How Covid-19 almost decimated the South African live music sector

By CityLife Arts Writer

While many sectors of the economy have been badly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, the live music sector has been the ost severely impacted by the restrictions associated with the pandemic.

This is according to the findings of the latest study, titled Impact Analysis: Live Music and its Venues and the South African economy during COVID-19’ commissioned by the South African Cultural Observatory (SACO), contained in its report released on Friday, November 20.

In August 2020, SACO commissioned research to conduct an impact analysis on Live Music and its Venues to understand how the sector has been affected by the measures imposed to control the spread of the coronavirus. The study followed an industry wide research conducted by SACO earlier in the year which assessed the impact of Covid-19 in the cultural and creative industries in general.

Unathi Lutshaba Executive Director of South African Cultural Observatory 

The SA Cultural Observatory Executive Director, Ms Unathi Lutshaba said, “it is important we understand how the various sectors of the industry have been affected and continue to be affected by the pandemic as this empowers us to provide better insights to both policy makers and the industry”.

The report notes that “it was important to undertake this study, considering that local and international studies have underlined the situation of live music as a sector particularly hard-hit by pandemic measures and vulnerable during what may be a tough, uncertain and protracted recovery period”. The study also sought to explore the contributions live music can make to broader societal and economic resilience and recovery and rebuilding international linkages; the proactive measures live music can take in protecting the health of all involved; and the role of policy, legislation and regulation in all these.

The venues of performance serve as hubs for production, circulation, distribution and delivery and that they are both integral to the music sub-segment, and can illuminate the reach of impacts through their inter-linkages and additional implied horizontal connections (with the eventing industry, the hospitality and tourism industries, the liquor industry and more).

The study shows a picture of a highly interconnected value chain, where venues and other music delivery mechanisms serve as hubs for music practitioners; the loss of one venue impacts on the work and revenue opportunities of multiple other industry professionals. Multiple revenue interdependencies emerge, with 47% of artists, promoters, freelancers and venues highly dependent on confirmed local engagements, but also revenue from food, bar and ticket sales, door takings and other sources.

A few findings of the study are highlighted below:

A majority of the sample had previously been operating for more than five years, but the impact of COVID-19 has been devastating even on these established practitioners. 90% of the live music industry lost income due to COVID-19 and 25% indicated that they would not be able to continue with any elements of their business under lockdown.

Industry professionals have attempted to respond flexibly and with agility to the crisis, with 88% attempting various online music alternatives in a very short space of time. However many had to resort to more severe measures such as terminating short term contracts (23%), retrenching employees (13%) or cutting employee salaries (18%). Only 6% of respondents could continue to pay all employees.

The predominantly informal and project-based nature of all music-related work means that many industry actors were unable or ineligible to apply for or secure any form of government COVID relief support, since all required extensive formal documentation. Only 7% reported that they had successfully applied for the various SMME support mechanisms available while 21% indicated that they had successful applied to the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture for funding. Without access to support, many have resorted to the sale of equipment and assets, and reliance on financial support from friends and familyl

The participants also called for decentralisation of programmes, projects and infrastructure, with a focus on the local – from compliance with local content quotas to a funding shift away from largescale events towards local music initiatives, venues and performance spaces.

Yet despite these issues, South Africa’s live music practitioners expressed a high degree of – albeit conditional – hope about the future of the industry. With appropriate and relevant support in place, just under half declared themselves optimistic about their future in the industry.

The report makes several recommendations including: development a national ‘music desk’ that is better-equipped to work with the entire industry value-chain through inter-departmental co-operation; making available, and designating more, officially-controlled spaces – including outdoor spaces – for live music and live streaming activities, including upgrading township community halls and centres; reducing licensing costs and administrative complexities around the use of public and government-controlled spaces for safe performance and recording activities; and closing the national digital divide by facilitating Wi-Fi access for all South African communities; all host both music-makers and potential audiences.

“It is our hope that this report will contribute in some small way towards the industry and stakeholders from other industries who wish to participate assisting in the recovery”, added Lutshaba.

The full report can be downloaded using the attached link: Impact Analysis

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