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Covid-19 support options for musicians

covid-19
(Image credit: Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)

In the UK, we’re now in the middle of a second national lockdown. There have been some promising developments in the fight against Covid, but it still seems likely that the next six months or so will remain incredibly challenging for musicians.

I’ve been keeping tabs on Coronavirus financial help for UK creative workers over on my site CreativeMoney.co.uk, but MusicRadar have kindly given me the chance to share some of this information here.

Below, I outline some of the current options available to UK musicians and other creatives affected by the pandemic. However, while I’ve endeavoured to make this information as accurate as possible at the time of publishing, the situation continues to change rapidly. 

If you find this useful and if you’d like to stay up-to-date, you can sign-up for the fortnightly Creative Money newsletter here.

Government support

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (furlough)

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) – AKA furlough – is now set to continue through to March in one form or another. If your employer wants to claim for the period until the end of 31 October, they need to do so before the end of this month.

From 1 November, eligible employers can claim up to 80 per cent of your salary (up to a max £2,500) per month. They have the option of a full furlough (you can’t do any work) or flexible furlough (you can work some hours and claim furlough for the time you can’t work).

Self Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS)

The government has announced it will extend its support for the self-employed with a third and fourth SEISS grant, each covering a three-month period.

After numerous changes, the third grant now pays 80 per cent of your self-employed profits up to £7,500 (calculated by averaging three months' profits) for the period 1 November 2020 to 31 January 2021. 

This will be paid in a lump sum and available to claim from 30 November 2020.

Details on the fourth grant are still scant. Maddeningly, the government has still not fixed the significant gaps in support that have left many musicians and creative workers excluded from both of the schemes above. If that’s you… 

Other government support

Tax payments 

If you’re self-employed and owe less than £30,000 in tax by January 2021, HMRC will now allow you to spread the payments over 12 months using its Time To Pay direct debit system. You can also opt-in to spread out some VAT payments, too.

Bounce Back Loans 

These are loans to businesses of up to £50,000. They’re backed by the UK government and they can be used to support income, so may be a useful option if you’re setup as a company or otherwise excluded from SEISS etc. Apply ASAP if you need it, but the final deadline is 31 January 2021. More on that over here.

Industry bodies and charities

Musicians Union

The Musician’s Union is proving pretty invaluable to a lot of people right now, so if you’re not a member already do consider joining (you can sign-up for £1 right now), or supporting their work.

They have loads of guidance on performing and hygiene precautions, and are campaigning hard to highlight the 38 per cent of musicians excluded from support schemes and they’ve established a £1 million hardship fund for their members.

Help Musicians

Help Musicians have recently opened phase three of their hardship fund for self-employed and unemployed professional musicians. They have also established the exceptionally helpful Corona Musicians Info page.

Association Of Independent Music (AIM)

AIM launched its crisis fund back in April, with a pot of £500,000 donated by member labels and PPL, and topped it up by another £300,000 at the end of September. The fund is aimed at freelancers who work in music with artists or managers. Candidates have to be nominated via AIM Rightsholder members.

Music Venue Trust

The MVT has setup a Grassroots Music Venue Crisis Service offering advice, funding and support for members of its Music Venues Alliance (free to join). They have regional coordinators who can guide you through your options based on your location.

Music Minds Matter 

An initiative from Help Musicians that predates Covid, this is a free, 24-hour helpline for anyone working in the music industry. Just call 0808 802 8008 and MMM can help you in many different ways, whether by offering emotional support, signposting specialist debt and legal services, or free counselling and CBT.

Project funding

If the options above don’t seem a good fit for you right now, and you have a specific project or idea about how you’d like to change your approach to creative work, consider applying for funding from bodies like the Arts Council. Many schemes have been adapted post-Covid to better suit the needs of freelancers and individuals.

Look at options like the Arts Council’s Developing your Creative Practice fund, which supports creatives with grants that give them time to research, train and develop their creative work. The next round opens 21 December 2020.

Another option is the the Arts Council’s National Lottery Project Grants, which runs until April 2021 offers funding between £1,000 and £100,000 for specific arts projects. They’ve made various tweaks to make the programme much more accessible to freelancers.

There are lots of programmes opening and closing throughout the year in various windows. HelpMusicians has an excellent Funding Wizard, which can help you identify suitable schemes for your situation.

Online income sources

Another option is to look at creating or bolstering digital sources of income.

Campaign for better streaming payments

The likes of Spotify and other streaming services are under the spotlight right now due to the good work of Tom Gray’s #BrokenRecord campaign, alongside the likes of The Musician’s Union and The Ivors Academy. 

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee is running an inquiry and calling for evidence from musicians (6pm, 16 November deadline).

Patreon 

There are various online fan-funded subscription and support platforms available to musicians, but the major player in the space is still Patreon. It is no magic bullet, but if you can establish a loyal audience for your work and know how to create rewards with genuine appeal, the results can be significant. 

If you want to know a bit more about it, I have a piece on Creative Money – How does Patreon work for artists and creators? It includes an interview with UK podcasters RedHanded, who now raise $25K+ a month from the platform!

Streaming

The loss of all gig revenue has encouraged a lot of performers to explore their online options, and live streaming has gone from ‘weird experiment’ to common practice for artists of all shapes and sizes. 

You don’t need to be offering a VR gig from Brixton Academy; you can start with just a phone and a Zoom link. The ISM [Incorporated Society Of Musicians] website has some helpful advice pieces on 'How to put on online gigs' and 'How to make money from live-streaming'.

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