Monday, April 6, 2020

Helen Smith (IMPALA): 'Jobs, creativity and cultural diversity are all at stake here' 

This is a guest post by Helen Smith, the Executive Chair of IMPALA, the Brussels-based organisation representing the European independent music sector.

Outside of China, Europe was the first continent to be hit by the coronavirus crisis. IMPALA was swift to react and decided to set up our Covid-19 Task Force on the 17th of March.

  Chaired by IMPALA’s Chair Francesca Trainini, who heads up the Italian association PMI, we had a bird’s eye view on what was coming for the whole sector across Europe.  

  We knew this would be tsunami.

  That’s why we adopted our ten point crisis plan last week calling for a "swift and massive response across Europe".  

  The aim is for artists and freelance workers to preserve their livelihood, and for independent companies to stay in business and continue investing. And this week we joined upwith nearly forty pan-European organisations from across the whole music sector to call for music to be recognised as a priority sector. Time is not on our side.

Diversity is our strength

   Diversity is our strength, but also a vulnerability in times of crises. Made up of predominantly micro and small businesses, self-employed workers and freelancers, IMPALA’s plan calls for urgent measures to ensure music and other cultural sectors can weather through the storm. The aim is for artists and freelance workers to preserve their livelihood, and for independent companies to stay in business and continue investing.  

  We put out our plan because we could see some good local initiatives, which we fully supported, but our Task Force knew more was needed. It's a call to action for the EU, national governments and also the sector.

  Jobs, creativity and cultural diversity are all at stake here. Co-ordination is important because the EU and national governments are reacting at different speeds.  

  One of the key arguments, not just in Europe, but across the world, is that music and culture need to be recognised as priorities. IMPALA’s crisis plan asks the EU to monitor national responses to ensure a minimum level of support across Europe and deliver fiscal incentives to promote growth post crisis. It’s also useful to be able to point to the European cultural & creative sectors accounting for 4,4% of EU GDP and 12 million full-time jobs.

EU support is welcome

  We welcome how the EU acted quickly to mobilise 37bn euros for members states to support healthcare and vulnerable parts of the economy like small business. Already proposed weeks ago, this came into force this week on the 1st of April. That’s accompanied by billions of other assistance stretching across the European economy.

  The basic framework is there. Our message now is that its time to look specifically at music and culture. After all as we said when we adopted our plan “No one should get left behind.”  

  At national level in Europe there are also some incredible stories. Just this week Germany showed everyone how it should be done by paying out 500 million euros in 4 days to artists, freelancers and small businesses, processing more than 50,000 applications.  

  Our crisis plan also promotes action within the sector. Light and agile, that will provide concrete help where it is most needed. Digital players, collecting societies, national radio and other media are asked to implement specific measures.

The impact will be huge

  This is where we expect to see things develop more. We can already see interesting results. This is also important for local actors. Take Croatia for example, national radio is currently playing 75% local music as a response to the crisis.  

  So what’s next?

  We know that the full impact will build for months and will continue long after the health crisis. Of course everything is at a halt now and that impacts the whole business. With no shops, no tours, hardly any online orders, everything declines because new releases are mostly on hold with some exceptions.

  That also impacts streaming and advertising is down. Even after the shops open and touring can begin again, concert and release schedules will be saturated, audiences will be unpredictable, public performance revenues pay outs will be down next year and we are facing a general economic downturn, which will impact anything advertising related and consumer behaviour generally.

Fiscal incentives are needed

  All this means a slow recovery, and the independent sector will see many many casualties unless we all put our shoulder to the wheel.

  Fiscal incentives will be needed to promote growth post-crisis. This is something not everyone is focussed on, but our Task Force see as essential to recovery.  

  It's not all bleak.

  Music has always played a key role in times of crises. As I stand on my balcony every night at 8pm to applaud all our healthcare workers who put their life on the line every day, I see how important music is to a shared sense of common purpose. Music shows that people care.

  That’s the bright side. And of course our environment is getting a boost from our reduced carbon footprints. Let’s make lower footprints the new norm and remember why Music Declares Emergency received IMPALA’s outstanding contribution award.  

Creating new opportunities

  As solidarity creates new opportunities and partnerships within the sector, let’s make sure they have an impact longer term. That's where it could get really interesting, especially with digital services and radio, if we can build a new commercial dynamic for the independent sector.  

  Speed is of the essence. To help promote fast and effective action, our Task Force is mapping responses to our crisis plan. We have an ongoing survey of members, which also gathers data on estimated losses and we hope to be producing the initial results in the next week.

  Watch this space. And stay safe…

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