No concerts, no rent, no food

The outbreak of the coronavirus hit musicians extremely hard. Festivals were canceled, concerts could not take place as usual. What this meant for the musicians, what they expected for their future – and why the state aid did not reach them.

Text and videos by Lena-Luisa Maier

Six musicians told us how they feel about their current situation.

A whole industry in need

Every artist or band has a different financial situation. Some had the chance to build up a financial buffer over the last years like the German band ‘Django3000’. Others live from week to week financially, like the musician Aaron Brooks. At the moment, he lives in an apartment which he rented for a good price from the owner of a club in Nuremberg (Germany) – usually bands that play a concert in this club stay there. At least the club has a small income and Aaron a place to stay. Florian Starflinger from `Django 3000` said they were lucky to have a financial buffer. Most of the artists live and work free. If they are sick and not able to play concerts, they do not earn money. There is nothing like a statutory sick pay. The whole industry is suffering.

Relaxation is not a solution for everyone

Since March, most of the concerts have been canceled – Covid-19 hit the music industry hard and it looks like it will affect them the longest of all industries. But not only the musicians were in a bad situation: Every band needs technicians if they want to play live. When the clubs, theaters, and festivals are closed or canceled, the technical companies cannot work either. Matti Rabold, the owner of the technical company ‘TonFirma Leipzig’ in Germany was affected as well. He said: ”There will be a lot of bankruptcies if everything is not loosened up soon.” He also told us, that unlike companies that have specialized in large events, he might still be lucky. Before the outbreak of the Coronavirus, he was in charge of smaller events with two to four hundred people. Some of these are allowed to take place again – under certain conditions. But Rabold sees a problem here because productions are tightly calculated for example in the theater where he works. Due to hygienical measures, only a few people are allowed for one show. If the audience is divided into two performances, production costs would be twice as high. Moving to another hall is not easy for a theater company. “Economically, an organizer can’t calculate 80 people in a 300-seat hall“, said Rabold. So, some of the doors will remain closed – even if they were allowed to open again. It is similar to concerts.

The government’s solution

The musicians and technicians scene, like the organizers, are therefore dependent on a solution from the government. As in many other areas, support measures for solo self-employed persons were initiated by the government in Germany. But do the artists benefit from the aid?

The basic income support is a social benefit that is supposed to guarantee a minimum income. 432 euros are the basic income support (also called Hartz IV) per month, plus rent and additional money for children. Even before the crisis, Hartz IV was heavily criticized. Various organizations, such as the social association ‘paritätische Wohlfahrtsverband’, repeatedly concluded that the money is far too little – they want a reorientation of the basic income support for the unemployed.

The musicians feel abandoned. They do not benefit from the so-called ‘immediate-aid’ of the state. Depending on the size of businesses, self-employed people could receive between nine and fifteen thousand euros – to be used for ongoing operational costs to pay the rent for business premises, for example. It is not allowed to use the money to pay for private rent or food. If the artists are currently no longer able to finance themselves, they have no other option than living from their reserves (if they have one) or to apply for the basic income support – that means to register as unemployed.  

Basic income support – Covid-19 edition

Because of Covid-19, getting access to the money was simplified. The application has been reduced and those who claim to have no significant assets, i.e. assets under 60 000 euros, have a chance of getting the basic income support. In addition, the rent is fully paid. Normally, there is a rent cap when one applies for basic income support which is determined individually by the municipalities. But this has been suspended for six months. Nevertheless, Jean Jacobi, drummer of the German band ‘Guts Pie Earshot’, does not want to apply for it. “After twenty, thirty years of building something up with music and working on it all the time – to apply for Hartz IV now”. 

The barrier of going to the authorities

“Somehow I don’t feel like revealing everything“, said Jean Jacobi. Many artists feel the same way as Jacobi, said Christian Ludwig from the press office of the Federal Employment Agency in Germany. This “disclosure” of income applies not only to the artist himself but also to the people who live with them. Moreover, according to Ludwig, many artists are “free spirits“, regulating everything themselves, being responsible for themselves, “perhaps earning less than others, but free to do so.” Therefore, Ludwig could understand that it is very difficult for many to go to the office and register as unemployed. Especially, he said, because they were not actually unemployed. Nevertheless, the number of those who have applied for basic income support since April has risen dramatically. According to the Federal Employment Agency, the number of job-seeking musicians and conductors climbed from twelve in March 2020, to 424 in May. A year ago, in May 2019, there were only eight people of this sector registered as unemployed. 

The rat’s tail

If an artist applies for basic income support and then earns more than 100 euros next month, it will be recalculated. Florian Starflinger of the band ‘Django 3000’ explains that in June the GEMA will be paid out. The GEMA is a collecting society that wants to ensure that artists around the world get paid for every time when their music is used. This means that some musicians no longer have a liquidity bottleneck and therefore no longer have a right of help. “That the money is intended for something else and not as a substitute for the loss of concert activity – that should be clear”, said Starflinger, “if we don’t play live this year, we won’t have GEMA next year either. This is dragging a rat tail with it.”

But Artists are the creative ones, what possibilities do they have to keep themselves financially afloat and in the best case to perform again?

Dancing in the car – are Drive-in concerts a solution?

The artists agreed, a car concert like this is not a permanent solution. Financially it is hardly worth it, the connection to the audience is moderate and the collective celebration and sweating are missing. Nevertheless, it is an opportunity everyone is grateful for in this situation. Artists are allowed on stage, sound engineers have a job and people can enjoy live music. Sitting in a car and listening to music on the radio – can this be compared to a real concert experience?

We visited a car concert and tried out whether this is a real alternative.

The problem with the Internet: making money

A lot of live streams fill the internet these days – an alternative that many musicians have tried, especially at the beginning of the crisis. The problem: it is not very lucrative. The only way is to ask for donations. But there is no guarantee for an adequate income at the end of the concert. Aaron Brooks had to experience this. While his first stream was relatively lucrative, the second one was not. Jacobi said that the appeals for donations are a mass phenomenon, “which means that we are not the only ones who are in trouble.”

The alternatives seem limited, solidarity seems to be fading.  Give up or look positively into the future?


Aaron Brooks Musician from the US Living in Germany
Aaron Brooks
Musician from the US
Living in Germany
Dominik Haas
Musician
“Jahcoustix”
Dominik Haas
Musician
“Jahcoustix”
Alex Freise 
Musician at the Dutch-German rock band 
“Ten Times A Million”
Alex Freise 
Musician at the Dutch-German rock band
“Ten Times A Million”
Jean Jacobi 
Musician at the band
“Guts Pie Earshot”
Jean Jacobi 
Musician at the band
“Guts Pie Earshot”
Florian Starflinger
Musician at the Bavarian band
“Django3000”
Florian Starflinger
Musician at the Bavarian band
“Django3000”
Maximilian Kronseder
Musician at the Bavarian pop-music band “DeSchoWieda”
Maximilian Kronseder
Musician at the Bavarian pop-music band “DeSchoWieda”