You’d be forgiven for thinking everything is fine with the music industry, although if you do, one would have to assume you don’t work in it.
We are told constantly that many deeply broken things are completely fine. You switch on your TV and see ‘Glasto’, where everyone is having a great time and absolutely no one is dying of COVID. It’s not your house consumed by unprecedented wildfires so it’s ‘just summer’ and not a global climate crisis. There are those two words I keep seeing again and again – ‘global crisis'. In my local Ibiza paper last week, it simply read ‘Ibiza in Chaos.’ I’d hazard that if you were to open a local paper anywhere in the world, you wouldn't find any stories about what the root cause is – they will be too busy asking if bike lanes inconvenience cars in the way that a face might bother a fist. And yet still, always, everything is fine. This has become the safety word in the fucktangular rubber sex dungeon of capitalism. Fine.
This article started very simply, as most of my pieces for PRS do. I was getting anecdotal information from friends in the industry as usual. Then, after enough people say the same sort of thing often enough, very clearly something needs saying in print. For over a year promoters and DJs have been telling me a very similar tale. It’s a short but epic story. Just four words. ‘Everything is not fine.’
'How can you tell a tech-bro billionaire, an obscenely wealthy politician or indeed a deluded fat cat DJ that there is a problem?'
We’ve been sold a large lie. Several Godzilla-sized whoppers in fact, but the largest one is that COVID is ‘over’ and ergo recovery is therefore inevitable. Let’s unpack that. Massive lie number one is that no one told COVID, so cases not only did not go down, they went up again. This time peaking in a country so deranged by its leaders and media it even told people in hospitals not to use masks. In hospitals!! I’m a journalist and for the first time in my life I just used two exclamation marks. It’s that bad. It’s not even funny, nor am I trying to be. We then get to the fulcrum of the seesaw of stupid – the idea that by ignoring COVID there will be inevitable recovery. Not recovery in terms of health of course, no that would be mad – economic recovery, stupid. OK then, where is it? Not only are many of us not seeing recovery we are sliding even further into disaster. Here we get to the nub of the matter. How can you tell a tech-bro billionaire, an obscenely wealthy politician or indeed a deluded fat cat DJ that there is a problem? The lot of them partied all the way through lockdown in private jets, in Downing Street and at gigs all over the globe. They are making silly money again, hence the problem doesn’t exist. If the one percent are not suffering, then everything is ‘fine'.
Then there is Brexit. Even writing the word down is almost verboten in The Upside Down. For some folks the bite from this was gnawing at their income even before we’d heard of COVID. Example: you make electronics. Something the music industry is built on. Your components and the cost of them – nearly always from Japan, Korea or China – suddenly cost a lot more. There are many reasons for this, not least of which being that the British Pound dropped in value so hard and fast over the past few years it’s been wearing its boots as earrings. Those little clever things you bought so cheaply ain’t so cheap anymore. And then you realise that was your margin, right there. You aren’t profitable anymore. Your business has been destroyed before we even start to talk about supply chains, rare metals, semiconductors, stuck cargo ships and killer viruses.
'We all know of the ‘professional’ omertà of working in the music industry. Professionals don’t say anything. They shut up. They do not rock the boat.'
Just like agriculture, plain old culture has also been hung out to dry. Seriously, how much help have we had? Working in the music biz and trying to move overseas to escape my own government meant being lost in a limbo of zero assistance. Indeed, if it wasn’t for friends online, the Help Musicians fund and the good old PRS herself, I’d not even be able to pay the medical bills from being in a COVID-induced coma, never mind make it back home and survive. Listen, let me be crystal clear, for the first time in my life the word ‘survive’ doesn’t mean making enough money to have a takeaway every night. It genuinely means not dying. The advice of my government to people in the music biz was literally to abandon it and retrain. Seriously. Forget a lifetime and forget your industry – drop it all and become a ballet dancer. As if ballet will be spared the rod, or if indeed they will ever cast 54-year-old fat dads in Swan Lake. Techs and crew weren’t supported at all apart from a few oversubscribed union helps and many, like me but hopefully more successfully, simply decided to emigrate. Assuming they hadn't already been deported, of course.
Being enraged doesn’t help. You are not allowed to be angry at the complete honking mismanagement and plundering of a nation during a crisis, because everything is ‘fine'. There’s something wrong with you if you take issue with it. We all know of the ‘professional’ omertà of working in the music industry. Professionals don’t say anything. They shut up. They do not rock the boat. They say everything is fine. This is not restricted to our industry either. The same ‘professional’ voices emerge constantly in the media. They say COVID is done, that masks are not needed, that there is no climate issue, that not only is everything just fine, but the people who raise alarms and ask for change are, at best, dismal and boring Cassandras or, at worst, dangerous extremists to be persecuted and jailed.
While London burns before our very eyes, everything is fine. While airports are unusably chaotic, everything is fine. While the prices of fuel and goods shoot through the roof, everything is fine. While high streets and venues close down and gigs, tours and festivals are cancelled left right and centre, somehow everything is fine. While Putin rides roughshod over sovereign states, everything is fine. While Nazi groups such as Britain First openly endorse candidates for Prime Minister, everything is fine. Things are not fine. Things are not normal. Things are very much broken and have been for some time.
'You hear of healthy spikes in sales which then immediately slump when a new variant emerges. They tell you of one of their artists rescheduled a tour six times in the last 18 months.'
When you ask professionals quietly and ensure their anonymity in writing, everything changes drastically. They send you confidential emails about festivals cancelling not just this year, but next year too. They tell you a number as high as 30 percent of people who bought tickets are just not showing up, ‘cos the ticket is just a small part of the greatly increasing cost of going out. You hear of healthy spikes in sales which then immediately slump when a new variant emerges. They tell you of one of their artists rescheduled a tour six times in the last 18 months. SIX! One sold-out event in London had a 70 percent no-show. That costs. You open a venue’s doors and immediately very large sums rush out of every hole in terms of costs and wages. You open those disco doors, pub venue or gates in a field confident that you sold out. And you did. But where is everyone? The ticket sales aren’t bar takings, they are just part of the return. Then there’s infrastructure. Quite aside from sickly staff, there’s toilets that you can’t hire for love nor lots of money because racecourses have them all that weekend, or no hotels available at any reasonable rate because it’s the Jubilee or some such. There’s staging coming from Europe that literally cannot enter the country for all the red tape that was explicitly promised would never exist. I was told one act with enough dosh to do it simply bought their own tour bus, not for any Led Zeppelin-based reasons, but because they just could not hire a bus with any confidence as they were so hard to come by. And there are 63 percent MORE festivals than there were before COVID, or there were before so many had to cancel. Many of them were based entirely on this large myth of ‘recovery’, that now COVID is ‘over’ everyone will want to party. But what if it isn’t and what if they don’t? What if it was all yet another massive lie?
How can you get an insurer to cover the colossal jazz mess and techno accidents that could likely happen at any festival? During a pandemic that the insurance boffins know with great clarity is nowhere near over? You can’t open an event uninsured. The result? Premiums so high that only a handful of extremely rich owners can go ahead. Giggling mega octopus mega labels now own so many venues it’s not funny at all and if you want to sell your merch in one of their spots, and we all know that merch is YOUR margin right there, you now have to pay them 25 percent of all sales. Many are now opting to do the gig and sell the t-shirts in the pub down the road. These are not unconnected events or problems, they all come from exactly the same source. A runaway capitalist structure that puts profits before everything, including our lives. If you think the war in Ukraine isn’t about money, you really haven’t been paying much attention to who sits in the Kremlin and is apparently the richest individual in the world, although he has engineered it to be extremely hard to prove... naturally.
You may laugh, but there is a plus side! At least it is now abundantly clear what the unifying strands are throughout the entire rolling tapestry of shit. No? Lordy if you can’t see that capitalism is rotating madly out of control what hope is there for us? After what feels like a lifetime of being told to shut up, it feels like a corner is being turned in terms of seeing clearly what unchecked capitalism does to the planet. It robs everyone blind and then sets everything on fire. Literally. Like some sort of giant pissed Viking made out of coins and falsehoods. It’s not like we didn’t know, it’s not like we weren’t warned, but here it finally is – total chaos. Trouble in a big horned helmet that jingles merrily when you are stepped on, then says over his humongous shoulder that it 'wasn't him.'
'It’s like offering out Santa for a punch up or arguing with the rain. Something can be done but until we actually acknowledge it exists it is pointless.'
Perhaps the time for explanations has also passed us by. We can talk about the problems with inflation, shipping routes, grasping airlines, corporate greed, war, fuel costs, chaos at Dover, COVID, pollution, identity, gender, you name it, but how can there be a discussion anymore when you know the answer from a very loud voice on the right is always the same? That whatever the inconvenient issue may be, to them it just doesn’t exist. Everything is fine. What is wrong with you for even mentioning a problem exists? And when you force the reality of a problem’s existence onto them, they argue the details and numbers in order to never actually engage with the issue at all, the discussion then completely overtaking any notions of action. How can you make rational progress with Black Lives Matter when the retort is the childish ‘All Lives Matter?’ It makes sense only on one level. The level they want. Likewise, ‘When is International Men’s Day?’ contains exactly the same non-logic. A schoolyard bully tactic of simply copying what you say in a silly voice and immediately somehow winning the argument, something Trump actually did to a disabled reporter in front of the entire planet. You simply cannot argue with capitalism and its enforcers, you never could. It’s like offering out Santa for a punch up or arguing with the rain. Something can be done but until we actually acknowledge it exists it is pointless. And the agents of the devil know better than anyone that job number one is denial.
Denials don’t come bigger than ‘everything is fine.’ And of course, the opposite of this is being completely awake to the big snoozy shush. Which makes you ‘woke’, and like other words that actually encompass the best qualities in humanity, like ‘liberal’, they are cunningly repurposed as derogatory terms. Insults. When I was growing up it was being a ‘bleeding heart’ and then ‘right-on’ but all are cleverly constructed and professionally broadcast slurs to silence any and all critics and utterly trivialise any issues they raise. A perpetual us-against-them polarity will always exist if the global right wing control the narrative. There is a reason they control the media, and it is up to the arts to wrest it back.
Speak. Dance. Sing. Do your thing.
The opinions expressed within this piece are solely the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of PRS for Music or its affiliates.