During Ezra Collective’s acceptance speech for the prestigious Mercury Prize back in September, band member Femi Koleoso stated that their win was “testament to good, special people putting time and effort into young people”, referencing the services that pushed them together as a band.
The band met in a youth club; evidently the opportunities and encouragement that a youth club affords for young people are highly valuable in making great musicians. It is hard to deny Ezra Collective’s quality as a band, and thus it is obvious that youth service support is one of the strongest ways to encourage new musicians and bands to blossom.
Family support – but challenges remain
This support is essential not only from youth services, but from parents too. Without parents to ferry kids to music lessons, buy instruments, and encourage practise at home, musical development potentially does not occur in the same way, and the same inspiration and drive to master one’s craft is not instilled. Just as a youth club is vital to help a child along their musical pathway, parents are the foundation stones of this pathway in the first place.
Unfortunately, it is becoming increasingly more difficult for bands to develop (let alone make a living wage). With streaming services such as Spotify paying artists abysmally, struggles with touring costs, and reliance on rare and infrequent grants, it seems new and developing bands have even less reason to pursue music as a career.
When faced with the harsh reality of the lack of an income stream that a career as a recording artist will afford to them, surely any potential new group would be daunted, and swayed away from the idea?
Despite the importance of youth services in the UK, governmental funding was cut by almost 70% between 2011 and 2019. This was only further exacerbated by Covid-19 – 17% of still existing youth organisations have faced closure since the pandemic, with 88% anticipating a reduction in services. It is clear that youth services are not a priority area for our government. This is detrimental to the development of young musicians; without these places for people to meet, and to stay away from potentially harmful activity, it is much harder for a young person to gain the support that they need to place them on a musical pathway.
Great bands such as Ezra Collective, as well as others such as the more recent Welsh band Junior Bill, would never have had the opportunity to meet and start creating music together had it not been for the support of these services. The prospect of the massive decline in funding has bleak implications for the young generation of the UK’s great music scene.
A living wage?
Even if a band does form in the UK, the lack of income they face from their recorded music is sure to be another roadblock in their pathway to success. Spotify, the biggest music streaming platform in the world with over 226 million paid subscribers, only pays around £0.0031 per stream. Using a calculation from the government website, an average 22-year-old on minimum wage would earn around £1,730 a month.
An artist would have to have over half a million streams a month on Spotify to match this amount. Obviously, this is a reductive calculation, as it does not factor in any other income streams from physical unit sales or from touring/merchandise sales, but it is still a sobering calculation, and a great demonstrator of just how successful an artist must be to earn a decent wage through music.
This is not even considering multiple band members that need to be paid, as well as managers, crew and so on. Only pre-established artists that will draw millions of streams at a time can stand to make money through music streaming services.
Gigging in Europe
Touring offers another income stream but in Europe post-Brexit, this comes at a hefty price. This article goes into more detail of the specific costs and hoops to jump through. It all adds up to a hefty sum of money to pay to tour in the EU, and is a significant hit on possible revenue.
White Lies, an established UK band that has tens of millions of streams, had to cancel a show last year because the trucks with their instruments were detained at the border, even though the band themselves were already in Paris, where they were due to play the show. If a band that already has touring experience can be affected by this obstacle, how are newer bands meant to navigate it?
The European tour is important for other reasons than touring revenue. It also allows a band to extend their reach and audience to places that might not have heard of them. It helps streaming numbers, provides chances to get booked for future gigs, and increases funding opportunities to alleviate some of the financial burden of touring.
Just as important, it is key to a band’s development. The Beatles honed their performance skills and earned themselves their first recording by being sent to tour in Hamburg. If new bands are not able to do this, does this compromise the potential of a band to elevate themselves to new heights?
Grants – the only way?
Grants seem to be one of the only income streams for quality musicians. Maruja, a developing band from Manchester, were recently awarded the PPL Momentum Fund, which the band commented would allow them to “work on a mammoth project next year”. The implication is that without this grant, the band would not be able to do this.
So far, they have only released singles and an EP, with the prospect of this project becoming an album. That one of the most acclaimed bands in the current UK underground scene needs a grant just to record an album really speaks to how financially difficult it is to tour.
Five out of the last six Mercury Prize winners, including Ezra Collective, have been recipients of similar grants to these, and it is clear quality music in the UK almost completely relies on this source of funding – streaming and touring are not enough.
Other than economic issues, it is becoming increasingly clear our current government does not support the arts as a legitimate career venture. Look no further than the poster of a ballerina with a caption suggesting she should retrain in a different area, or Rishi Sunak’s proposed plan of scrapping ‘mickey-mouse degrees’, only keeping degrees that have higher ‘value for money’. Presumably these are degrees that transition students straight into high-paying, corporate jobs.
While university education is certainly not the only way for music and the arts as a whole to develop, it provides a strong foundation for many students. More importantly, however, the stance of Sunak’s government shows a lack of government trust in arts degrees, and reflects the lack of support given to these areas post-Brexit. It is clear the government is not on the side of music.
Ultimately, it should be obvious how difficult it is for a new band to develop and earn enough money to pursue music as a sole career. The achievements of bands such as Ezra Collective, as well as other winners of prestigious awards, only exemplify how key youth services and music grants are, and how difficult touring is at the moment. It is clear that ensuring the future of the world-renowned UK music scene requires a significant effort to address these issues.