UK Music, the collective voice of the UK music industry, announced Jamie Njoku-Goodwin as its new chief executive at the tail end of 2020 – a year that saw the live music sector decimated by a global pandemic, while fears surrounding an impending Brexit continued to bubble away on the surface.
Enter 2021 and, despite hopes for a brighter new year, for much of the industry the waters remain murky.
The new Brexit trade deal threatens to inflict staggering new costs and bureaucracy, with British musicians no longer guaranteed visa-free travel. In December, UK Music warned that the big blow of visa charges and paperwork ‘could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.’
Last week, Jamie explained to Digital, Culture, Music and Sport Select Committee members that a supplementary deal with the EU to facilitate touring is urgently required.
This weekend however The Independent broke a story that claimed the UK government rejected the EU's offer of visa-free tours for musicians, despite having blamed Brussels.
The music industry reacted in fury, with Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke calling MPs ‘spineless f***s’ in a tweet and over 100,000 people signing a petition created by the Musicians Union.
A government spokesperson told the NME that ‘the story is incorrect and misleading speculation from anonymous EU sources.’
Amidst all the controversy, M Magazine spoke to Jamie Njoku-Goodwin to discuss UK Music’s take on the situation take and furthermore, what important work UK Music is doing to protect and support the industry during these increasingly challenging times.
Read UK Music's Let The Music Play: Save Our Summer report, released just last week.
'One of the things I want to be doing as UK Music chief executive is having the music industry acknowledged as a key national asset. It’s one of the things I was banging on about when I started and I really want to be taking this forward.'
Maya Radcliffe: One of the key calls for action that has been set out in the UK Music Save Our Summer report is that live music must have a restart date. Why is that so crucial?
Jamie Njoku-Goodwin: As an industry, we’ve got lots of different constituent parts. There are some things people are going to be affected by more, there are some things people are going to be affected by less, but the absence of live music over the past year has affected the whole industry.
Since I started, I’ve asked every member I’ve spoken to name three things they’d like UK Music to help change or shape. Almost without exception, ‘Resolve the situation with live music,’ has been one of those three.
It has an impact on artists and musicians, it has an impact on composers and songwriters, it has an impact on record labels trying to break new acts. It has a huge impact on royalties and rights.
The progress made with COVID-19 testing has been really encouraging. Before the vaccine was approved and before the current lockdown, it looked like we would get into a situation at some point in 2021 where we’d be able to start having large live events through testing.
Now, if you imagine a situation where all your vulnerable people have been vaccinated by June and you’ve also got a testing system in place, the conditions should be there come the summer for us to be able to safely holding events without too many restrictions.
The problem for us as an industry is that we work to long lead times. The point I’ve been really trying to make with the industry wanting a date is it’s not us saying we want to come back in six weeks or we want to come back as soon as possible, it’s just us saying, ‘We think the conditions are going to be there for us to be able to be operating over summer.’
But for us to be able to have the confidence to be able to plan, we need there to be a formal government policy. We can’t just snap our fingers and spit up large events into existence at the drop of a hat.
'It’s really important that the UK has successful global industries where we can really punch above our weight. The music industry has always done that.'
The DCMS committee wrote to the Chancellor about a government-backed insurance scheme for festivals and large-scale events. Can you tell me a little bit more about what difference having a policy like this in place will make to the live sector?
It will mean that we can plan with confidence. At the moment, the private insurance market isn’t offering pandemic cancellation insurance, or at least not at a price that is viable.
So, to give us that confidence and to give people the financial security of being able to organise events, having an insurance scheme that will basically say to promoters and event organisers, ‘Organise events, we think they should be able to happen, but if something happens and they’re not you’re still going to be protected against loss’.
You can start to get the ecosystem going again and start to get activity going again and start to spread income and some capital back through the industry. Insurance and an indicative date are the two key things that we’ve been flagging and pushing for.
Am I right in thinking that these insurance policies exist for TV and film industries but not the music industry?
Yes. The government introduced one for TV and film last year, called The TV and Film Restart Scheme. It’s been really effective.
There’s work that’s been created for people because there was an insurance scheme in place, and that gave the industry a sense of the confidence to start planning and to start making things happen again. The really beautiful thing about it is it hasn’t actually cost government a penny.
It was technically a £500 million scheme but there have been no pay-outs because there haven’t been any cancellations. It hasn’t really cost government that much money, if anything, according to the Select Committee because they haven't had to pay out. That’s exactly what we want as an industry. We’re not looking for a load of subsidy or support for no reason. We don’t actually want government to be paying us for events to be cancelled.
What does the future look like for UK festivals and large-scale events if the insurance scheme isn’t introduced?
It looks incredibly, incredibly difficult. We would probably need to see an extended Culture Recovery Fund. In 2020, we saw the government spend £1.57 billion on a Culture Recovery Fund to try and support the culture sector through to the end of the pandemic. We’ve been really grateful for that. Round two opened [last week], and I would advise any organisations reading this to go and apply for it because it can be a real lifesaver and it can help support organisations through this pandemic period. I think, as an industry, we don’t want to be supported to not do anything.
We want to be in a position where we can be operating viably and generating our own income. Our preference is to have an indicative date and an insurance scheme and be able to function viably over the summer, but if that isn’t allowed to happen then a whole load of organisations are going to need a lot more support from government.
'I don't want to sound too culturally imperialistic, but this is exactly the sort of time when we should be sending successful internationally world-famous British talent abroad, flying the flag for Britain and sharing a positive image of the real great exports that the UK can be generating.'
The industry has suffered more than one blow over the past twelve months. Aside from COVID-19, the sector has had Brexit to contend with. You said in a statement that the new deal was welcome and has 'removed some of the uncertainty facing the industry' but has left 'many questions' for the sector. What are your biggest concerns?
The big one that’s prevalent at the moment is touring. UK musicians need to be able to go to the EU and tour, partly because it’s how up-and-coming artists build their fanbase. The problem we’ve got at the moment is while there’s visa-free travel for anyone within the EU, you’ll need a work permit depending on what country you are in. Now it’s an absolute nightmare because in terms of the EU and the EEA, there are 30 different rules, 30 different regulatory systems. I’m hearing from lots of musicians is this is just going to put them off touring, and that is massively detrimental for us as a sector.
I don't want to sound too culturally imperialistic, but this is exactly the sort of time when we should be sending successful internationally world-famous British talent abroad, flying the flag for Britain and sharing a positive image of the real great exports that the UK can be generating. It’s really important to get that resolved.
The other issue is it goes both ways, so this isn’t just about UK artists being able to tour Europe, it’s also about attracting European talent and having European artists coming to the UK.
Our live music scene is the envy of the world and that vibrant live music scene we are so proud of here is partly because of the European talent we’ve got coming here and the huge UK fanbase we’ve got for them. Making sure that musicians can tour freely and can continue to tour is really key.
It’s really important that the UK has successful global industries where we can really punch above our weight. The music industry has always done that. It’s interesting, a lot of things people have said they want UK industries to be able to do post-Brexit, the music industry has always done. We’ve always been a global industry.
We’ve always been a hugely successful exporter. I think the UK is one of only three net exporters of music globally. We need to continue that and make sure to build on that, and it would be a real tragedy if one of the industries that was so global pre-Brexit, stopped being so successful after it.
You’re on the advisory board of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Orchestras trying to get work permits when they’re 70 people strong, never mind the crew, is a different kind of nightmare isn’t it?
A different kind of nightmare. I couldn’t have put it any better than that. This isn’t just about musicians. It’s about crew, it’s about technical staff, it’s about the whole team, without which there wouldn’t be gigs and there wouldn’t be tours. We’re very clear that when we’re putting on the pressure, we want to have some sort of solution that doesn’t mean that musicians are getting the work, but their teams can’t.
It’s one thing if you’re having to go through work permits for a few tours a year; if you’re a major orchestra you’re flying over to Germany, you’re flying over to Denmark, you’re flying over to Sweden and back, you’re doing it all the time, and having to do that for 70-odd musicians, technicians and crew. For what could just be a one or two or three-day trip, it could be a nightmare.
I don't want to overplay the issue because there will be some countries where it will be okay. There will be some countries where if you are there for less than 14 days you won’t need a work permit, but there are others where it’s less clear. One of the things we are doing as a body, and I know lots of people in the industry are getting on to this and looking at this, is making sure there is clarity on what the rules actually are, because it can be a real nightmare of bureaucracy to try and find what you actually have to do.
This weekend, The Independent broke a story that claimed the UK rejected an offer of visa-free tours by musicians to EU countries, despite having previously blamed Brussels. What was your reaction to this?
The situation has been quite confusing. In the last couple of weeks, there’s been a BBC story saying that the UK made some proposals to the EU which were rejected by the EU for musicians to be able to continue travelling without work permits, and then this story broke, suggesting the opposite.
I suppose my immediate reaction was, ‘Okay, both sides are saying they want to make sure touring musicians can continue to move freely from one to the other without having work permits’, and that’s a good thing. It’s good that there seems to be some sort of political will on both sides to be having a solution.
I was more interested and focusing on how to lock that in, leverage that, and make sure we can actually have both sides agreeing that should be the solution, rather than trying to engage in a blame game.
It's obviously important to find out what’s actually happened and what the truth of it is. I know lots of people have been incredibly frustrated and angry about this whole thing, but I’ve tried to be approaching it in a way that’s going to actually change the situation.
'It’s our job to do everything we can to make resolution a reality and to get it across the line in some way. The whole UK Music team and the whole UK Music family are working exceptionally hard on this.'
You said in a statement that it’s imperative that both parties get around a table and urgently agree a solution. Has that process started, or restarted, after everything that’s happened at the weekend?
We’re engaging with government, and our partner organisations,at the moment and lot of this is still trying to work out exactly what’s going on, but I know government seems to be taking the situation seriously. We pushed for government to get around the table and start conversations with the EU on Sunday, and yesterday government restated their offer to the EU.
They made clear that their door remains open, and the proposals they’ve made to include musicians on the list of permitted activities for short-term business visitors remains on the table. So, I assume government is engaging with the EU both in public and in private.
It seems that much of the fury, and the mistrust in the government, stems from the everything the industry has subjected to in 2020. Do you think that that mistrust is rightly placed, and do you trust that the government is sufficiently backing the industry?
Like you say, coming at the end of 2020 which has been such a catastrophic year for our industry and everyone who works in it, you can completely understand the huge strength of feeling on this, because one of the things I know people were looking forward to post-COVID is being able to go back to performing, go back to gigging and go back to touring. I think the idea for lots of musicians that even once we get over this, get through this pandemic, then finding it even harder to tour is obviously, you can obviously see why people are really, really, rightly worried about that.
How optimistic are you that the touring issues will get resolved?
I don’t want to make predictions about these sorts of things, but I think it’s encouraging that both sides are saying quite clearly that they want to be able to resolve this situation. It’s not necessarily about being optimistic or pessimistic. It’s our job to do everything we can to make resolution a reality and to get it across the line in some way. The whole UK Music team and the whole UK Music family are working exceptionally hard on this.
We’re determined to do everything we can to resolve and improve the situation.
Something else the DCMS committee has been examining is the impact of streaming on the future of the music industry. How important do you think it is that the government introduce tougher regulations on how record labels manage their artists on streaming platforms? Do you think that streaming is going to play a big part in the resurrection of the music industry once all of this is behind us?
It might seem strange to say this but streaming is still a relatively new innovation. It feels like such an established part of our lives and the landscape at the moment but still, in the hundreds of years of musical history, streaming as a way of consuming music is in its infancy, and yet in a really short time it’s become the dominant way of music consumption. So it’s obviously really important that streaming works for the music industry as a whole, and benefits all of the constituent parts.
In terms of the enquiry, UK Music represents the entire music industry as a whole and there are obviously hugely different views on how streaming should work within the industry. It feels like there’s a real consensus from everyone that it’s important that streaming works for the industry as a whole and we get all the benefits of streaming that we can as an industry, and obviously there’s a wider question about exactly how that is achieved. Our members have made individual representations to the Select Committee.
It’s really important that the committee is using evidence from as many voices across the sector and takes a view on it. The position we have tried to take at UK Music is making sure that we can be a convening force, bringing different sides together, but also while there is very robust debate going on about this, as a sector, we are better united and there’s more that unites us than divides us. I really want to make sure that when this enquiry is done and there are recommendations in the Select Committee, there’s something we can come around together as a sector with all sides agreeing on some sort of way forwards, and I want to make sure that UK Music helps to support that.
UK Music released a report that said that the representation of ethnic minorities has improved across the board within the music industry. Do you think that the uncertainty surrounding the Coronavirus, Brexit, and everything else that’s going on at the moment, has the potential to overshadow diversity issues and potentially halt the progress that was being made?
It’s really important we don’t let that happen. One of the things that I’ve been quite keenly aware of is the interplay between the two. Ethnic minority and gender representation, largely across the board, have been really positive, but what we’re really seeing at the moment are huge gains and improvements, particularly among people who are starting out their career, and it’s really important however that it feeds through into senior levels; into top management levels.
Working from home can be really difficult for lots of people, particularly those who are just starting their career because that’s when you’re really learning your skills, learning your trade, making your contacts and really working out how you do your job. In this way the pandemic could have a real impact on people who are just starting out, and would include those of them from diverse backgrounds. So the cohort of people that will be most impacted by Brexit and the pandemic might be those among which we’ve seen the biggest improvements in terms of diversity.
I want to make sure that we’re staying focused on everything we do on diversity. I think we launched the diversity report on my fifth day in the job, and that has been really well-received. I also have to say that it landed fantastically but I can’t take much if any of the credit for it.
Ammo, Paulette, and Rachel from UK Music were really driving that. They did fantastic work on it and it was really brilliant, but I don’t see that as the culmination or the end of a journey, I see it very much as the start or the continuation of one. So, we’ve set out a really positive diversity report. We’ve set out a really ambitious bold ten-point plan. The job for us now is to implement it and see it through.
The report was very focused on gender and ethnicity, which is completely understandable given everything that’s happened with #MeToo and Black Lives Matter in the past couple of years. I’m just as determined to make sure that when we’re looking at improving diversity and inclusion, we are talking about disability, we are talking about place and geography and we are talking about socioeconomic factors.
There are all sorts of rationales and arguments and good reasons why we should be doing this. I don't think there should be barriers to opportunity for anyone. It’s the right thing to do and it can be massively beneficial to us as an industry in terms of boosting our audience base, tapping into new audiences. From a hard-nosed commercial point of view, if you want to be succeeding in a country, you want to be looking like the country you are meant to be reflecting.
It’s something I am really keen to be making the most of and pushing forward and I think I’m lucky to have a great team at UK Music who are committed to this as much as I am, but also to have members and member organisations who are just as committed to it and are just as keen to make it a success.
I know PRS has been doing some brilliant work on this and we are really grateful to the work that’s being done on this throughout the industry.
'We lead the world in music. We are just as important as an industry and British business, as any other industry which is why I want to be convincing policy-makers, convincing officials, convincing MPs and government that the music industry is a key national asset.'
What are your key focuses for 2021 with UK Music?
The immediate ones are dealing with COVID and trying to get the live music sector back up and running and making sure that we can still be functioning effectively as an industry post-Brexit.
One of the things that’s been so devastating about whats happened to our industry with Coronavirus is we are not an industry that was failing. We are not an industry that was on the down pre-Coronavirus. There are many industries that have really suffered during the pandemic, but they may have been industries that were suffering pre-pandemic as well.
In 2019 the music industry was a £5.8 billion industry. We supported 200,000 jobs. We were seeing double digit growth and we were on a really positive trajectory. It means that what’s happened in the past year has just been even more tragic. I see that my task and my goal is to try and get us back onto that positive trajectory.
One of the things I want to be doing as UK Music chief executive is having the music industry acknowledged as a key national asset. It’s one of the things I was banging on about when I started and I really want to be taking this forward. The music industry should be seen as a key successful British industry that has all sorts of benefits to the UK: £5.8 billion a year, 200,000 jobs, £2.7 billion a year in export.
Music as a vocation brings huge mental health benefits, huge societal benefits, huge educational benefits, and look at the soft power benefits. The British music industry gives us a global reputation, a reputation as a country.
One of the things the PM said in his speech when he announced the deal was that now we’ve left the EU, we can start setting frameworks and standards for the industries where the UK leads the world. Well, we lead the world in music. We are just as important as an industry and British business, as any other industry which is why I want to be convincing policy-makers, convincing officials, convincing MPs and government that the music industry is a key national asset.
In the music industry there should be a real opportunity for us making the UK the global hub of music-making with really strong copyright frameworks, where we can be supporting this world-leading industry we’ve got. Making that campaign and winning that argument politically is my big long-term goal.