Tuesday 13 October 2020

Open letter to Rishi Sunak about how the music support sector has been thrown to the wolves by the Government during the Covid crisis

Dear Mr Sunak, 

My main job is running Mill Hill Music Complex, a music services and support company. Our main business is running rehearsal and recording studios and hiring musical equipment for events. We employ 13 people. I believe we are a socially responsible company. Over the past ten years we've donated well over £50,000 worth of equpiment hire, studio space and logistical support to local charities, festivals, youth projects and charities.We give large discounts for charities and local groups who need to hire space and sound equipment. For those charities and community groups that we have formal associations with, we provide equipment at cost or free of charge, where possible. Amongst the things we've sponsored, supported and assisted in the last ten years, we can include The Mill Hill Music Festival, The Sound Skool youth project, The North Finchley Festival, The Mill Hill Broadway Festival, The Save London Music Campaign, MacMillan Cancer relief, the Mayor of Barnets charity Appeal, The Sacred Heart Church Mill Hill, The Mill Hill Synagogue, The Colindale Foodbank and the Horn of Africa Mosque in Grahame Park. 

We are not unique. Every independent music services company I know does exactly the same thing. Anyone working in the music industry does it primarily for love. Musicians love making music, but we also need a constant stream of new ideas and influences to progress. We all have a mission to share the love. I passionately believe that music enriches peoples lives. Whether it was your first snog, the first dance at your wedding, or your grannies funeral, there was music in the background as a soundtrack. It may be Mrs Beans from the church on the organ, Van Morrison on the sound system, or the Ramones at The Roundhouse, music is what makes us tick.

Since our studios reopened on the 15th June, we've broken even or made a small profit on only 9 days. Seven of our 13 staff have no prospect of returning to works as our business is operating at 50% of the capacity we were doing at this time last year. We are lucky in as much as we have a plan in place to manage the situation, but we talk to dozens of musicians every day and what we hear is an armageddon sitiation for our sector. The utter disdain for the creative sector displayed by the govt was yet again displayed yesterday. An advert showing a ballerina, advising her to retrain was released. It seems that they didn't even bother to get a real ballerina, who presumably would have appreciated the work.

 If you think of it logically, the governments position is ridiculous. To get to the position where you can earn a living as either a performer or part of a backup/logistics team takes years, sometimes decades. When we employ a trainee sound engineer at the studio, they often have done a three year degree in sound engineering. Even with this, we usually find it takes six months to a year working in a commercial environment before we trust them to manage a recording or live session on their own. We make a huge investment in them. 

Once they are ready to manage sessions, it will generally take them 18 months to build up their own client list to the point where they can get by. During this period, they will work on reception, empty bins, lug gear on hires, nip around to the garage to get teabags and milk etc. This tops up the cash so that they can survive as they build their career. They will often work on minimum wage at festivals or for free for friends as they skill up.

Having spent five years investing in themselves, if you can take it, you will then find that you can earn a living wage and the work is fulfilling. It is also hard work and you constantly have to keep your knowledge up to date. Technology means that every five years, you would need to learn a completely new set of software. 

That is what you have to do to earn a living. Now lets look at the situation. Having invested all of this time and effort, the government has decided that the sector you work in, does not deserve proper financial support through a period estimated to be a year to eighteen months. They advise you to retrain. For arguments sake, suppose you decide to take the advice in the advert and train as a  cyber expert. It is now October. You can't even enrol in a University course until next September. By then, Boris seems confident we'll have vaccines and treatments. By then the live music sector will hopefully be back in full flow. 

The realistic option for creative people is to sit this out. I was interested that they chose a ballerina as there example. To become a ballerina earning a living, you will probably have been having lessons since the age of 4 or 5. I know all about this, as we have a ballet school at our studios. To get to the stage where it is your career, you will have probably had 20 years of incredibly hard work. To suggest that this is binned and you retrain is highly insulting and a huge waste of a resource that makes the UK economy a destination of choice for tourists and businesses.

Think for a second why people visit the UK and companies set up their HQ in London. They do it because London is somewhere with an amazing diversity of art and nightlife. No one visits London for the weather or to swim in the Thames with Dolphins. If the chancellor gets his wish and the arts and music sector retrains, there will be no one to run our theatres, music venues, Opera Houses and Ballet when things return to normal. No one in there right mind would want to live in our cities without this. I have no idea what you, as chancellor do to enjoy yourself, but clearly you do not really understand how much value the Arts sector adds to the economy, either directly, or through the revenue generated for TFL, rail, restaurants, pubs, sandwich bars, hotels and anything else that benefits from people enjoying the arts and creative sector in our cities.

We urge you to make protecting venues, musicians, artists and support staff an absolute priority. Please review and  adopted the proposals of the Save London Music Campaign.

Only a fool would ask people to throw away years or decades of hard earned expertise, to tide yourself through a temporary crisis. What the UK needs is a coherent plan and a pathway to recovery. The centrepiece to this must be a revivial of our creative sector. Throwing the music support sector, venues, musicians, artists and other people in the sector to the wolves will damage the UK economy in a way that it may never recover from. 


Roger Tichborne

Founder The Save London Music Campaign

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