Interview: The Music Industry vs COVID – Chris Sherwin (Sound Engineer for Night & Day, MCR)

There is no denying that the music industry is going to be hit hard by the pandemic that’s currently sweeping across the world. I won’t mention the ‘C word’, as I think we’ve all probably heard it at least 100 times today already, and will hear it several times more before the night is over. There has been so much coverage regarding the impact on live music venues, as well as bands and artists – but what about the so called, ‘behind the sceners’? The photographers, the sound techs, the managers, the promoters – what effects will it have on the freelancers of the industry, who rely on gigs going ahead to keep their heads above water?

Over the past few days, I’ve spoken (via FaceTime!) to some of those affected, who work in several of these fields. In my first chat today, I was joined by Chris Sherwin – sound engineer for Night and Day (Manchester) and also guitarist of Bards, to discuss the tough times ahead, and what he expects to see happen over the next few months.

(It’s worth noting, that this interview was done before lockdown was put in place!) 

Halyna: First of all, give us a brief outline of what your job involves on an average day. Are you employed full time or freelance?

Chris: I’m a freelance sound engineer and work at Night and Day in the Northern Quarter. When bands play a gig, I’ll be the guy doing their sound check and working throughout the show to make sure the sound quality is as it should be – in simple terms, this pretty much means that I’ll be making sure all the instrument and mic levels are just right, so that the sound the audience hears, is as close to the sound being made on stage.

Halyna: With regards to the current situation, did you notice a gradual change in workload, or was there a sudden reduction in demand?

Chris: There was definitely a gradual decrease in people coming to gigs at Night and Day over about a two week period, when all this corona news started appearing. Then, there was a sudden decrease after the announcement about staying away from bars and restaurants – overnight it was like, this gig is cancelled, that gig is cancelled; pretty much in the blink of an eye.

Halyna: I suppose this probably has an obvious answer, but what does this mean for you?

Chris: Yep, unsurprisingly no gigs = no need for a sound tech! I used to also work at a music studio, but most likely even they will be closing soon.

I think the worry is, we don’t know how people will react when all this is over – will people want to come back in to crowded places like music venues and gigs straight away? For all we know, after all this is over, people might be too scared to go back into these places for quite a while, especially with all this talk of a ‘second wave’. We’re all assuming it will be fine after a few months, but I think we’ve all learnt that we can’t really take anything for granted anymore.

Halyna: Do you think that there is enough protection in place from the government or music industry, for people in your position or similar?

Chris: At the moment, not at all – I guess we just have to wait until the end of the week to find out more about the new measures being put in place for those who are self employed. They’ve announced support measures for those who are in full time employment, but currently it’s just all a bit up in the air. I think we’ll just have to wait and see.

Halyna: You’re also the guitarist for Bards – will the ‘artist’ side of your life also be affected?

Chris: Me and the lads have said that we’re going to try and keep the band side going as much as we can through all this – one big problem we’re facing at the moment is our practice space. We rent it and obviously pay that rent ourselves – it can sometimes be a stretch anyway, so being out of work could make that difficult! That’s also assuming that the space stays open and is available when all this properly kicks off. (Note this interview was pre – lockdown!)

Halyna: Yesterday we heard that Glasto is cancelled, and I’m sure there will be many more to come. Of course, there are the more local festivals, like You Are Not Alone fest (YANA), Off the Record and Neighbourhood – YANA has already been rearranged, but if others need to be rearranged or cancelled in the coming months (don’t panic- there’s no talk of this happening yet!), what kind of effect would that have on the local music scene?

Chris: The bigger festivals won’t necessarily affect me directly, but definitely the smaller ones. The local festivals you mentioned use all the local Manchester venues, Night and day being one of them. Not only will the venues lose out, although that’s going to be happening regardless, but yeah- if the venues aren’t being used then there won’t be any need for the staff. We’re just all really hoping that by the time festival season comes around, there will be a little more clarity in all this!

Halyna: Is there anything that people can do to support you guys as freelancers?

Chris: I think it depends on the type of work you do – unfortunately for me, being in sound, my job heavily depends on gigs going ahead. I don’t even think there’s any other way of supporting us really! It’s the same for people like promoters, PR etc – when you say it out loud, it’s actually quite scary. Band wise, I guess just keep on following us, support us in future gigs and stream our music! (ehem – follow Bards here. Just saying)

Halyna: I know this has been widely spoken about, but what do you think will be the biggest effects on the music industry at this point and in the coming months?

Chris: As well as everything we’ve spoken about already, with regards to live music venues struggling and the ‘behind the scenes’ staff being out of jobs, I think the other biggest problem, will be how bands and musicians make their income to keep them going. These days it’s really hard to make any money from your music alone, as there is so much streaming about – it’s almost like you write the music, but really you need people to buy tickets for your gigs, you need to sell your merch, and so on. As the gig circuit has almost come to a stand still, I think there will be a lot of dependence on streaming alone, and that’s going to be difficult.

Halyna: Do you think this time is going to define an era of music for our generation?

Chris: I definitely think that music will change as a result of this – you listen to a song from the 80s and you go, ‘that sounds like the 80s.’ Listen to a 90s track, say a Nirvana song, and you go, ‘that sounds like the 90s.’ I think people will be writing about this for years to come because of the impact it’s had, and I think we’ll get to a point where we’ll be able to say, ‘yeah, that’s defo from the corona era!’ Lot’s of people will be writing about this time in their life, and it will be a struggle, there’s no denying that. There’s a lot of political unrest at the moment, and it’s going to show.

Halyna: I suppose this follows on from the previous question, but how important is music to people in times like this? How do you feel about not having live music in our life for the foreseeable future?

Chris: Not working gigs will be difficult – music get’s people through hard times, doesn’t it? I think there will be a lot of bands doing live streams and keeping the scene alive that way, and as I mentioned earlier, me and the lads are going to do all we can to keep Bards going strong. I’m definitely not going to be stopping writing and playing, even if it gets to a point where there’s a lock down or whatever.

Halyna: You guys must be well versed with the touring scene– do you think this issue will affect the wider profile of smaller bands and stop them from building a following outside of the UK or even their home town?

Chris: Lots of people will be prevented from playing festivals abroad this year and obviously that will cause a massive hit to followings. Usually gigs are where you pick up new fans – people who might just find themselves in a set they hadn’t planned to see. It might not be too bad for bigger bands who have toured away from their home town before, but definitely smaller ones.

We’re just going to keep doing what we can, and I think it will be a case of us all pulling together as one to keep the scene alive.

Header photo provided by interviewee – photo credit: @dacphotography13

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