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COVID challenges for freelancers in the music community back in the spotlight

By | Published on Wednesday 5 August 2020


The Musicians’ Union and Association Of British Orchestras have come together to put the spotlight on the perilous position many UK orchestras and orchestral players are currently in as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 shutdown.

As well as seeking assurances that orchestras will benefit from the sector-specific COVID support being provided by government to cultural businesses, both organisations have again called on ministers to extend and expand support for freelance music-makers.

It follows another social media push by the music industry yesterday under the #LetTheMusicPlay banner, this time putting the spotlight on the crews that work on tours and festivals, many of whom are freelancers who will not directly benefit from that sector-specific COVID support.

With the government’s general COVID schemes set to expire in the next couple of months, but with live shows unlikely to properly return until 2021, the industry wants ministers to ensure freelance workers in the live sector will still be able to access financial support. That could be achieved partly by extending the current Self Employment Income Support Scheme, and by subsidising loss-making socially-distanced live events that could pay artists to play and employ freelance crew.

Back with the MU and ABO, they noted this morning that while the government’s sector-specific support for cultural organisations is appreciated, “there is no certainty at present as to which orchestras will benefit”. And, they added, “it will certainly not help, in the short-term, the many freelance musicians who depend on earnings from concerts and recordings”.

They then stated: “This parlous state for a vital part of our cultural landscape is exacerbated by the concern that the last payment under the SEISS will be in August, yet a return to concerts with full audiences is not expected until 2021”.

Of course there is also the additional issue that many freelancers haven’t even been able to access the SEISS support to date because of the way they have structured their businesses.

On that point, ABO’s Mark Pemberton explained: “The many thousands of freelance musicians who have helped to make UK orchestras world-renowned are on their knees hoping that the government will finally recognise their plight, and step in with much needed funds to tide them over until the concert halls can reopen. Our own research suggests that up to a third of freelance orchestral musicians have been unable to access the government’s SEISS and, with no work on the horizon, they are contemplating a very, very bleak future”.

Meanwhile, MU General Secretary Horace Trubridge added: “The MU and the ABO are both deeply concerned about the future of the UK’s orchestras and the highly-talented musicians who rely on that work and who are at the heart of this key sector. For our orchestral members the ship is sinking and there isn’t a lifeboat in sight. This government either doesn’t understand the damage that is being done to the orchestral sector, or it doesn’t care. We have repeatedly called upon the government to offer a lifeline to freelance orchestral musicians, but they simply choose not to listen”.