Warnings that music industry ‘will not survive’ as Omicron variant causes audiences to plummet

16 December 2021, 17:22 | Updated: 16 December 2021, 17:28

Let Music Live protest on London's Parliament Square

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

Music industry leaders are calling for government support, as audience numbers fall across the sector following new measures to curb the spread of the Omicron variant.

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UK music venues are seeing a ‘catastrophic’ decline in audience numbers since new measures were implemented to control the spread of COVID-19, a music charity has said.

On 13 December, industry experts reported that up to 40 percent of ticket holders are not showing up to concerts due to concerns over the Omicron variant. The Guardian added that some UK bands are resorting to inviting huge guest lists to bump up numbers.

Many arts organisations are now calling for government help. The Music Venue Trust has reported that while this time of year usually represents 20 of grassroots music venues’ annual income, many are now facing “permanent closure”. The Trust has called for “specific funding” since its survey found the sector is facing losses of nearly £2 million.

Angela Dixon, chief executive of the concert venue Saffron Hall, told Classic FM: “When our Spring concerts launched in November, sales were buoyant, and we were optimistic that we could hit our modest targets.

“However, audience confidence is now paramount and since the emergence of the omicron variant and the dizzying amount of publicity and contradictory advice from the Government around it, sales for the Spring have stalled.”

Read more: 69,000 jobs in UK music industry wiped out by devastating impact of Covid-19

Saffron Hall
Saffron Hall. Picture: Alamy

Dixon added: “If the government advice does not explicitly tell people to stay away from entertainment venues, but their rhetoric has that affect, we are effectively closed without government support and this great industry will not survive.”

Similarly, at the beginning of the pandemic, venues suffered because unless they were ordered to close, they could not claim on their insurance policies.

As part of the new restrictions, face masks are now required in theatres and concert halls. COVID passes, or a negative lateral flow test, will also be mandated at concerts and nightclubs with a capacity of more than 500 people.

Bodies across the music industry have emphasised the added financial implications on venues, who are trying to implement the measures.

Sacha Lord, co-founder of Parklife festival, told The Guardian it’s not just venues that are struggling, but artists, organisations, and staff, too. “The knock-on effects of this are phenomenal. It’s decimating the whole industry.”

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A spokesperson for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport told Sky News on 15 December that the culture recovery fund had provided “unprecedented” support to the arts and culture sectors throughout the pandemic.

“So far, more than £1.3 billion has been allocated to around 5,000 individual organisations and sites,” the DCMS spokesperson said. “Under current plans, the additional £300 million announced in the spring budget is the final allocation of the culture recovery fund and will support organisations through to spring 2022. The fund is currently open for applications, and we will keep the delivery of the programme under active review and consider how best to adapt it in line with the needs of the sector.”

Some venues are returning to the live-streaming model, including the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Classic FM’s Orchestra in the South of England. “The only thing we want to spread is festive cheer,” states chief executive Dougie Scarfe.

“Many of [our audiences] who are either based far away or are simply unable to make it to the concert hall have joined the live experience through our growing number of broadcasts online.”

Other venues have reported a drop in ticket sales, but say their audience numbers remain strong. Chris Denton, CEO of St Martin-in-the-Fields, said: “This year, we launched our Christmas concerts later than usual due to covid uncertainty but enjoyed very strong sales through the autumn and into the winter – even with around 30 percent more concerts taking place in December than usual.

“In recent days, we are still seeing sales coming through, though they are at around 60 percent of the typical daily value of recent weeks.

“As yet, we have not seen widespread hesitancy in turning up. Our sold-out concert at the weekend with Sir John Eliot Gardiner and the Monteverdi Choir was a remarkable moment, so we felt people took the view that it was a unique and unmissable event and they wanted to be there.”

Elsewhere in the world, New York’s Metropolitan Opera has become the first major performing arts institution to mandate booster shots for staff and audiences from mid-January, amid mounting concern over rising coronavirus cases.