A third of musicians were still earning nothing after restrictions on live events were lifted this summer, according to the British charity Help Musicians.
The music industry is one of the latest sectors to recover from the pandemic, he said, with 83% of professional musicians unable to find regular jobs.
The results are based on a survey conducted in August of 929 musicians.
Nearly nine out of 10 were earning less than £ 1,000 a month and 22% were considering giving up on music altogether.
Live music restrictions were lifted in England and Wales in July and Scotland in August after Covid kept the live music industry closed for most of the pandemic.
“A lot of venues were like, ‘Well, we’re going to be closed until we’re at full capacity again,'” Ruth Lyon of folk-rock band Holy Moly and the Crackers told BBC News.
His group went from playing 120 shows a year before the lockdown to nearly 18 months off stage.
“We had 30 festivals scheduled, we had booked a tour late last year and had shows pretty much every single weekend – and it all fell apart within days.”
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Lyon said her earnings dropped by more than 75% in 2020. Her band was unable to resume shows until last month because she has an immunosuppressive condition that puts her at a high risk of infection.
“I couldn’t be in a position where I could be a guinea pig,” he explained. “We had to wait until it was safe for me and I was cleared by my medical team to come back out.”
James Brown, guitarist for Leeds-based rock band Pulled Apart By Horses, said their earnings “plummeted” last year – and royalties from streaming services and radio broadcasting could not make up for the shortfall.
“It takes time for copyrights to arrive,” he explained. “It can take months, if not years. So the backlog for musicians to earn a good stable salary from music has slowed to a halt.”
Unable to tour, Brown began working as a composer for film and TV soundtracks, but found himself unable to make ends meet. He ended up asking musicians for help, both financially and for his mental health.
“Going from 10 years of live performances to suddenly hitting this brick wall, where you’ve been told it’s not happening anymore – it’s devastating,” he said.
Help Musicians said they saw a 60% increase in people turning to mental health support, with one in eight saying they had a mental health problem that prevented them from returning to work.
During the pandemic, the charity distributed £ 18 million to 19,000 troubled musicians.
“We recognize that some musicians will take a long time to rebuild and the Help Musicians team will continue to be available for those musicians who will find themselves in a real crisis in the months to come,” said CEO James Ainscough.
Getting back to the rhythm of concerts can also be a challenge, as Pulled Apart By Horses discovered this summer.
“We actually played at a festival that wasn’t canceled in August, and it was so weird,” Brown said.
“After spending all that free time not being around people and then getting thrown right deep inside, it was just like, ‘What’s going on?’ It was a little terrifying. “
Speaking of his return to performances, Lyon said: “I loved it, but it was different.
“I usually get carried away from the stage and go straight to the merchandising counter, hugging people and taking selfies, but I’m still trying to keep my distance a little, so I really missed that.”
Even so, he said returning to the stage was beneficial for his mental health.
“Performance is a huge part of who I am and it makes me feel pretty powerful,” he said. “Taking him away for almost two years was a little crazy, so coming back was a big boost.”
Lyon added that if there is a bright side to the dire circumstances that musicians have faced over the past couple of years, it is that they are more willing to seek help.
“A lot of my friends have never even thought about getting counseling or going to therapy before this – and now everyone is talking about it. So in a way it’s a good thing,” she said.
“Help us if you need it, don’t be ashamed. We are all struggling.”
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