Working In Music During A Pandemic
I've touched upon the subject of COVID in a couple of earlier blogs; the first spoke about how I had to adapt my routine while in lockdown; the second compared the positives and negatives of video lessons. In this blog, I'd like to talk about the difficulties of maintaining a music-based business in these unprecedented times.
THE DREAM JOB
If, like me, you spent most of your education working hard on mastering your musical skill; learning an instrument to the best of your ability; diving into the theory that surrounds music, and training your ears to analyse even the most complex music, then that moment you managed to make a living from doing those things must have felt really good.
For myself, I went into peripatetic teaching, performing every once in a while, and I write stock music on the side. A few years ago, I went self-employed, deciding to make this a full-time job. I couldn't have done it without my amazing and supporting wife as my first year of income was very low. The second was quite a bit better but still below the minimum wage. Now, in my third year, despite the issues the pandemic has caused, I'm on track to make a little more than the previous year.
A GOOD THING MADE TOUGH
Just before the pandemic began, I was teaching eighteen students and getting the regular sale on the stock libraries; I was on track to have a really good year. A month later and into lockdown, I'd made no sales on the libraries and I had twelve students due to the fact that half my students were reluctant to do video lessons. I managed to persuade a few to try them and they've not looked back. As for the others, I check in with them every now and then but because of a big drop in income or little free time, they've not taken up the offer.
Now, while my story isn't uncommon at the moment, it is in no way the worst you'll hear. I'm one of the lucky ones, still able to do the job I love but for many others, they had to give up, leave the arts behind and try to find another job. The self-employed income help scheme the government set up has been helpful for those of us who have had at least two years of self-employed work but because I didn't make much money in those first two years, I don't get much in each payment. Still, it's something and has been a blessing in those slower months.
I decided to write this blog because I was recently contacted by a journalist who was doing an article on how there is an influx of new musicians and whether this was leading to an increase in lessons. While I was confused, I happily gave him my thoughts and answered his questions, which were, in short, that there may well be more people playing an instrument since a lot of single-household folks now have more time on their hands. This doesn't necessarily mean more lessons though since many people are struggling to maintain an income. With so many free resources online, like youtube tutorials, it is easy for a beginner musician to use these materials to learn an instrument. So, no I was not seeing an influx. Still, if any of you other tutors are, good job!
At this moment in time, I have ten students, two of which are actually thinking of stopping due to funds and the fact that home-schooling is a day-consuming challenge with three small children, leading to no practice being done during the week. Music sales are at an all-time low, with an average of perhaps one sale a week. Surprisingly, the tuition inquiries I get are still people wanting face-to-face lessons.... in a lockdown, which adds to the frustration.
Having said all that though, I just want to say a big thank you to my tutees who have managed to keep the lessons up during this ridiculously tough time. Thank you so much, you are giving me the chance to keep doing the job I love and that means so much to me. A big thank you, as well, to my family, who never complain when I usher them out of the living room in order to set up for my lessons. I guess I should also thank the government for doing something right in giving us the help scheme... and I should thank my internet provider, since without the internet, video lessons would be impossible!
To those of you out there who have really struggled during this time, my thoughts and prayers go out to you. This hardship will end and, hopefully, we can go back to doing the things we love and spread the arts far and wide, in a post-pandemic world where creativity is greatly appreciated.
Let me know how you've found working in the arts during the pandemic.