Focus on the negatives!

“Wait? what? This title is not very Minnie-ish or really what anyone wants to hear right now – there is quite enough negative thankyouverrrrymuch!” –  I know, I know but stick with me!

Last night myself and Robert Lane had the pleasure of hosting a live stream chat with Neil King (Fatea) and Jo Elkington (Fancourt Music)  We have both been live streaming a lot during this period and in July we did a stream a week. We’ve built up a nice little community in our group(Minnie Birch and Robert Lane gigs)  . and we wanted to keep that conversation and community going but both feel we wanted to not let the live stream get “dull” or “overdone”  (a consideration many people are navigating right now – how do we take a way of sharing music which was new, useful and innovative four months ago and keep breathing new life in to it? )  We decided we’d like to have a live chat that reflects Robert’s successful podcast (Creative Careers Podcast)which is all about … creative careers, we would invite other people on from all sectors of the industry and have chats about the current situation, how it is effecting them in their roles and what might the future look like.

The first was last night, and my take away point was; BE MORE NEGATIVE! but hold up, hear me out there is method in the madness.

Neil and Jo are likely two people who need no introduction to those who read my blog, but in brief, Neil is a magazine editor and radio host, and Jo is a music agent (although they are both so much more) They are also people who are generous with their time, knowledge and skills, have a desire to grow the folk community as a whole and to support artists to be their best – so ideal candidates for a chat!
They were also willing to say yes to a request to come and chat live about “you know, stuff that’s happening right now with music” – didn’t even ask us to narrow that down a bit!

If you head to our group (link above and I will drop again at the end) you can rewatch the chat in all its chaotic, hot, stormy night realness but here are some of the things I took away.

Neil and Jo introduced themselves by answering our first question “What does the landscape of things look like for you and your role right now/during all this?”

Jo was very honest about the challenges of managing several acts at different stages; tour planning/middle of tour/about to tour, and having to just very quickly switch everything up. She mentioned days of unravelling on the phone/emails and quick decision making. The not knowing if to rebook for the autumn, if insurance was paying out for any venues, how to manage the pre-sale tickets (her acts had those in hundreds) and what to do next?! The positives she spoke of were how everyone involved had pulled together at this time – which I think is something we’ve seen across most communities/industries on the ground. It was also very clear that Jo’s number one priority (as she herself sat watching months of work unravel and not being sure of her own financial future)  were her clients. The musicians were her main focus.  Jo’s knowledge of the industry and the current issues are second to none, she can reel off stats of those effected and knows what’s happening within the political landscape, with the movers and shakers of the folk world and how artists on the ground are coping, it was great to have her insight and I have had a few inboxes since last night saying how much people got from the chat;

“Great stream tonight. Wasn’t sure how interested I’d be (not being a musician), but it was incredibly informative and entertaining”

Neil talked about the very real issues facing the industry but also how Radio has come in to it’s own during this time providing community and support for people in lockdown and providing musicians with an opportunity to still be heard! He looked at some of the progressive things happening with Beardy Folk festival as an example of how something can push ahead during all this and be a road map for what things could look like, but he also talked about the importance of the political landscape and that one of the challenges is that MPs aren’t necessarily aware of the real contribution music makes to communities and the economy – how many people are effected by the halt of live events – so there’s a battle on two fronts -There’s the “how do we safely move forward?” but also the struggle of being heard and recognised as a sector which needs more real support and an awareness of the many people in the industry who have fallen through the gaps for receiving any financial support during all this.

Some stats from our chat

19% of musicians are considering quitting their careers (Musicians Union survey)
36% of public surveyed still feel wary of attending live performances (Guardian)
38% of musicians didn’t qualify for any financial support through Government schemes (Musicians Union)

The #wemakeevents campaign – which looks at all those in the entertainment sector is calling for some clear key action
– Grants not loans!
– Extension of Furlough schemes
– Self Employment schemes to reflect and be tailored to the events industry.

I wont go on much longer as the chat is there for you to have a listen to, and I would recommend it. I would also recommend following the work of Jo and Neil for further insight. In particular Neil’s work with Fatea who have covered some of these issues and who have (and I hope will continue to) run workshops to further musician’s knowledge of the industry they find themselves in.

But why did I call this blog “FOCUS ON THE NEGATIVES!” Well when talking last night I focused on some of the positives – having had more time to create, network, engage with listeners – that seems to be my go to, to look at the positives. But the message I felt I got from Jo and Neil is – that’s all very nice but across the sector are mass redundancies, venues shutting, agents with no income now or for the foreseeable future, self-employed people with no government support who still can not work, a genuine concern that the people and spaces who make our industry what it is are not going to be there when we are able to perform again. That we aren’t being considered. That this “oh but we’ve got some good out of it” is useful for your personal focus and well-being but doesn’t really help to navigate the political terrain. We have to be realistic and we have to be pro-active and that calls on us to focus on what is happening, even if it is negative….especially if it is negative.

If I am honest in my reflections,  perhaps a willingness to focus on the positives, talk openly about the luxury of being able to write, and a willingness to see music as a comfort to people in lockdown and hand it all over for free on a less than quality stream is part of the problem (don’t get me wrong, there are spaces and places for this but it did get me thinking about what my role could be in supporting the industry in a “better” way and that perhaps I haven’t always been getting it right)

So what’s an actionable thing I can do to be part of the solution?
Both Jo and Neil were clear on this – ENGAGE IN THE POLITICAL PROCESS.

This was eye-opening for me, as someone who has written to their MP many times, campaigned, signed petitions, fundraised, volunteered, lobbied in Parliament etc etc on many causes close to my heart I have NEVER once stopped and thought that now is the time to be doing this for the industry I so dearly love…odd but not unusual I think to perhaps forget to fight the battle that is closest to you?! To essentially stand up for yourself.

David. J. Hoyland dropped this useful link from the Musicians Union please do go, read, write to your MP, sign the petitions, call for change and be a NEGATIVE voice for once 🙂

It’s never been more important to focus on the negatives!!

Many thanks to those who brought their voices to the chat last night too.
Hope to see you next time

Minnie x










Focus on the negatives!