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Crucial music professionals and businesses slipping through the cracks

Kevin McManus, representative of the Liverpool City Region Music Board and Head of UNESCO City of Music at Culture Liverpool, explains how support is needed for local businesses and freelancers who are missing out on much-needed funding.

As we all know, the impact of the pandemic on the music sector has been huge locally, nationally and globally. Large parts of the industry effectively ground to a halt in March and for most of the time since it has been illegal and/or impossible for most music related businesses to operate in any meaningful way.

As an industry Music Board we have been more aware than most of the huge financial implications this has had and continues to have for the sector. No live music or festivals means no gig income for musicians, while closed venues means no work for promoters, sound and lighting engineers, tour managers, tour bus companies and so on, right the way through the supply chain.

In an attempt to alleviate some of the financial problems there have been various funding programmes available over the last nine months or so, such as the furlough scheme and grants aimed specifically at the music sector or the broader cultural economy. A number of music businesses in the city region benefitted from the various Arts Council schemes, and on a much smaller basis we as a Music Board administered the £150,000 Music Industry Support Fund on behalf of the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, providing grants to 50 businesses at risk in the local music sector.

We as a Board have also been signposting local people in the industry to various funding and grant opportunities available nationwide, including the Culture Recovery Fund. For this fund in particular, we ran a workshop in August to guide people through the application forms and processes.  Other sector organisations including the likes of the Music Venues Trust, and the Night Time Industries Association offered support to businesses which was particularly valuable to the many businesses who had no previous experience of bidding for public money. We were pleased to see numerous businesses in the Liverpool City Region successfully received the CRF and other funds managed by the Arts Council.

Our website now also has a page dedicated to promoting these opportunities to local individuals and business in the sector. You can find it here: https://www.lcrmusicboard.co.uk/opportunities-and-support/

Nonetheless, as the pandemic drags on we are more aware than ever of how hard many of our businesses have been hit, and particularly that a number have missed out on funding through no fault of their own. To give just one example, a large number of people in the sector work on a freelance basis. These individuals are absolutely crucial to the industry in ‘normal’ times, being highly-skilled and much in demand. We know the Government has provided some support for freelancers, but we are aware that many in the sector aren’t eligible for a variety of reasons. And it’s not just the sole traders who are missing out – many other music businesses have missed out because of the way they are set up.

The Music Board has been working to raise awareness of these issues and the impacts on individuals/businesses. We have of course supported campaigns such as #WeMakeEvents and will continue to do so, but we have also been lobbying funders, politicians and policy makers on this making them aware of the plight of those who have missed out on funding.

Our message is that we have a highly-skilled and well respected workforce who have for years made Liverpool City Region a great place to come to for festivals, gigs, club nights, and major outdoor events. Their work is often behind the scenes but is absolutely vital to a healthy music ecology. We need to support them now when they need it most, so that they’re still around when we eventually emerge into a world when we can go all go out and enjoy music again.