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Let the music play – and pay!

By Liza Mulholland

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Artistes earn very little from music streaming services.
Artistes earn very little from music streaming services.

A couple of wee questions to you this week. What makes for a really great night out? Or constitutes for you fun, social 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 reopened, and the doors of bars and restaurants to be unlocked in a few days, there is good reason for cautious optimism in these difficult times, celebration even.

But what of music and the whole infrastructure that supports it?

Bagpipes may be officially 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 vigorous playing, will not be near audiences any time soon.

You might have already spotted bright yellow and green #LetTheMusicPlay and #SaveOurVenues logos appearing across social media… well, a campaign has just been launched calling on more support from the UK government for the music industry, which not only supports over 210,000 jobs across Britain but adds £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 ecosystem 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, furnishings and most other things they use in daily life, in order that the creators 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, and less well-known bands 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’s music on a streaming platform, we’ll follow that with a paid download or even an album purchase? Just a thought!

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