'Uncertainty hangs over thousands of musicians’ – the ISM responds to latest government guidance on the return of live performance

Responding to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s new guidelines on the return of live performance, Incorporated Society of Musicians Chief Executive Deborah Annetts said:

‘It is a step forward that some performances can resume in limited outdoor settings, but there is still no date for a return to indoor live performances, either with restricted or full audiences.

‘This uncertainty hangs over many thousands of musicians whose income is overwhelmingly dependent on performing, and whose lives have ground to a complete halt as a result of COVID-19.

‘This is precisely why the government must extend the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme until the end of the year, so musicians and music sector professionals remain supported while they are unable to regularly work. Without this support from government, many of our most talented musicians will simply leave the industry, leaving the whole country worse off’.


Notes to Editors


Guidance for the performing arts

  • On 9 July 2020 the government published guidance for people who work in performing arts. Performing arts can now take place outdoors from 11 July with a socially distanced audience present. This means that outdoor theatres, opera, dance and music can resume from Saturday so long as they take place outside and with a limited and socially distanced audience

The following measures should be considered to allow for safe resumption of performances:

  • A reduction in venue capacity and limited ticket sales to ensure social distancing can be maintained
  • All tickets must be purchased online and venues are encouraged to move towards e-ticketing for help with track and trace
  • Venues should have clearly communicated social distancing marking in place in areas where queues form and adopt a limited entry approach. Increased deep cleaning of auditoriums
  • Performances should be scheduled to allow sufficient time to undertake deep cleaning before the next audience arrives
  • Singing and the playing of brass and wind instruments in groups or in front of an audience is limited to professionals only
  • Performers, conductors, musicians must observe social distancing wherever possible

The Government have restated their “five-stage roadmap” for re-opening. According to the government, we are at Stages One and Two of this roadmap, and Stage Three starts tomorrow (11 July). However, there is still no dates on when theatres and live music venues can fully reopen. They expect to say more on a possible date for Stage 4 soon and Stage 5 in due course.

  • Stage One - Rehearsal and training (no audiences)
  • Stage Two - Performances for broadcast and recording purposes
  • Stage Three - Performances outdoors with an audience and pilots for indoor performances with a limited socially-distanced audience
  • Stage Four - Performances allowed indoors and outdoors (but with a limited socially-distanced audience indoors)
  • Stage Five - Performances allowed indoors / outdoors (with a fuller audience indoors)

Music and creative sectors

Creative Industries employed 2.10 million people in 2019, an increase of 34.5% from 2011 (Source: Creative Industries Federation, 2020). It is estimated a third of this workforce is self-employed.

In 2018, UK Music estimates the music sector produced some £5.2 billion in GVA and created nearly 191,000 FTE jobs. Most of these are freelance workers.

Music is central to the UK’s soft power and its place on the world stage but the UK has already slipped to second place in the global rankings of soft power (Portland Soft Power 30 Index 2019).

ISM Self-employed survey

Over a two-week period in late May and early June 2020, the ISM surveyed 478 self-employed professionals working in the music sector. Findings from this survey show self-employed professionals struggling to financially survive the impact of COVID-19, even with support through the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS), though as the survey shows many self-employed professionals in the music sector cannot even access this scheme. Here are some key findings:

  • 67% of those surveyed were able to access the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS), while 33% were not.

Of those that received payment through the SEISS:

  • 50% reported that this covered only 50% or less of their usual income over a three month period
  • 41% reported that the payment was £2500 or less for a three month period.
  • 41% said their payment was not sufficient to cover the costs of living.
  • 53% are also currently reliant on personal savings, while 42% are reliant on financial support from partners/family/friends (respondents could select multiple choices).
  • 42% reported that they anticipate that it will take 12 months plus for their income from self-employed work to return to pre-COVID-19 levels, while 40% anticipate it will take 7-12 months.

Of those that could not access payment through the SEISS:

  • 61% reported that this was because less than 50% of their income traditionally comes from self-employed work.
  • 85% have not received support through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, indicating they have received no government support.
  • 59% are also currently reliant on personal savings, while 42% per cent are reliant on financial support from partners/family/friends.
  • 87% say that payment through the scheme would have made a positive difference to their financial situation.
  • 31% report a considerable decline in standing of living as a result, while 16% report significant financial hardship.

About the ISM

The Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) is the UK's professional body for musicians and a nationally-recognised subject association for music. Since 1882, we have been dedicated to promoting the importance of music and protecting the rights of those working in the music profession.

We support approximately 10,000 musicians across the UK and Ireland with our unrivalled legal advice and representation, comprehensive insurance and specialist services. Our members come from all areas of the music profession and from a wide variety of genres and musical backgrounds.

We campaign tirelessly in support of musicians’ rights, music education and the profession as a whole. We are a financially independent not-for-profit organisation with no political affiliation. This independence allows us the freedom to campaign on any issue affecting musicians.For more information, please contact [email protected].