COVID-19 AND THE MUSIC INDUSTRY: BANG BANG ROMEO
Lisa Stanway manages Bang Bang Romeo, a Doncaster-based band fronted by Stars. Her company, VDR Media, also involves her father, and between them they manage two other London based artists.
Stars, lead singer with up-and-coming indie band Bang Bang Romeo, has been singing since the womb and gigging since she was 14 years old. She is based in Doncaster.
We interviewed Lisa and Stars on 22 July 2020, after the easing of lockdown but before the government announced emergency funding for some small venues on 25/7/20.
How did Covid-19 affect your income and/or earnings in the weeks immediately following lockdown?
Stars: The only way to make any money as an up-and coming band is to play live. As soon as lockdown was implemented, our finances were immediately affected. We were due to go to SXSW (music festival and conference) in Austin, Texas, so were also out of pocket when this was cancelled as we had already spent expenses for this trip. But more importantly, the raised profile we were expecting from playing SXSW was lost.
Lisa Stanway: In the period from April to June, we conservatively lost £40,000 in revenues, but the actual loss is much greater as 2020 was meant to be our big payback year, which we’d been planning for three years. Off the back of the P!NK tour (where we were the support) and our sold out 2019 UK headline tour, we had secured a year’s worth of overseas festivals and shows, paying out around £100,000.
We were set to secure even more tours and gigs as a result of playing SXSW in March 2020 – we spent £6,000 preparing for SXSW, which we won’t get back. Added to that, we’ve lost potential merch sales, the possibility of securing sponsorship, endorsement deals and the potential to showcase the band to new fans and increase our base.
Everything else ground to a halt with lockdown and the emphasis shifted to downloads and streaming, but it’s just not possible for an up-and-coming band to make a living from this on the basis of £5.00 per 1,000 streams.
Did you apply for any Covid-19 loans or grants and were you successful?
Stars: I received a single payment of £500 from a scheme to help musicians, but it wasn’t an easy process to apply for this – it took me around an hour and a half to figure out the paperwork. Luckily, I’ve got a management team to help with things like this, but I know others struggle.
Lisa Stanway: I applied to the government scheme of support for self-employed people (SEISS) which has been helpful and welcome.
Have you developed new ways of working, or diversified what you do, in response to the impact of Covid-19?
Stars & Lisa Stanway : We were due to do a 22-gig, almost sold out tour of the UK and Europe in April 2020 off the back of the planned appearance at SXSW (where we were performing on the 6Music stage). We had a release schedule which we planned would coincide with the tour, which would have been the band’s first release since going independent (i.e. moving away from their former US label).
We have postponed the tour until October, and have only rescheduled the UK dates, but this is still fragile, and probably won’t happen. Ticket sales for the April tour have been rolled over to October – the promoter takes the money for these sales, nothing comes directly to us. We’ve also lost out hugely on the merchandise sales we were expecting from the tour, our bread and butter earner.
Stars: Lockdown provided an opportunity to branch out and work with producers and writers overseas, particularly in LA, mostly via Zoom. Of course, it would have been preferable to work with these people face-to-face, but each member of the band has created a home studio set up and is recording music at home. This has involved begging and borrowing kit in some cases, and getting people with the skills to help us adapt to digital recording. We’re very lucky in that the people we normally tour with have some of these skills, but there’s also an element of google it and go figure.
Lisa Stanway: We have developed new ways of working, and are looking at the absence of live performance as an opportunity to record remotely and work with artists overseas. We have had to up our production skills and seek out any opportunities we can. The band was in an odd situation when lockdown hit as had recently parted company with its JV label, which reduced the catalogue of material available to us.
What about alternative sources of income other than that earned in the music industry?
Stars: I have no alternative source of income, all the money I make is from gigging. I’ve been a musician for so long, it’s difficult for me to apply and get jobs in the traditional field for musicians and artists – bar work – as I don’t really have any recent experience. Also, there is a stigma attached to musicians: as soon as potential employers find out what I do, it feels like they almost instantly rule me out.
Lisa Stanway: No, all my efforts are directed at looking for ways to boost our artists’ earnings, as if they don’t earn, we don’t earn. I’m currently trying to find a new label licensing deal, but this is difficult due to the current restrictions on studio recording.
How do you see yourself emerging from lockdown in the medium and longer term?
Stars: I honestly don’t think there will be a “new normal” in the next six months. This is why we’ve signed an open letter to the government as part of the Let the Music Play campaign, asking for a range of measures to help musicians, including changes to the benefit system, and asking for venues and management to be protected.
We are looking at live streaming, and ways of generating income from it, for example, giving people a code to watch a live stream when they buy an album. But there are costs to doing this properly, some of which can’t be easily recouped, and streaming is no substitute for touring. I’d much rather be drinking rum than water, but if water’s all that’s available…. There’s not an even playing field with streaming – it’s much easier for the bigger artists to generate income from it than for emerging artists.
Lisa Stanway: I’d love to think that, by this time next year, people will be ravenous for live music, but will the venues still exist? We did a live streaming world tour in partnership with Live Nation, which didn’t generate any income, but cost us around £500 in studio hire. There is no formula yet for translating the digital space into a money earner, and I’m not sure fans are ready to put the money up front for it yet. There is also a risk of over-saturation. How do you get your artist to the front of the streaming audience: Stars creates presence on stage in front of a live audience, which really boosts the band’s profile, but streaming is a very different landscape.
What about support for the arts from national and local government and agencies? What do you think needs to be done to help artists and venues access information and sources of financial support?
Lisa Stanway: The money from the government’s support package for the arts is 100% welcome, but was slow in coming. At times like this, people realise how much they need music, but the arts are generally at the bottom of the pile for help, despite the fact that they are a big earner for the UK economy.
I am sceptical – our bit of the arts gets looked at differently from the theatre, despite the contribution we make to national income. I think there is a stigma for some reason. As far as accessing support and knowledge, I use the BPI, PPL, PRS and the Musicians Union.
Stars: I agree with Lisa, and am even more sceptical. The money is welcome, but where will it be directed? Most likely to the national ballet and opera (which I love), but not to the regional venues that need it most.
Lisa Stanway: In terms of how the region might help, access to recording space and equipment would be good. There aren’t many rehearsal spaces for up-and-coming bands available, and often they are in the middle of nowhere with no transport links. Maybe the local authorities can look at relaxing some of the restrictions on where rehearsal spaces can be located? We need to make buildings more viable and help young bands reach them easily and cheaply.
Stars: I have a slightly left field suggestion for how the region might help: I’m currently staying at my Dad’s but looking for somewhere to live close to where I need to be to work and collaborate. This is being made extra difficult by the fact that I’m a musician – there are areas of Doncaster where I’ve stopped looking for a flat, as I know landlords won’t accept me as a musician, even with guarantors. Maybe this is something the SCR could look at?
Jobs in the music industry will change as new ways of working are established – how should training opportunities develop to meet the needs of the “new normal”?
Stars: We should start by developing hubs at universities and colleges where people with the new skills can go and support students, in addition to the role provided by teachers. One thing that I’m interested in is whether there is some kind of industry-standard online streaming platform, with high quality technology and the facility to sell tickets for streaming events?
Lisa Stanway: The whole industry needs to adapt to new ways of working, and the education sector needs to reflect this new normal.
Live music is vital for the wellbeing of people, but how can we get this message across to politicians and funders?
Stars: My Dad had a good idea – what if all musicians decided to strike, to stop playing live music? The arts, and artists, have always been charitable, and the music industry always steps up to raise money for good causes because it’s the right thing to do. Now, for the first time, the music industry is saying we need a hand. We just need to keep trying to put this message across and get the media on our side.
Lisa Stanway: People would definitely notice if musicians stopped performing. We need to keep lobbying government – this is why the BPI’s direct link to government are so good. Fans value live music, the artists know how important it is, and even government does, but for some reason it is not prepared to put the money where its mouth is on the issue.