The Musicians’ Union: supporting musicians during lockdown
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“This is without doubt the darkest hour for the music profession,” said Musicians’ Union General Secretary Horace Trubridge, following prime minister Boris Johnson’s decision to close of all venues, pubs, clubs, theatres and concert halls on 20 March 2020. Many musicians had already taken responsibility into their own hands, cancelling shows for fear of spreading the virus further into the community. “The scale is astronomical,” reflected Horace. “The problem we have now is there’s absolutely no live work and the studios are closed as well.”
Assessing the impact on musicians
The MU responded swiftly to the crisis, setting up a survey to assess the true impact on its members and to provide statistics to take to government. This bore fruit when Chancellor Rishi Sunak mentioned musicians first in his speech when announcing the government’s Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS). The survey found that 38% of responding musicians did not qualify for either the SEISS scheme or the furlough scheme for those on PAYE income. The MU has since lobbied hard for musicians who fall between the cracks in these government schemes, arguing strongly for measures to help newly self-employed musicians, those musicians whose self-employed work is less than 50% of their total, musicians running a limited company, and those with ‘profits’ of over £50,000.
The MU Hardship Fund: helping musicians through crisis
Two days after Boris Johnson’s announced the closure of live music venues, the MU launched its £1m Coronavirus Hardship Fund. With the survey showing that UK musicians had already lost £13.9 million in earnings, the fund enabled the MU to make immediate payments to those members in dire financial need. The MU’s Twitter feed was soon abuzz with messages of thanks.
“Massive thank you to The MU for providing me with £200 through the Coronavirus Hardship Fund,” said one tweet, “It’s not a lot, but it’s the most I’ve been granted as a self-employed musician with no work. So grateful!”. MU members were equally appreciative of the daily updates, advice and sense of unity and support. “Thank you so, so much for the help you’re giving to musicians right now,” wrote one musician, “very proud to be a member”.
Musicians move their work online
Many musicians highlighted the devastating financial impact of the crisis. “The coronavirus has completely wiped out my source of income for the foreseeable future,” said Ben Goldscheider, horn player and Young Classical Artists Trust (YCAT) musician. But others were able to migrate their performances and services online, while getting paid for them through donations or subscriptions, as front rooms became stages for performers. Music teachers swapped classrooms for live-streams, while orchestras and choirs developed new ways to engage with audiences.
“Being a self-employed musician means this is not the first time I have been in crisis,” singer-songwriter and choir leader Abi Moore told The Musician, the quarterly magazine for the 32,000 members of the Musicians’ Union. Moore moved quickly to take her a capella choir Totally Vocally online, producing a series of video tutorials, as well as staging her own lives-treamed gigs from home. “In a way, it has been a blessing in disguise for me,” she said, “because it has made me do things that I have said I would do for years.”
Getting the message to government
Horace Trubridge said the MU is continuing to lobby hard for its members, delivering very clear messages to government that much more needs to done for musicians. He paid tribute to the resilience and innovation of Musicians’ Union members during the crisis.
“The creativity of our members has been second to none,” he said. “Our members are having to cope with a complete loss of income and I am amazed and continue to be impressed by them every day.”
For more on the MU Coronavirus Hardship Fund visit musiciansunion.org/HardshipFund
To learn more about how the MU has helped its members during lockdown, see the summer 2020 issue of The Musician magazine.
Visit the MU website at theMU.org
How the Musicians' Union is supporting artists and musicians affected by Covid-19 pandemic