started a micro business (studio based) to cover the extra income. Basically, my monthly summer income (and most others) dropped from £thousands to £0.00 with no prospect of seasonal income from festivals, or any event income for the foreseeable future. It’s likely that the social distancing measures will hinder events until maybe this time next year! Many of us rely on this seasonal income to pay for the harder times of the year. Many skilled crew have had to seek alternative incomes and I fear for the times when we do return to event production that the skilled crews of yesteryear will not be able to service the industry. Festival seasons don’t just make themselves, there is a lot of work that goes into planning and with festivals not confident in knowing when events can happen, will mean a delay in event production. Also it’s likely that when we are given the all clear, that events will clash and massive double bookings will occur. The lockdown has completely stopped all of my income from live gigs, it’s been a panic sorting alternative income and government support. Government needs to address the specific problems of the events industry, as they are hit harder than most other businesses. Some people are still in a gap and not sufficiently assisted.

I am one of the lucky ones that have managed to adapt. I’ve started a micro business revisiting multi-track recordings gathered from gigs and festivals from over the last 4 years. It’s taken me approximately 1 month to set up the business and I’m just starting to see some small income. Much mixing and mastering for free was done to grease the cogs in the way of promotional material. I think it’s a good idea to be able to help musicians get material out to release right now, while distribution is at a minimum and streaming and downloading of music is in great demand. The pre-record means that the bands don’t have to ‘gather’ in recording studios and keep lockdown rules. I’ve not been greedy with it as I’m only needing to cover a small monthly deficit due to the government self employed assistance. I’m also lucky that the business is now performing better than expected, but there’s still a life span on its productivity, as I only have 150 or so recordings. I’m currently also upskilling to a new mixing software which will enhance my capabilities in the studio. I study with Udemy online with their video tutorials. I’m ok, healthy and happy enough, as I say I consider myself lucky to have this opportunity in the wings, many are not so lucky! As soon as the lockdown is eased slightly, the crew gathered before lockdown should soon be able to film and record no audience live gigs again.
I’m a sole trader, I employ up to 3 people on occasion and as you know, I operate live sound (and crew), plus studio recording and production, so yes in a creative industry. Running costs like lock up rent, gear insurance and running a vehicle now have to come out of nowhere. My vehicle currently needs a garage visit to work at all…..

The streaming side of our ‘new norm’ has been mostly restricted to those living in the same space, solo’s and duo’s and although zoom and multiple location recordings have happened, it is only a few I’ve seen that have worked and sounded good! For musicians, it seems those who are connected with good networks AND have their own facility to record and mix are the only ones really able to make things work. Even so, with a considerably lower wage.

We are very unfortunate that our industry revolves on people gathering to enjoy music. Live music will always be a massive draw for people and we must find a way making it happen safely when we can.

Just to add, I went to an amazing festival this weekend virtually….Fire in the Mountain. Once able to suspend your disbelief, it actually felt like a festival….the organisers were absolutely amazing to turn it round! From festival organisers to TV Producers! I’ve realised that with this streaming, the common expectations of my job / role have massively changed. Instead of managing a big board full of multiple channels and mixing, the ‘new norm’ is just stereo audio channels and streaming / computer network skills. In streaming, my standard ‘sound engineer’ role is nearly redundant.