By Graham Davies, Chief Executive Officer, The Ivors Academy and Susanna Eastburn MBE, Chief Executive, Sound and Music
On a call together in November 2020, we shared our great concerns about the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on composers. Through conversations we’d both been having, we were picking up not only the acute impact of the loss of work (affecting all musicians) but some specific and very worrying issues unique to composers. (Our definition of ‘composer’ is purposefully broad and includes songwriters, improvisers, sound artists and music creators of any genre and at any career stage.)
As well as the economic impacts, which are easier to quantify, Covid-19 has impacted everyone socially. The lack of physical interaction has made us all reflect on how resilient we are to the pressures and stress that can be damaging to the future of our community.
We decided that our two organisations, Sound and Music and The Ivors Academy, should work together, and made the decision to collaborate on a survey that would draw together further evidence and seek a better understanding of the impact of the pandemic on this particular subset of musicians. We published our joint survey in December 2020.
Over the last year, there have been a number of important surveys in the field of music but this is the only one specifically focused on composers. The perspectives and voices of those creating music deserve to be heard. These perspectives raise vital questions about the future of music, who will get to be involved in its creation in years to come, who will be able to continue to compose and the value that we, as a society, place on their work.
Our huge thanks, first and foremost, to all those who contributed to the survey. Your responses, and the time you took to answer our questions, have brought to light invaluable information and insight. Now it is for us as organisations to share that, and shape our plans for the future in response.
If you have any questions about the survey or our response, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
What did we find out?
We face the stark reality of an already fragile sector becoming even more vulnerable
The survey findings underline what we already knew: that the financial circumstances of the vast majority of composers are incredibly fragile.
Over half of respondents earn under £10k from composing in a normal (non-pandemic) year, and of the three areas where most composers earn income from their work (DIY/self-producing, concerts including commissions and residencies, and education) only the latter has the potential to contribute financially in any meaningful way whilst restrictions remain in place.
Almost half of the respondents saw a 50% or more drop in work in 2020, and 90% have seen a significant proportion of future work delayed, postponed or cancelled. 49% also estimated that they would earn at least 50% less in 2020.
Nearly one third (28%) of respondents have considered abandoning their career as a songwriter/composer/music creator as a result of the pandemic.
There are considerable barriers to financial support from any source
Only one third of respondents considered themselves eligible for the self-employed income support scheme (SEISS) (although there was a 100% success rate for those who did apply) and only a quarter believed they were eligible to apply to any arts/culture recovery funding schemes.
At a structural level then, the Government and the wider cultural sector have not meaningfully supported some of the most financially vulnerable composers (DIY/self-producing, reliant on commissions and concert income, generally earning less than £10k from their work).
In respect of the hardship funds made available by organisations including Help Musicians and the PRS Fund, again only 30% of respondents believed they were eligible. Of these, only 21% went on to apply and, of these, only 15% were successful. Typically, these hardship funds take the form of one-off, quick turnaround grants of £500 – which are vital in the short term but not a basis for long-term support and stability.
We already had grave concerns about the many barriers that prevent talented composers from developing and sustaining a career. Without intervention, this situation seems set to become much worse. Without access to other sources of finance, many composers will simply not be able to keep going.
There needs to be a major shift in how we as a sector and society understand and value the work of composers, and the importance of new music. There also needs to be a shift in our understanding of how the ecology of music works – that the success of a small number of individuals can only happen against a backdrop of a large and highly varied ecosystem of creators from which they emerge.
The ecology of music needs to be better understood, and its inner workings and challenges made more transparent.
Furthermore, as we look to moving beyond the current restrictions, we have huge concerns that there will be a pull towards programming music perceived as ‘safe’ – the tried and tested, bankable names – and concerns that this will mean a narrowing of the diversity of music and the composers and creators that audiences will be able to discover, enjoy and engage with.
If this happens it will further limit the diversity and damage the future health of our ecosystem.
So what next?
Many of the things we found out from the survey are not new problems. But they are problems which are at risk of escalating, as a third of our respondents consider abandoning their profession.
And yet at the same time, despite our inability to experience live music, we all turn even more to listening to inspire us, transport us and console us. Music as a living art form has never felt more important.
So, here is what Sound and Music and The Ivors Academy are committing to.
Both of us have already worked hard to provide and signpost guidance to accessing funding. We will continue to advocate in the strongest possible terms for composers to be eligible for structural support, and to demystify the application processes of these schemes through providing free advice (resources, guides, zoom sessions) to composers.
At The Ivors Academy:
We have launched our Trust to focus on increasing the support and opportunities for those underrepresented in our music industry.
Working with the Musicians’ Union, we are planning one or more member webinars for members and Arts Council England representatives to demystify and explain how to access ACE funding during the pandemic.
While the pandemic has impacted the whole industry, some big commercial entities have done well and profited during this period. We will work to return as much value as possible to those who have fared much worse.
We are committed to providing a lifeline to our talent pipeline, to sustaining music creators and maintain a vibrant and diverse community.
If you would like to make a donation to the Trust and its Talent Lifeline Appeal please click here. Thank you for your support
At Sound and Music:
We are committed to offering at least one further round of Covid-19 Composer Awards, which will look particularly at reaching composers based outside London since (although the equal opportunities dataset relating to this question was too small to be definitively conclusive) there was a strong indication that composers outside the capital have been disproportionately affected.
Furthermore, once restrictions allow, we will implement a new programme of support for composers to work collaboratively with musicians. 80% of respondents to the survey cited this as being a major barrier to them during the pandemic. Supporting the reignition of creative relationships, enabling networking and sparking new musical collaborations will be an essential part of bringing the live music ecology back to life.
These programmes, and our work more generally, will only be possible through the continuing support of our funders and donors.
If you would like to make a donation to the Covid-19 Composer Awards please click here. Thank you for your support.
“Being selected for a Covid-19 Composer Award is incredibly exciting. With the grant, I’m being afforded the opportunity to learn and develop a new and promising aspect of my artistic practice. It can be a big undertaking to begin something like this afresh, so with the support of Sound and Music I feel really confident in being able to do this and to subsequently take these experiences forward into shaping my future work.”
Lottie Sadd, Covid-19 Composer Award recipient
About The Ivors Academy
The Ivors Academy is the UK’s independent professional association for music creators. We represent and champion a diverse, talented community of songwriters and composers.
We are a self-funded not-for-profit organisation, relying on the continued support of our members and partners to carry on our work.
The Academy is known internationally for The Ivors. An Ivor Novello Award is the pinnacle in the career of many songwriters and composers.
About Sound and Music
Sound and Music is the UK’s national organisation for new music, and a charity. Our mission is to maximise the opportunities for people to create and enjoy new music.
Our vision is to create a world where new music and sound prospers, transforming lives, challenging expectations and celebrating the work of its creators.
At Sound and Music we support a diverse range of talented composers to develop their work; we help audiences to discover and experience new music; and we enable children and young people to explore their musical creativity.
We strive for a world in which more people of all ages and from all backgrounds have more opportunities to access, create and enjoy new music.