Why Covid-19 won’t pull the plug on live music
Of all the areas of the UK economy affected by Covid-19, arguably the hardest hit has been that of live music and events. With the music industry alone generating £5.8 billion in 2019 – double digit growth from the previous year – where next for the sector? Jamie Njoku-Goodwin (Music, 2012; International Relations, 2013) is the current Chief Executive of industry body UK Music, he shares his experiences in leading its recovery.
A baptism of fire
“When you think about it, the past 15 or 16 months have been devastating for the whole music industry and it's been awful. There's millions of fans across the country who want to be going to music events and miss their impact, but most importantly there's hundreds of thousands of people working in the industry for whom it's not just a matter of enjoyment, it’s their livelihoods that depend on it.”
Jamie Njoku-Goodwin took over his role in the jaws of the pandemic in October 2020, just as the UK was about to enter its second lockdown, so if ever the term ‘baptism of fire’ was appropriate, this was the time.
“Lots of people before I started said ‘it's going to be great fun. You're going go to gigs and parties all the time.’ Obviously I started in October, just before the lockdown and over the course of the pandemic it's just been an incredible amount of work. Every day for me has been starting at 7 in the morning and working ‘til 10 at night.
“I’m enjoying the role immensely but I will enjoy it even more when I don't wake up in the morning thinking about Covid, Brexit and all the other issues that the industry has been facing this year because it’s really been a perfect storm with a whole series of issues coalescing at the same time.”
Although Jamie now works in a position more allied to his choice of degree, initially he chose to enter the corridors of government, working in both the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and latterly the Department of Health. Positions for which he credits his time at Nottingham for helping him realise much needed – cliché alert – transferrable skills.
Making the most of your transferrable skills
"The important thing I always learnt at Nottingham, this goes for whatever subject you do, it's not necessarily always about the specifics, it’s the skills you learn. We always used to roll our eyes at transferable skills, it was the buzzword when I was there.
“But actually, as you go through your career you realise that the time you had to analyse the social and political context that Beethoven was writing his 3rd Symphony in and then develop a cogent argument about how that influenced the symphony’s second movement, that was helping you develop core critical skills. Often in the world of work – and especially in government – you’re thrown into something, you have no idea what the situation is and you have to rapidly learn, understand, assume information, and then most critically, interrogate it! Those skills that I learnt in my degree have been invaluable throughout my career.”
Subsequently his time working in government has also meant that, more than most, Jamie is best placed to understand the decisions made during the course of the last 18 months, affecting the lives of millions.
“Barack Obama always used to say that the problem with being President of the United States was that you would always get given the 49/51 decisions. I've got a lot of sympathy with the decisions people are having to make because it's in incredibly difficult circumstances and incredibly difficult data you're having to make life and death decisions on."
Living in a 'world of bad options'
“So things like this, you're living in the world of bad options is how I always describe it. Often people act as though decision making, and particularly at a high level, is someone coming to you and saying “we need a decision: choose option a and everything goes perfectly and you have good outcomes, choose option b and everything goes badly and you have bad outcomes.” But in reality, there's never an easy decision like that.
”One of the most difficult issues being addressed as music venues in the UK (and elsewhere) fully reopen is balancing the need to stimulate the live events economy while still managing a virus which is by no means going away.
“I used to hate the binary way health versus the economy would be presented when I was in government. You shouldn't see them as purely mutually exclusive, and actually, if you're getting into the debate about health versus the economy, you're already losing because you can't have one without the other.
“Eat Out to Help Out was essentially set up by government to support the hospitality sector and keep it alive. Now our argument is in the same way you looked at the policy need for the hospitality sector, you also need to be looking at the policy need for the music industry. The Culture Recovery Fund was a lifeline for many arts organisations, but there’s more needed to restart large-scale live music events and insurance is still one of the really big stumbling blocks.
“I don't see all the data and so I’m not presented with the same choices that ministers and the Prime Minister will be, but there has to be a balanced third way. It can't just be lock everything down and make sure that no-one catches this virus or dies and it can't just be ignore it.
“Our whole point is there is a way to do it safely and we've been doing incredible work across the industry on all sorts of guidance, protocols, we’re engaged in testing pilots, we've established all sorts of mechanisms for which we can do an event safely with minimal risk of transmission."
It is this Jamie is looking forward to. The bread and butter of his role, ensuring that the UK’s multi-billion pound music industry thrives safely once more, bringing joy to music lovers and supporting the jobs of those within. So of course, we have to ask Jamie his music-going anecdotes.
Lazy, hazy days on campus
“I remember going to see Bombay Bicycle Club in my freshman year – it was great, really good. My memory is a bit hazy from that night shall we say! I was really fortunate actually because at Nottingham you had things like Rock City right there, Lakeside Arts and so we had world class artists coming and performing.
“But also there's such a thriving musical scene for students at Nottingham. So I was lucky enough to be involved in lots of the orchestras and made the choirs. Singing in Mahler II at the Albert Hall in Nottingham was fantastic and I think getting to conduct the Beethoven Choral Fantasy in my last year with Sinfonia was probably the highlight of my life!
“It was one of those really memorable occasions that I'll never forget. I was incredibly fortunate to be able to go to a university which had such a vibrant, busting social life, but also incredible musical opportunities for students of all abilities. And it's something I've always been incredibly grateful for.”