Fragile UK music industry calls for support amid slow recovery

The multibillion-pound UK music industry remains almost a third smaller than before the pandemic as rampant inflation, soaring costs and Brexit red tape threaten to derail its fragile recovery, a report warns.

UK Music, the umbrella body representing the industry from artists and record labels to live performance, is calling for a package of support including tax relief, a VAT cut for struggling venues and a streamlining of restrictions affecting workers and touring between Europe and the UK.

The organisation’s annual Music by Numbers report, which spans topics including music sales and licensing, stadium tours, gigs in grassroots venues and merchandise, found the industry’s contribution to the UK economy rose 26% year-on-year to £4bn in 2021. However, this remains 31% down on the record £5.8bn in 2019.

While music streaming boomed and sales of CDs and vinyl surged in pandemic conditions, the live music industry, which employs tens of thousands of musicians, songwriters, producers and venue owners, was badly hit and continues to face a “fragile and precarious” recovery.

Major events including Glastonbury and BST Hyde Park were cancelled last year, while music venues were able to open for just four months, limiting the return of workers and artists.

In 2020 more than a third of UK music industry workers, 69,000 in total, lost their jobs. Their numbers rose 14% to 145,000 last year, however this remains 26% fewer than the 197,000 employed in 2019.

“Our workforce has been demoralised and decimated,” said Jamie Njoku-Goodwin, UK Music’s chief executive. “The fact that tens of thousands of them have still not returned should worry policymakers and the public alike. Our sector still faces a serious threat from the economic storm that could blow our fragile recovery off course without urgent government support.”

UK Music is calling for support including an extension of the hugely successful tax relief programmes that the film, TV and gaming industries enjoy, a VAT cut to 5% to help struggling venues and scrapping red tape that makes it difficult to bring workers in from Europe and significantly more costly for acts to tour in the EU.

The recovery is being hammered by soaring costs for venues and musicians, by some estimates up 35% compared with 2019, including road crews, catering, security, transportation and more recently fuel and energy costs.

“The industry has been hit by rocketing costs right across the supply chain, and unless venues, studios and other music businesses get the help they need, there is a serious risk that they could be forced to close their doors for good,” says UK Music.

British music exports, which include record sales and streams, live shows by British artists and merchandise sales, grew 10% to £2.5bn. However, this is still well below the £2.9bn in pre-pandemic 2019.

The UK is the second largest exporter of recorded music in the world after the US, with Adele, Ed Sheeran and Dua Lipa releasing three of the top six bestselling albums of 2021.

“The UK music industry is working hard to recover after the catastrophic impact of Covid, but there is still some way to go to restore the jobs and growth lost during the pandemic,” said Njoku-Goodwin.

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