Wednesday’s announcement by the government’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, that social distancing in the UK could last for the rest of the year is terrible news for anyone bar lavishly wealthy introverts, but professional musicians will be among the most acutely worried.
Decades of technological change have made musicians particularly reliant on live income. Once, you toured to promote album sales on CD, cassette or vinyl; now, streams of your album make you a pittance unless you are extremely popular, and are mainly promotional tool for tours. With venues closed – along with clubs and shops, where your music might have been playing, accruing you a little more royalty cash – a large part of your revenue is gone.
Spotify has acknowledged the new hardships facing musicians by adding a feature to the streaming service: a button that, if activated by the artist, allows users to directly donate to them via the digital wallet services Cash App and Paypal.me. Artists can also use the button to raise donations for coronavirus relief.
There’s more unpacking to be done here than in a Tesco loading bay during the crisis. First, that charity option has added needless moral quandary. The general perception of your average musician – a hangover from the better-remunerated CD era – is that they’re sitting around in clothes bought by their label, idly jotting down a chorus after a searching conversation with their French bulldog. For them to ask for fans’ money rather than making a charity plea will easily make them seem craven and selfish.