Sector trends

On the road to a music recovery

Live music has taken a huge hit during the pandemic. We talk to two musicians heading out on the road to not only perform, but help revive their industry.

“Many creative artists have had no income at all during the pandemic,” says Russell, a Scottish singer-songwriter and guitarist, now living in Lancashire. “Things will hopefully open up soon. But I think the idea of tightly-packed 2,000-strong venues is over for a long time. Artists need to look at live streaming and gaining revenue from that if they want to stay in the industry.”

Revenue streams for the future

To help, Russell will be taking his iconic vintage Airstream trailer across the UK with an experienced tour team to enable artists to perform intimate, coronavirus-friendly gigs to small physical audiences in their own communities – and a global online audience, with significant revenue generating potential from donations to pay-per-view.

Of course many musicians have performed online during lockdown, but in isolation from their homes. Russell’s Airstream offers a retractable semi-circular stage and awning big enough for a band, a spectacular light show, a bespoke sound system, a state-of-the-art recording studio and even a dressing room. He adds: “It will feel like an amazing venue, put everyone’s performance up a notch. You can perform in your front room but you’re playing to an iPad. This is proper live performance.”

The venue’s powerful BOSE sound system will cater for up to 2,000 gig-goers in an open space. But 5G connectivity and Apple technology will also enable Russell to stream the gig and, crucially, offer payment platforms so performers can finally, after this devastating past year, earn money – and have great fun in the process.

“I’ve organised gigs around Lancashire for 15 years and had the idea after a charity concert a few years ago with a renowned folk music act. It was really intimate – only 85 people in the audience – but live streaming with online donations raised over £20,000. That made me think we could adapt similar technology for the tour and generate revenue for the performers and local hospitality. It seemed like a good opportunity.”

So he purchased the 1975 Airstream and spent 700 hours last summer stripping out the old interior, preparing the aluminium shell and compiling a project management plan with Covid-19 safety a predominant feature.

He has commissioned the specialist coach builders American Retro Caravans (ARC) near Glastonbury (it supplies the festival with ‘silver bullets’ like the one illustrated above) and hopes to take delivery later in the year.

“It will be a real privilege to showcase not just our artistic creativity and genius, but our very best British craftsmanship too.”

Being a trailer, it can set up anywhere – “a car park, a school, a beach” – and can not only help established names, but emerging artists.

“It will be a great opportunity for performers of all levels to get their work out there. Not just musicians, either – comedians, authors, small theatre groups. Performers have been hit so hard by this pandemic – this, and other initiatives like it, are a different way for them to revive live performance and start to earn again.”

Russell is launching a crowdfunding and sponsorship drive later this summer to enable the project to be operated on a not-for-profit basis, so all revenues can be channelled to the artists until the sector fully recovers.

A mobile school of rock

Amber Sinclair is also taking music on tour – for a much younger audience. Her Rock School Bus will travel to schools in culturally-deprived areas to introduce youngsters to the joy and fulfilment of making music.

“Many rural schools and communities don’t have the money for music and people are cut off by poor infrastructure,” she says. “With the bus I can take music to them – it doesn’t put pressure on the community to have a hall, or a school to have space and soundproofing. We can go where we like and make as much noise as we want!”

Sinclair, a voice and piano teacher, became aware of the lack of local musical opportunities for many youngsters when she moved to Spalding, Lincolnshire – and says lockdown made the situation worse. “Music is coming out of secondary schools’ curricula because the feeder primary schools don’t have the music curriculum they used to have,” she explains. “Even where there was opportunity, over the past year sessions have been cancelled and/or kids are not allowed to touch the instruments. I felt it was my job to start injecting some much-needed fun.”

Music always seems to be a ‘non-essential’ that’s the first to go. That’s crazy, considering just how vital it is for self-esteem and good mental health and just generating a zest for life, which so many kids are struggling with right now

Amber Sinclair
Founder, the Rock School Bus

So she bought the bus, which she is fitting out with booths for young people to try rhythm and bass guitars, keyboards and an electric drum kit. “They practise individually with headphones, and then an integral sound system enables them to all play together.” There’s even an external stage.

“It’s all about the joy of music,” says Sinclair. “We’ll go into, say, a primary school, and do five weekly sessions. We’ll ask them to put forward children who they feel need that positive life experience – perhaps kids who aren’t academic, or have behavioural issues.

“I am on keyboards and vocals, and we also have a drummer and a guitarist. We’ll show the children something individually to learn, and by the end of the five weeks we have a performance. We’re guided by them – it could be a song or a mash-up of riffs. We’re called the Rock School Bus but we’re not welded to rock – we do whatever the kids want. The most important thing is that it’s fun, engaging, using electric-based instruments, and it unlocks that door for them.”

Sinclair paid for the bus herself and launched a crowdfunding site that has raised £10,000 for its kit. She’s also applying for grants because she is determined to keep the service free. “I want to help children who don’t get the exposure to music, and help schools to make that happen,” she adds. “Many can’t afford a facility like this and the chances of a musician visiting them is so slim. It’s up to me to do something about it.”

Sinclair also hopes her bus will change some schools’ perceptions. “Music is as beneficial for you, emotionally and physically, as sport. You have to learn skills, practise, work hard, talk to each other and work as a team. And it keeps you agile and in shape – there isn’t an unfit successful drummer out there. Yet music always seems to be a ‘non-essential’ that’s the first to go. That’s crazy, considering just how vital it is for self-esteem and good mental health and just generating a zest for life, which so many kids are struggling with right now.

“But you want them to engage, and want to learn more, so when they go up to secondary they ask the question: ‘Why isn’t there music here?’ or later, they have their own kids and ask their schools the same question. Families just need to discover it."

Sinclair does not see this becoming a commercial venture. “As long as I can cover my costs, I can keep my fellow musicians in work, which stops them being lured away from the area and leaving us even more culturally deprived, I’ll be happy. If there’s a need for this, and the funding is available – why wouldn’t you do it?”

Amber Launder, East Midlands local enterprise manager for the bank, says: “It's wonderful to have been able to support Amber’s ambitions for Rock School Bus; it’s such a fantastic initiative that will help creativity to flourish locally. Providing an outlet for people to express themselves after everything the last year has thrown at us is vital. It's my pleasure to be involved in supporting businesses like these that are focused on more than just profit, allowing people to develop their creative and commercial skills hand in hand, while also encouraging the local music industry to recover and thrive.”

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