UK Government: Musicians are not your Fig Leaves.
So recently 65days received some funding from the British Phonographic Industry (BPI). This is no doubt a good thing for us. It’s appreciated and will be put to good use.
The funding was announced yesterday in a press release over at gov.uk, in which we are named along with 18 other bands or artists, as beneficiaries of this public funding to help “export [our] music abroad”. Sometimes when you list things alphabetically, numbers appear before ‘A’, and so 65daysofstatic is at the top of the list of bands and artists, and not far below a quote from Business Secretary Sajid Javid declaring that this Music Export Growth Scheme is the government “banging the drum” (see what he did there?) for music and the UK’s culture industries.
The idea of 65daysofstatic being held up in any way as evidence that this hyper-Dickensian, fucking nightmare of a Tory government is apparently supporting the arts, when in actual fact they are destroying any kind of infrastructure for future creativity at the grassroots level and plunging the most vulnerable parts of society into further misery, leaves a bad taste in our mouths. So here are some notes from us, just for the record:
• Spending public money on the arts is clearly not a bad thing. It’s better than spending it on Trident, bailing out banks, subsidising sketchy right-to-buy tactics to help private landlords get richer, and so on.
• Arts-based public spending is so often justified, as it is again in today’s BPI press release, as being ‘good for the British economy’ (“an approximate return on investment of £8.50 for every £1 invested”). This entirely misses the point of why we need to support arts and creativity in the first place.1
• The press release mentions that this public funding will be matched by the music companies behind the acts. This is the first we have heard of this. Either this is accurate, which seems unlikely at least in our case because if any of the music companies we work with were actually giving us money for nothing, they’d presumably have told us about it. On the other hand, it could be that the idea is music companies ‘match’ the funding figure, but then that money is actually added to the band’s ‘recoup’ with them via a record deal or whatever. This also seems unlikely, as it would mean that, on paper, if it is ultimately the artist that is required to match whatever funding they get, then actually they’re not getting any help at all. (Unlikely, but this is the music industry we’re talking about). The third option would be that this ‘matching’ is entirely fabricated for the purposes of the press release, which would suggest that somebody, somewhere, is so scared of the wrath of the Daily Mail, or whoever, for having wasted money on something as frivolous as the arts, that they literally invented non-existent extra funds from The Music Business to give the illusion of an industry that is growing in rude, capitalist health. To make it clear that this is A Sensible Business Decision and not Commie-Liberal Hippy Indulgence. No idea which of these, if any, is true. But it is odd.
• Similarly, if they think that they’re gonna get 65 to “attend writing camps overseas to help boost the revenues that come from publishing and sync deals” they’ve got another thing coming. Presumably this is more empty press release wrangling; a well-intentioned arts-funding-proposal-writer somewhere knew what business-friendly buzzwords were needed to catch the ear of a business secretary who might understand that ‘publishing and syncs’ as opposed to ‘record sales and touring’ are the remaining deposits of wealth that need
pillaging mining in the world of music. But how patronising and wrong-brained this patronage is, whereby acts are given song-writing classes about how to better grow and focus their ‘product’ in order to help grow the British economy. WHO THINKS LIKE THIS? Probably Mumford & Sons. In fact they probably run the writing camps on the grounds of their L.A mansions or something.
• The proposal that 65daysofstatic put in for this funding was based on a hypothetical budget for a hypothetical American tour. It is very expensive to tour in America, but we’ll be eventually be putting out a new album in the shape of our No Man’s Sky soundtrack and we would like to be able to afford to play shows in a country where that game appears to be receiving a huge amount of attention. (To ‘grow our brand’, in music industry parlance). This BPI funding covers maybe a third of the deficit of the budget. Meaning that this hypothetical tour still costs, rather than makes, a lot of money. Furthermore, the majority of these costs are travel-related, so almost all this ‘music’ funding will actually be going to airlines and oil companies. The rest will go to pay our crew (which is obviously right and proper) and to musical equipment hire companies. The only part of it that would come to 65 is what are called ‘PDs’ (per diems), a daily allowance for each of us to be able to buy food, coffee and sometimes, debauched rockstars that we are, extra beer and wine.
• The point here is absolutely not to complain that we as a band are not getting paid, but simply to point out that it is not accurate for this kind of funding to be held up as evidence of a government who is supporting the arts in this country when, in actual fact, they are destroying the conditions where it can even survive, never mind thrive.
As capitalism bites harder and blood starts to leak out of our bruised and broken skin, it’s difficult not to be frustrated that ‘musicians need to be paid’ is still a primary topic of conversation for well-intentioned discussions about the importance of paying artists when the world is ending before our eyes. It feels particularly indulgent even bringing it up whilst in the grim shadow of a merciless Europe trying to bring the entirety of Greece to its collective knees. There is more at stake, this late in the game, than 65daysofstatic staving-off having to get proper jobs.
But still, until musicians do start getting paid fairly (which will be never), you fear that the conversation will never move on. Thanks to Taylor Swift, 65daysofstatic will now collectively earn approximately £40 for the three months of free Apple Music streaming than we would have earned otherwise. And really, thanks Taylor, that’s cool, it’s honestly better than not-having £40, but did you know Apple only paid £12 million in tax in the UK last year instead of the estimated £400 million that they should have? If you could take that up with them next time you fancy fixing things for struggling artists, it’d be really appreciated. We’ll even do you a remix for cheap in return.
Whatever. The government helping us get to a hypothetical America is not, in and of itself, a bad thing, and we are genuinely grateful to the people we work with who put the proposal together for us and grateful to whoever in the BPI decided to send some of that cash our way, however conditional it might be. But even if ‘economic growth’ is the primary mandate for the future responsibilities of music, then this isn’t the way to do it. Stop closing community centres. Stop destroying the welfare state. Stop making it impossible for poorer people to have any opportunity to do anything other than constantly struggle for survival, leaving holes in culture that will inevitably be filled by rich kids with nothing to write about. Holding up bands like us as fig leaves is not going to disguise the fact that this government is not even a fig tree; it’s an army of termites in the shape of a tree, eating it alive.
- Discussing the point of why we should support arts is kind of out of the scope of this text, but the tl;dr would be something like ‘the world is ending. We’re gonna need some imaginative minds to be able to think our way out of extinction’ ↩