Independent musicians lost 79% of revenue in 2020, report finds

We all know, as fans, this year has been garbage when it comes to music. No concerts, no touring, few opportunities to see live music in any form since the middle of March. 

But how bad is it really? 

A new report suggests the lack of a live music scene in Canada in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic has eliminated a staggering $233 million in revenue for independent musicians in just six months. 

What’s worse, it will probably take until 2023 for the industry to return to pre-COVID numbers. 

The report, The Impact of COVID-19 on Canadian Independent Music, published by Nordicity on behalf of the Canadian Independent Music Association, took a long, hard look at the live music industry and found some really awful statistics. 

Among the findings: 

  • The hardest hit sector of the industry, and it’s no surprise, has been the live sector, which took a 79% drop from 2019. 
  • Independent sound recording and publishing companies lost 41% of their revenue earned in 2019. 
  • Nearly 2,000 full time jobs were lost in just six months. 

The best possible scenario has the industry recovering to pre-COVID levels in 2023-2024. Think about that for a moment: Think about the shows that have tentatively rescheduled for 2021. Think about all the tours, the concerts, the festivals, the showcases. All the tickets from events that were reorganized, all the artists that swore they’d try their best to see you next year. 

Even if they’re able to keep their promises, if they’re an independent musician, they will not financially break even for another TWO TO THREE YEARS. Good grief. And that’s only if the government finds a way to help provide them with emergency financial relief and support, so they can continue to work as musicians and artists. 

But for artists who were starting to gain traction with their audiences, those just starting out or those coming back from an absence, the news is dire: “With new musicians unable to promote their work in concerts, the commercial viability of their projects will suffer. As such, the longer this impact continues, the longer the impact will be on the industry ability to generate revenue in the future,” the report states. 

To further damage the talent pool, the report notes that “many Black, Indigenous and People of Colour have not seen the same funding support as the rest of their peers — both as artists and as music industry entrepreneurs.” In other words, the pandemic is making it even harder for independent musicians who are not white to gain an audience or exposure to audiences. 

“If real supports are not made available to music creators, Canadian music may not recover,” says Tim Potocic, CIMA Board Chair and co-owner/president of Sonic Unyon Records. “Not only do we have an obligation to protect Canadian music as a voice for our country and as one of our proudest forms of cultural expression, but we also have a responsibility to support the hard-working Canadians who work in this industry. This is their livelihood and it has been devastated.”

The report offers a few suggestions on how to support the industry as it fights to regain stability, including: 

  • Extending the scope of the Canada Music Fund’s Annual and Supplemental funding; 
  • Increasing flexibility in how that funding is distributed to musicians;
  • Enhancing financial and technical support for audience development; 
  • Providing wage support for Canadian music industry workers; 
  • Creating financing to support and allow for the presence of underrepresented cultural groups, and 
  • Enhancing online support for training of both new and established musicians. 

“We are asking the government to consider that, without these supports, the band cannot play on,” says Gord Dimitrieff, board director and president and founder of Aporia Records. “Every day, more music creators and their representatives are losing their livelihoods and there is nowhere else for them to go. This thriving and dynamic Canadian music industry that we are so proud of is quickly eroding, and without speedy action, it will be years before it can even begin to recover.” 

In the interim, do what you can to support the artists you love. Buy merch, buy albums or songs, talk about them online, do whatever you can so that when concerts come back, there’s a built-in audience ready and eager to come out and support them. 

Amber Healy

I write about music policy and lawsuits because they're endlessly fascinating.

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