As the music industry grapples with the new realities imposed by the COVID-19 outbreak, many independent artists, record labels, publications, venues and promoters are under immediate threat.
As you might expect, the response from the independent community has been swift and thoroughly inclusive. From schemes supporting the Music Venue Trust, to exclusive print auctions to raise money for the Trussell Trust, as well as monetised online streaming opportunities such as Quarantunes, the grassroots music scene has presented itself as united in this time of crisis.
Last week, we spoke with Luke Cartledge, deputy editor of indie-stalwarts Loud and Quiet, about the effects of the crisis on the publication and the recently launched Independent Music Dispatch – a weekly newsletter that rounds up the various initiatives created to help support the DIY community through this turbulent period.
Loud and Quiet has been at the forefront of independent music since its inception in 2005. During the conversation, Luke outlines the inspiration behind the Independent Music Dispatch and how, now more than ever, a collective effort is essential to the subsistence of all those involved.
How has the crisis affected Loud and Quiet?
It’s not been great. Our model is partially reliant on advertising and that’s been hit hard, as it has been for everyone. We’re thinking of new ways to do it. The other main source of income is the people who subscribe to the magazine, so we need to consider how to balance the two a little more to deal with this.
Has there been a rise in subscribers since the outbreak?
A modest one, yeah. We’ve not really pushed it. In some ways we were lucky that our last issue went out a week before all this broke out. That’s bought us a bit of time. Hopefully one thing that comes out of this is that people might realise that you do need to pay for independent stuff, or it won’t happen. I think that it’s shown, like with most independent culture, it’s all so fragile financially since a lot of the money dropped out of music. It really doesn’t take much to make a lot of it just disappear. Hopefully that will make people think about it in a slightly different way.
Have you been in contact with other publications that do charge? How are they faring in the current crisis?
The ones that you already have to pay for across the board are generally fine. L&Q is free in music venues and shops, but there’s a charge to have it delivered or to subscribe. There’s a big question of timing though. I don’t know how fine they would be if this went on for months. As it stands, they’ve got their subscriber base and most of these magazines aren’t so reliant on selling copies in newsagents. It’s a slightly more specialised thing. A lot of people just get it delivered. Other places are owned by big media companies and they’ve got a certain amount of financial backing that means that in the immediate future they’re all right, whereas we’re completely independent. It’s good as we don’t have to answer to anyone. It’s still the thing that Stuart, our founding editor, set up fifteen years ago.
'It was an idea to make sure we were doing as much as we could while there wasn’t that much else to be doing, to try and make sure that everyone’s fundraisers and community initiatives were being given some proper attention.'
What gave you the inspiration to create the Independent Music Dispatch? What can we expect from it?
It was through speaking to other magazines such as The Quietus, Crack and Clash. When this first kicked in, we basically sent an email around saying, ‘What’re you thinking? How’re you going to deal with this?’ The answer from most people was that they didn’t have a clue. All the cracks in this showed very quickly.
It’s the same for labels and promoters too, particularly the smaller ones. A lot of releases are being pushed back. No one can tour to promote the records. The whole thing’s been a bit of a mess.
I thought, ‘If I’m not doing this, what else can I be doing?’ I’d started to see people doing some genuinely interesting things to try and mitigate the strain on independent stuff. I just thought, ‘It’s not going to be a big money spinner, but it might be nice to round those things up and give them one place where there’s a proper platform, a place that everyone who’s doing those things can contribute to and have some say in the making of.’
Also, you look at the combined readership and social media followings of all these people that have got involved, that’s a lot people that we can turn to and ask, ‘Can you support these initiatives that us and our friends are doing to help us through this?’
I emailed round everyone with a rough outline of what it could be. The thing that a couple of people said, and I had in the back of my mind as well, is that as good as it can be having massive platforms like Spotify launching campaigns, we should be supporting all the independent stuff and all the DIY stuff first. I don’t think we should turn to an enormous corporation like Spotify to get advice as to how musicians are going to get paid properly. It was an idea to make sure we were doing as much as we could while there wasn’t that much else to be doing, to try and make sure that everyone’s fundraisers and community initiatives were being given some proper attention.
'The fact that so much culture and interesting discussion about culture is available to everyone is an unalloyed good thing, but we don’t live in a society where the creation of that doesn’t cost anything.'
What do you think the benefits are of a collective reaction to the crisis, rather than blogs, labels, promoters, and so on, acting independently?
That was one of the things that I framed it in. As much as anything, we’re all doing this stuff because we love culture and think that it’s important in a way that can’t really be quantified. We should be showing solidarity to each other and present a united front.
In a slightly more cynical way, because it’s a more powerful and saleable message if suddenly a whole sector is saying, ‘Look, we need help,’ rather than individual voices drip feeding that message very slowly, with mixed messages and varying degrees of effectiveness. It definitely felt like the right thing to do to be not only collective about it, but also as horizontally organised as possible. I thought it’s really important it’s not exclusively our thing. Everyone gets to submit things and negotiate what’s in there and have final approval before we send anything out. Obviously, there’s a certain privilege to being the one who actually pieces it together, but it is meant to give everyone an equal footing. It’s got to be a unified thing, or else it wouldn’t be as good, aesthetically or practically.
How has the response from the independent music community been so far?
So far it’s been really good. It’s a difficult thing to measure – there’s no joining fee or an instant number you can point to. Within twenty-four hours of setting it up there were nearly a thousand people subscribed to it, which is a good start. It was shared round a lot on social media and, looking at the back end of it, a lot of people are opening it too. It’s not just sitting there in people’s inboxes. People do seem to be interested in it. I might be projecting a bit, but it seems like people are thinking, ‘This seems important and I’d like to pay attention to it.’
Who’s been involved so far and who would you like to get involved?
There’s us, The Quietus, Bird On The Wire, So Young, Greenhouse Group, Clash, Crack, Line Of Best Fit, London in Stereo, Parallel Lines, End Of The Road, Ninja Tune, Loud and Quiet, Rockfeedback, 4AD and Domino. So far, it’s mainly promoters, publications and labels and that’s probably the right kind of group, although it’s very much an open call. I’ve asked a few others too, similar kinds of people. There’s already been a few people getting in touch to be involved, so it’s not as if that’s the list at the moment. It’s to be added to as it goes.
What would you define as independent? What unites these organisations?
People that don’t have an enormous financial backing, instead they operate as a fan-driven or reader-driven thing. It wouldn’t be publications that are owned by massive media organisations, but people who have built it from the ground up and do it for the love of it. Even some of the bigger labels involved, they’re still structured like independent companies and still vulnerable to this. We probably wouldn’t ask a major label to be involved. However, we’re not the gatekeepers to this. I’m not going to be too strict in the terms of it. I think it’s fairly self-explanatory who’s appropriate for it.
'I hope people will grasp the fragility of the current model and realise that the music they value and art they care about requires some kind of, if not financial support, at least some acknowledgement that the support has got to come from somewhere.'
How do you think the independent music community will be changed coming out of this crisis?
I think that we are going to have to radically reappraise the relationship fans of music have with the people who create it and the people who support that creation. I think you can draw a similar parallel to that and magazines. It’s great that everything’s free and online now, I’d never want to be a Luddite about it. The fact that so much culture and interesting discussion about culture is available to everyone is an unalloyed good thing, but we don’t live in a society where the creation of that doesn’t cost anything and I do think that people need to realise that, with one rupture, we're suddenly in a very different position.
I hope people will grasp the fragility of the current model and realise that the music they value and art they care about requires some kind of, if not financial support, at least some acknowledgement that the support has got to come from somewhere. If you can’t afford to do it yourself, that’s absolutely fine and I don’t think that should prevent you from being able to enjoy that culture. As I said, it being more democratic and more accessible is a good thing, without qualification, but there needs to be a much more acute understanding that this model isn’t sustainable. For those who can afford to support it financially and with personal capital, telling their mates and spreading the word, it is incumbent for them to do it, within their means, to whatever degree they feel is right.
We’re not going to get much further with this ‘everything is free and you scrape together a bit of money from some advertising or whatever and good luck with it’ kind of model. That’s not going to work for much longer. This crisis has shown that. It will pass, but we’re staring down the barrel of lots more in the near future, so we should probably address this.
To sign up for the weekly Independent Music Dispatch, click here.