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New Report: Canadian Musicians Feeling the Pressure to Perform in a Continuing Pandemic

Music Canada has commissioned Abacus Data to conduct national research that explores the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic through the experience of Canada’s artists. According to the now-published report, professional musicians are feeling increasing pressure as a result of the pandemic, due to a reduction in income and their ability to produce music that threatens their ability to survive.

Most of the 700 professional Canadian musicians that Abacus Data surveyed say that the number of bookings so far for 2021 is lower than usual, and many don’t expect a quick return to the stage – either because of government restrictions or personal discomfort performing while the risk of the virus exists.

As well, most of the professional musicians indicated that they been reliant on government emergency aid to get by, such as the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). That reliance means that when those programs expire, the outlook for professional musicians is very worrying. As such, professional musicians report feeling anxious, scared, uncertain, and worried about the future.

“Musicians are experiencing severe, short-term impacts due to the restrictions on live, in-person events that many of us rely on as a main source of income,” says Miranda Mulholland, artist and Chair of Music Canada’s Advisory Council. “While live music is crucial to Canada’s professional musicians, both financially and as an outlet for their creativity, artists have strong concerns about the health risk of the virus and its impact on their ability to perform. And over the longer-term, the pandemic has fundamentally changed the way artists earn a living and create music.”

The report found that professional musicians perform, on average, 96 times a year, typically traveling across Canada and the world. Revenue generated from live performances in turn helps support an average of 11.5 other people, such as band members, technicians, and other industry jobs. A large majority, 85%, agreed that without live performances, they will have difficulty earning enough to pay their bills.

To further highlight the full impact of the pandemic, for the remainder of 2020, the average number of bookings is down more than 90%, from last year’s average of 87 down to eight currently. More than half of musicians surveyed have zero performances booked for the remainder of the year.

On behalf of Music Canada, Abacus Data conducted an online focus group to help guide the construction of the survey in order to accurately capture the impact the COVID-19 pandemic was having on the careers, emotional and financial well-being of professional musicians in Canada.

Many professional musicians have been able to take advantage of government emergency aid to pay for everyday expenses. As these programs come to a close, the outlook for 2021 is immensely uncertain. Many live events have been cancelled or postponed for the remainder of 2020, and well into 2021. Musicians are not expecting a quick return to the stage because of continuing government restrictions. Many also have their own concerns about performing while the health risk of the virus remains.

“As reopening begins and many focus on the impacts on businesses and the consumer experience, we asked artists’ how the pandemic is impacting them, and how they feel about performing again, after restrictions are lifted,” says Jackie Dean, Interim co-CEO and COO at Music Canada. “What we hear is that for many, the pandemic feels like a choice that no one should have to make, a choice between earning a living or keeping family and loved ones safe. As governments move forward with plans to reopen the spaces artists work and perform, the concerns of artists must be included in the process.”

“Not only are musicians anxious about the financial implications resulting from cancelled concerts and impossible profit margins due to social distancing restrictions, they are also worried about the health risks associated with the pandemic,” continues Mulholland. “They are concerned about their families, their fans, audiences, and themselves. Even when safety precautions are being taken, the risk of COVID-19 is still too great for many musicians to consider touring for the foreseeable future.”

These findings reflect the feelings of musicians in the industry, and are significant for the prospects of the industry as a whole. As governments continue to implement physical distancing requirements, and live performances remain limited, many professional musicians in Canada will struggle to get by. This is having a long-term impact on their creativity, and ability to create new music.

For more information on the findings released from Abacus Data, go to www.abacusdata.ca/crowded-out-musicians-live-performances-covid19-pandemic/.

To download the full report,  go HERE.

Initial Public Research Findings from Music Canada and Abacus Data on the pandemic, and the effect it is having on live music are available here.

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Michael Raine is the Senior Editor at Canadian Musician. He is also a co-host of the popular Canadian Musician Radio weekly podcast.
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