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  • Writer's pictureLiza Mulholland

Let the music play and pay!

A couple of wee questions to you this week. What makes for a really great night out? Or constitutes, for you, fun times with friends and family? I’m willing to bet music is a factor in answers for many people, and live music at that!

With some shops and businesses re-opened, and doors of bars and restaurants to be unlocked in a few days, there’s good reason for cautious optimism in these difficult days, celebration even. But what of music and the whole infrastructure that supports it?

Bagpipes may officially be off the hook in terms of spreading the virus through the breath needed to play but singers and musicians, crammed onto a stage and working up a panting sweat with energetic playing, will not be entertaining audiences any time soon.

You might have spotted bright yellow and green #LetTheMusicPlay and #SaveOurVenues logos appearing across social media, highlighting a campaign calling on more support from Government for a music industry supporting over 210,000 jobs across Britain and adding £4.5 billion to the economy.

Last week the Scottish Government launched a new £10 million Performing Arts Venues Fund, followed this week by an announcement at UK level of a £1.57 billion funding package. This very welcome support will help prevent theatres, arts centres, museums, galleries and heritage sites going to the wall.

In terms of folk music, much needs done to ensure the infrastructure is also supported. Musicians, agents, managers, promoters, crews and sound engineers are usually freelancers, unable to be furloughed and now in an acutely precarious situation financially.

Well-known Scottish agent Lisa Whytock, who represents many of folk and traditional music’s leading acts, is at the helm of a newly launched Scottish Commercial Music Industry Task Force, to ‘Explain the eco system that is music to Government and other agencies…and collectively have one voice.’

Alongside this, artistes like KT Tunstall are calling for a long overdue examination of how music and those who create it have become so undervalued and are demanding an overhaul of distribution and payment. Consumers expect to pay for food, clothing, gadgets and most other things they use in daily life, in order that producers and vendors are rewarded and can continue to make those goods, so why have people come to presume music is free?

It might surprise you that musicians, songwriters and composers with music on streaming services such as Spotify, earn very little. Major artistes might see a reasonable income, still not what it should be, but less well-known performers earn a pittance. For folk musicians who get a few hundred plays each month, earnings amount to pennies.

Here’s hoping funding filters down to the grassroots and we see real change in how creativity is appreciated, to keep music an integral part of our cultural life. Meanwhile, maybe when we next enjoy an artiste on a streaming platform we could follow that with a paid download or even an album purchase? Just a thought!

(First published by Scottish Provincial Press 10th July 2020)

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