Wednesday 7 April 2021

The first green shoots of the post lockdown world but we need a proper strategy to help the night time economy

 As the owner of one of London's largest independent music studios, I probably have as good a view of what is happening in the London music industry. The artists that use our studios are drawn from just about every genre of music that we see performed in the capital and we tend to be aware of trends before anyone else. We make a point of talking to artists, retweeting them, liking and sharing their posts on Facebook and in normal times, going to see them perform. In normal times we might expect to see 200-300 bookings per week in our 17 studios. Some of these are one hour personal practice sessions, some are lessons, some are amateur bands and young people starting out and some are professional musicians rehearsing for gigs.

At present, we can only accept bookings for solo practice and for professional musicians. We've been seeing about 10-20 bookings a day. About a half are solo musicians. Up until a couple of weeks ago, the professional musicians have largely been rehearsing for live stream events or just keeping up a degree of gig readiness. This week, we've seen a change. Bands are starting to get real bookings for real events. Some are for outdoor performances in gardens of pubs. Some are post May 17th gigs, when indoor social distanced gigs can take place. I've already bought my first tickets for Ronnie Scotts.

Today, we saw a large number of bookings and conversations with the musicians revealed that they are for proper, paid work. We have seen over 30 bookings in a day for the first time since lockdown hit. I've spoken to half a dozen bands that have not been in for over a year some not since 2019. It seems that small Jazz outfits are especially sought after, not least because these are well suited to small scale gigs with food. I am delighted that some of our favourite artists have gigs lined up at such venues as Crazy Coqs, Ronnie Scotts and the 100 Club. 

One of our more regular customers have taken 21 bookings for Butlins in the Summer. To me this is fantastic news. As government assistance is coming to an end, we will start to have to pay rates and as the furlough ends find work for our furloughed staff, we desperately need to get our booking levels back to the pre covid levels. We are lucky, we had a strong balance sheet and have not taken on debt, but I know many of our friends who run studios are not in such a good position. I'd urge all bands, artists, drummers etc, to book a few sessions as soon as they can. Non pro bands can rehearse and record from 17th May. If you book early and pre pay, this will help your studio of choice get by. Many of us have booking systems that take pre payment, so it will do us a big favour. For many studios that have been closed, there are big costs associated with reopening, so it would make a difference. 

We've been blown away with the response of the artists who use us. When lockdown was imposed, most were happy to defer pre-paid sessions until lockdown was lifted. We have sessions deferred for over a year. One artist, who is reasonably well off, pre paid for 50 bookings in advance last March to help us. He still has some outstanding, but is insisting on paying for the sessions he'd booking now. 

I feel far more positive about the situation in the London music scene than I was three months ago, when Lockdown was imposed. That doesn't mean things aren't grim and that we wont  lose many loved studios, venues and other arts related organisations, but I feel that it won't be as bad as I feared. 

What I find very worrying is that the two main candidates for London Mayor have not proposed policies to Save the London music scene. There are three types of situation for venues associated with music. There are those like us that are secure, there are those that are gone already and there are those that are teetering on the edge of the financial precipice. Those in the third group need a lifeline. It would also be worth seeing if there was any way that some of those that have closed will be brought back. Whilst it would be nice to give cash to organisations such as us, that are surviving, the best thing would be to ensure as many venues survive so that musicians need our services. We need someone in City Hall who understands the supply chain in the music industry. A saved venue putting on a show with a main artist and support every night is providing work for hundreds of musicians a month. So a small amount of help for them will make a huge difference. Those gigs bring trade into London, provides work for backup staff etc. They generate work for studios like us. 

The Mayor urgently needs to address the problems that  a 24 hour congestion charge causes for working bands. We were asked to supply equipment for a gig at the 100 Club. As it finishes after midnight, that means we have to pay two lots of congestion charge. This money comes from the band/promoter and makes the whole thing less viable. It also adds management hassle for us. If London is to have a credible night time industry, they need to encourage musicians, not tax them to the hilt. If you do two such gigs a week, the additional 'congestion charge' adds £50 to an artists costs. Over a year, that is £2,500 in lost income. Most working London musicians simply cannot afford such costs. I've never seen congestion in London at 1am, but I've seen lots of musicians driving home from gigs. Sadly, neither the government or the Mayor are in the slightest bit interested in this. The sad truth is that it will make many gigs unviable. 

The green shoots are there for all to see in the hospitality industry, but unless these shoots are nurtured in the post lockdown world, they will soon die back. We need a strategy tor bring London back.

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