Nicola Benedetti lashes out at the music business

Speaking about Covid responses on Scala Radio, the enterprising Scottish violinist said:

‘I just don’t believe that the route we’ve taken is the best we could have done. I think incompetency, vested interests in the wrong areas, I think just a lack of care, a lack of leadership, disorganisation, just bad management I think has gone on left, right and centre and it’s costing people their livelihoods.’

She went on to say: ‘Our prospects do not look good any time soon. We can’t see a clear end in sight that provides any sort of working business model. It’s not just musicians, it’s everybody involved in that ecosystem.’

Benedetti is usually the most polite and restrained of classical artists.

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    • It’s fine but I wonder if her statement could have more teeth to it. Who is she calling out exactly? How about naming some names? (Boris Johnson, the culture secretary, etc…)

      • That would only invite another round of “musicians should stay out of politics/ shut up and play/ nobody cares what you think” reactions. This way it’s more limited to “well then, what would you do?”, which at least has the potential to become productive.

  • Brava, cara Nicola!
    “I just don’t believe that the route we’ve taken is the best we could have done. I think incompetency, vested interests in the wrong areas, I think just a lack of care, a lack of leadership, disorganisation, just bad management I think has gone on left, right and centre and it’s costing people their livelihoods.”
    I couldn’t have said it better myself!
    And FYI, Norman, Nicola is BEING polite and restrained in her statement.

  • It’s really quite simple:
    There are not enough people in the world who are able to enjoy classical music to make it so that classical music is not having to squeeze blood from dry rocks to survive.
    This was always to a lesser or greater extent true.
    Everything else (how musicians outreach and govern and play) has only a marginal effect.

  • Well she’s a leader (as a soloist).

    Has she come up with answers?

    It’s so easy to throw the blame at management.

    Come on people, get off your butts and do something on your own.

    Don’t depend on management, the government, or the Vaccine.

    • Yeah, it is easy to blame management for a lack of co-ordinated, imaginative leadership. Then again, they are being paid to manage and to lead, so what else are they doing with their time? Not playing the Brahms concerto, that’s for sure…

      It is the lack of industry-wide coordination, the panic and self-centredness of our organisations’ top brass, who’re making short-term decisions to protect the financial model of their business to the detriment of others, that’s killing music at the moment, not violinists.

      Oh and Dominic Cummings. He isn’t helping either.

      • Hmm. Possibly. But don’t forget that “industry-wide coordination” that affects profits is illegal. so it is not surprising that there is “a lack” of such anti-consumer action. Any cartel formed to maintain prices at an artificial level would be viewed, in most Western countries, as being engaged in anti-competitive behaviour. I don’t say that is wise policy, but it must be recognised until the laws are changed.

        Classical music has never been cheaper or more accessible, thanks in part to government policy favouring us the consumer over the artists and companies that bring classical music to the world.

        So while I appreciate the spirit behind Ms Benedetti’s ‘plague on all their houses’ rhetoric, it would be far more helpful if she would name names and suggest remedies. Many changes, legal and otherwise, are possible from wage supports to government subsidies, to increasing the levels of collectively licensed performance royalties; and yes, to passing anti-consumer legislation to aid artists. But none of these changes can occur without someone’s interest being negatively affected. That needs to be faced.

        • You’re talking about fiscal action on a federal level. I just want our organisations to talk to each other so that they can understand what needs are specific or mutual and generate a watertight model for survival that is inclusive of all ‘classical’ performing arts.

          At the moment there’re various portfolio companies lobbying for payroll assistance, one asking for its debt to be written off, one wanting to perform to mass audiences outside, another several desperately begging DCMS to allow them to open now to distanced interior performances, even more saying there’s no point in opening until full houses are allowable next year…

          It’s this melange that I don’t think is helpful. If our companies were capable of talking to and understanding each other, we’d have a much better chance of successfully lobbying DCMS and providing the long-term problem solving needed to weather the future.

      • I don’t hear Taylor Swift bellyaching about her management.

        One positive effect of the virus will be that those musicians who can multi-task and both perform and use social media and their Iphones for creating engaging content, will become the leaders in the industry as they gain a following.

        Live audiences will be local (as people will not travel), but the Internet allows the ability to reach globally.

        There will be a new world order in the Classical music field due to the Virus and those soloists, however good they may be, will be left behind if they depend on management and the government to do the heavy lifting so they can sit in their practice rooms getting ready to give the world the true rendition of the Brahms or Beethoven concerti.

        • Ironically, Taylor Swift’s complaints against her former management, Ithaca Holdings, and her former record label’s, Big Machine, complaints against her are amongst the most widely reported in the pop biz at the moment.

        • I was not talking about my management at all. I was not even talking about me or my own career. Listen to the actual interview. And all best wishes to you

          • Keep speaking out Nicky and good luck with your projects and Foundation. The only way to win over Governments is to deliver the goods, bring results, especially as most Ministers have little or no idea how we achieve them or at worst, don’t attend any of our events. Perception is the root of the problem and why we seem always to be bottom of the economic heap. Although DCMS is only too happy when it suits them to flag up the 100+billion the creative industries generate annually.

    • If there is no work musicians must look for different work. I as a bookseller had no work i ended up in the civil service. It did me a favour i now have a pension

      • Is that comparable? I’m sure you were a good bookseller and I don’t want to make light of what may have been a traumatic period in your life,m but the investment (time, emotional energy) involved in becoming a professional musician is exceptional

  • Well, we can make a difference if we just think and act upon our own genuine creativity. The Tokyo Sinfonia, for one, continues to perform before audiences with our personnel and repertoire intact.
    We continue to draw vibrant programmes from a repertoire over 500 works by more than 100 composers. Our 19 string players (playing 19 separate parts) are unaffected by the need maintain social distancing and still fit into existing performing spaces.
    And our repertoire is available to all who are interested. Just ask us

  • Speaking out about the way that countries have and are responding to COVID-19 is a crucial step in returning the World to the open society everyone desires. Simply saying that the situation has been mismanaged and as presently constituted unsustainable is necessary but not sufficient. Like it or not governments are the only entities with the resources to implement policies to contain and ultimately overcome a viral pandemic. For whatever reason(s) governments like mine in the US have botched the response by first ignoring the problem, then spreading disinformation and ultimately refusing to implement a cohesive strategy that would have limited spread until a scientifically verified solution was available. At present the situation in the US is worse than it was 3 months ago because the President still refuses to lead and has stated for the record that the loss of 160K lives should be ignored because “it is what it is”. In March if every country’s government had simply increased production and distribution of PPE and organized a manageable system of social distancing the loss of life and the rate of infection would be a fraction of what it is until a safe & effective vaccine was developed. Last, the “argument” that during a pandemic government policies like instituting mask-wearing and limiting large gatherings is an infringement of civil rights is to pretend that we live in the 11th rather than the 21st century.

  • Local musicians’ unions and individual groups could take the lead with some form of crowd-funding?

    Traditionally entertainment troupes, troubadores, minstrels, bards recitantes have had to seek new venues, crowds, audiences, and publics to survive lean times. This is a bit more than that, with performing groups in the hundreds, but the principle is the ame. “Mensch, hilf’ dein Selbst!’

  • There are indeed many very strange things. I will state just one and I ask anyone here to make sense of it, as it makes absolutely no sense to me and many others that I have spoken with.
    Two weeks ago I took a flight within Europe, from Zürich to Madrid. The flight was nearly full. Passengers were seated without any special distancing measures. In other words the person seated next to me was about 20 centimetres away and the approximately 175 passengers on the flight were seated in the same way. All passengers were required to wear face masks. Drinks and small snacks were served midway into the approximately 2 hour flight. All masks came off and many passengers kept them off long after the crew picked up the rubbish and only put them on again when a n announcement was made 20 minutes prior to landing.
    Please explain to me why that scenario while flying, with no social distancing, serving drinks and snacks allowing masks to be off for up to 45 minutes, is repeated thousands of times every day in Europe and elsewhere throughout the world, in complete respect of the rules in place, yet allowing people into a concert hall is still seen as a risky situation and most concert halls, orchestras and soloists have seen their careers and profession decimated? The hypocrisy of this situation is so obvious, yet nothing changes, not for the airlines and not for concerts. How can we watch this drag on and see that not one person of authority has expressed or addressed this hypocrisy?

  • Her comments are too vague to be taken as anyghing more than foot stamping.

    In reality it’s as simple as supply and demand.
    There’s a whole industry that needs to wake up and leave their bubbles pretty quickly.
    Unless Classical Music and Musicians can provide something people actually want in numbers (and very quickly) everything else – music education, management, PR, advertising – is just tinkering with the inevitable.
    That inevitable is a radical shrinkage in the classical music scene. It was already underway and Covid has merely fractured it further along its flaw lines.

    • “In reality it’s as simple as supply and demand.”

      This is the wrong analysis entirely – why do people keep repeating nonsense like this? The current situation in most countries, certainly here in the UK, is that musicians ARE NOT ALLOWED BY LAW to perform to live audiences. Even in countries where performance venues have reopened, the social distancing rules make it very difficult for larger ensembles to operate and reduce ticket sales to a point where, unless there is massive subsidy (as there is in e.g. Germany), the performance is not financially viable.

      “Unless Classical Music and Musicians can provide something people actually want in numbers (and very quickly) everything else – music education, management, PR, advertising – is just tinkering with the inevitable.”

      The crisis is not just about classical music – it applies to ALL music (and to live rock music in spades). In the UK, classical music was thriving – people DO want it ‘in numbers’. Audiences for concerts and opera were good. Stop using the pandemic as an excuse for bashing what you appear not to like.

  • I have been in this business since the 1970s when I signed my first contract on behalf of the London Bach Society at the age of 19. So I have learnt a few things between then and now about how this business of ours works. Whenever there has been a crisis – and there have been a few eg. abolition of the Metropolitan Counties incl. GLC threatening their portions of grants for music and other cultural activities in the 1980s, austerity and a raft of cuts since 2010 – whenever there is a crisis musicians do tend to think that it won’t affect them, look the other way or trust managements to sort out the problems at hand. That is until now. Brexit plus the pandemic has kicked the music industry this way and that and we are still nowhere near out of the woods. When we do emerge, is it not a fresh, new opportunity?
    Nicky is right in what she says and all power to her in what she does. Her generation will inherit the mess we shall leave behind if we don’t use the present crisis to right wrongs, build for the longer term and learn how, above most, to do one thing – learn the Art of lobbying politicians properly. Sending mindless tweets to Ministers (who probably won’t see them) in the hope that you will crack the case is naive and only self-theraputic, although it does add weight in terms of volume of tweets and from whom. Posting a ‘tongue’ lashing on Facebook isn’t much cop either, only vents spleens. In spite of their many faults and inadequacies, Ministers and MPs do not have to be subjected to abuse or foul-language and it is not the way to build the new Jerusalem is it? We should learn to engage with those with whom we profoundly disagree, put our case with facts and figures not tearful sentiment or sense of special entitlement, show our dignity, commitment and determination to overcome problems and make a tangible, positive contribution to national life. Why? Because we matter too. We are here. We contribute to the national economy. It is true that at present we are no nearer to any re-awakening of our cultural life, need the singing and blowing issues to be clarified, and government mixed messages and perceived muddles don’t help. But be honest, any Government would struggle to steer the perfect course out of this particular virus crisis. If it were not the virus it would be the fall-out of Brexit making the headlines. All the more reason to learn the art of lobbying, make our voices heard along with the rest so that we present ourselves from now onwards as part of the scene, not an optional extra or also-ran that everyone forgets very quickly.

  • It’s easy to criticize. How about offering some helpful ideas too? I can’t think of anything that could help much in this situation other than building a time machine so we could go back to January and nuke China.

    • Reverse decision making live music illegal. Allow concerts and theatre to be sold in the same way as cinemas currently are ie every other row and audience wear face masks. Test performers for Covid every day. Govt fund difference in box office income. That way musicians. Stagehands, barstaff, cafes restaurants hotels dependant on concert And theatre are kept off dole queue which will cost tax payer far more.

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