Britain’s music industry is facing a crisis brought on by the cost of living and Brexit, artists have warned, as they struggle to make ends meet in the wake of the pandemic.

Recent research by the charity Help Musicians found that 49 per cent said they were ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ concerned that they’d be forced to leave the industry.

Two years of on-and-off lockdowns meant live music was put on pause and, while things have opened up, the cost of living crisis has left many in a precarious position, with little or no support from the UK or Scottish governments.

Folk singer Iona Fyfe, winner of Scots Singer of the Year in 2018, tells The Herald: “Brexit has had a huge impact. There’s a compound effect of the pandemic and Brexit, these two are intertwining and it’s a bit grim.

The Herald: Iona Fyfe. STY NAtional..Pic Gordon Terris Herald & Times..17/1/22.

“The fees I’m being offered right now are the same fees I was being offered in 2016 when I was 18 years old. It’s quite telling, I’m 25 now so it’s been seven years and we’re being offered the same fees.

“It’s not because my career hasn’t been developing, last year I did a tour in America and we were in really big theatres.

“I was able to employ other musicians and really pay them well, thousands of dollars. I was one business that employed several people, who benefited from my outfit.

“So what I’ve done is moved from trying to get bookings in the UK to getting bookings in, for example, Australia. I’m going there for a month in April, the fees are higher and there’s more cultural funding there.

“It’s hard to get visas but once you do get one, I’ve got a visa to work in America for a whole year.

“So I’ve changed the way I’m working, I’m not taking a folk club in Scotland that’s going to pay me £250 because I need to pay other people as well. I’m getting the visa, going to America, with bigger venues and quite a big demand for Scottish music. I’m able to provide income and work for other people there, or bring people from Scotland over.

“I haven’t left the industry, but I have considered it because it’s extremely stressful, especially when you’re self-represented.

“The cost of living crisis and the energy crisis means we’re getting paid the same as we did in 2016 but it’s not going as far..

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“A lot of venues think they can get away with paying less than Musicians’ Union rates. Because of the pandemic a lot of musicians did free livestreams for donations, and people got the idea that art is something they’re entitled to for free.

“Yes, in some cases that’s true but it’s also a business for many people.

“People are less likely to book and pay a big guarantee nowadays.

“In 2021 I did a tour of Denmark. The Musicians’ Union in Denmark states that the minimum per musician, per engagement, should be £200-250. That is amazing, it’s not what the rates are in the UK.”

It’s a similar story for Ben Lunn, a composer and conductor who founded the Disabled Artist Network.

He explains: “During the height of lockdown, I was one of the many musicians completely failed by governmental support - both from Westminster and Holyrood.

“This meant making ends meet was extremely difficult, however I was fortunate enough to have some bigger work which helped pay the bills during that uncertain period. The current economic crisis means the future is even more uncertain.

“The recent folding of Nevis Ensemble (a street orchestra founded in 2018) shows that Scotland is likely to suffer greatly because of the rising costs. On top of this, the failure of the Scottish Government to increase funding and support in keeping with that, now only places a heavier burden on Creative Scotland.

“It's too early to say how this crisis will personally affect me, but musicians need a functioning infrastructure to be able to work - and with this decaying at such a rapid rate, we are almost certain to see hundreds of artists falling out of work entirely.”

It’s not just rampant inflation which is causing issues within the industry, with Britain’s decision to leave the European Union making touring more difficult.

Brexit has made touring on the continent much more difficult, with rules on travel dictating that a person can spend just 90 of 180 days inside the Schengen area and differing rules and rates across different countries.

Fyfe says: “More musicians are looking to work in North America and the European countries that have good rules around musicians coming from the UK.

The Herald:

“Some are more welcoming than others. For example, getting visas for Spain is not great but Denmark is totally fine and France is OK as well.

“So you’ll find loads of musicians fighting for the same visas to go there.”

Both Holyrood and Westminster have been accused of failing to support the industry, with many small venues and lesser-known artists struggling even before the events of the past few years.

Lunn says: “We need meaningful intervention from the Scottish Government - the make up of arts funding means musicians in Scotland rely almost entirely on Scottish funding, which means the 10% cut to Creative Scotland is a disaster waiting to happen.

“The intervention needs to also be as wide as possible.

"As we witnessed with the announced cuts to BBC Scotland, many SNP supporters were rightly up in arms about the cut to Scottish folk music, but were deathly silent about the cuts to jazz and classical coverage.

“This has meant most discussions around arts provision have been able to descend into bickering amongst genres, and not look at the whole landscape - nations with half the population of Scotland are able to juggle numerous genres to a better extent while simultaneously celebrating national identity.

“What we ultimately need is venues of all shapes and sizes that are stable and open for work, ensembles in a position to not only hire numerous Scottish artists but able to actively contribute to the contemporary music world, and we need radio and other media provision to celebrate the talent here. However, as the Scottish Government are failing to intervene we are set to lose so much.”

Fyfe agrees: “A great example of how both governments could help would be, for example, we had a scheme called Eat Out To Help Out where the government subsidised meals – why aren’t we doing schemes where theatre tickets or gig tickets are being subsidised in order to reinvigorate the economy? Even for three or four weeks that could help create a lot of revenue for artists.

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“There was also a tax that was lifted on gig tickets and that’s been put back on. Why are there schemes that could be replicated in this industry that were only put in place for the service and hospitality industry?

“I don’t know the answer to how better the government can support us other than stop cutting the funds. It’s always the first thing to go, but our cultural ambassadors are the best people to represent the country on a global stage.

“In a few weeks’ time we’re going to have the BRIT Awards which celebrates the best of British music and at the same time the grassroots musical establishments that help young, emerging artists to thrive are not being supported at all.

“There’s a dissonance between how our export agencies support big artists who have made and it how little support there is for the grassroots venues that help get these people on the up-and-up.”

In response to the developing crisis the Musicians’ Union has launched the Musicians’ Census, which is open to anyone in the UK who considers themselves a musician and aims to provide organisations in the industry with the information they need to support artists.

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It will be repeated every three to five years, and data will be gathered on demography, diversity, health and wellbeing, and the breadth of working patterns and income.

Fyfe says: “Being able to get a good gauge of where people are in their careers and their needs will help both the Musicians’ Union and musicians.

“They can re-evaluate how they’re supporting musicians – for example they might find they need more mental health resources.

“Help Musicians have got a thing called Music Minds Matter, it’s kind of The Samaritans for musicians because we know that sometimes musicians can have quite different issues, the peaks and troughs are probably higher and lower than the average person who works in a different industry.

“I think this census is incredibly important for anyone who works semi-professionally, professionally to fill in so our organisations can represent us better.

“The work the Musicians’ Union have done over the pandemic has been incredible, and over the Brexit negotiations as well. I’m a very proud union member.”

Musicians can fill out the census here