Since March 16th no more events are allowed to take place in Austria due to the Corona crisis. The local cultural scene is in a state of emergency. We asked how musicians, agencies, labels and curators deal with the current situation.
DAVID HELBOCK (MUSICIAN)
My almost exclusive income source consists of concerts. A small part comes from CD sales, but without concerts they too are declining.
In the months of March, April & May more than 20 concerts of mine have been cancelled so far, with a corresponding loss of earnings. I’m hoping that in the summer, perhaps, events can take place again.
But of course it’s not only the money, but also all the effort and work that has gone into organizing these concerts. Some cancelled concerts would have been at great festivals. I have been working continuously and in the course of many hours for over 15 years to get these concerts. Of course that too is psychologically not easy to handle.
I was able to postpone two or three concerts until next year, but many promoters are now so stressed and don’t know themselves what to do next, thus postponing is not possible right now.
Even though my complete income is gone now, I’m still moaning on a high level, because I played a lot last year and so I have some savings to get by for a few months without earning money. I know that this is different for some of my colleagues.
As far as long-term planning is concerned, I’m hoping at the moment that it will all just shift a bit. My record company had already planned the next album, but I also think that it will be postponed. At the moment almost nobody dares to make binding, confirmed promises, be it the record company, the recording studio or the organizers, so we all don’t really know how we’ll be going on from here.
About my private situation: I have stopped my South African tour and travelled with one of the last planes via Dubai and Zurich to Vorarlberg (Austria). Here, where I grew up, I have now made myself comfortable – I have a grand piano and good microphones and am recording, filming, composing. Recently I have started to fast for healing purposes. I meditate a little every day and am also going for long walks. In this respect it is a good time to concentrate again on oneself and for the immune system as well this is better than constant media consumption and scaremongering.
I’m also producing a lot of videos right now, we are planning live streams, although I’m a bit skeptical about it. Everybody puts videos of their music online now, there are many live-streams and most of them are free. Earning money is not happening now anyway. But I’m afraid that this is not useful to anyone, because the idea of “music/art is not worth anything, doesn’t cost anything” is even more reinforced.
This crisis will have extremely far-reaching economic consequences, i.e. that people will generally have less money and will not spend it on art, which is available everywhere for free now anyway.
As sure as inflation will come, now that so much money is being pumped into the system, I think we have to be careful that the inflation of available streams and videos on the internet doesn’t get too big and we definitely have to think of new ways. Perhaps we can now use the crisis as an opportunity and think more about alternative societies, keyword: unconditional basic income.
JULIA LACHERSTORFER (MUSICIAN, DIRECTOR)
What does the cancellation of the concerts mean for you?
Financially it is of course a catastrophe! My income and that of my partner comes by 100% from self-employed work, which means for us concretely zero income for an uncertain period of time. This is possible for a while, using up financial reserves that were actually intended for other projects or the SVS (social security), but it doesn’t last much longer than 1-2 months. In the meantime, there are many agencies that have promised their assistance (City of Vienna, Ksvf, SKE & AKM), but they also emphasize that only the real “hardship cases” will get help, and how this is defined and how quickly and un-bureaucratically the process actually takes place, we all will see then. In any case, the fact that we are being thought of is enjoyable.
Apart from the financial situation, I can also see a lot of positive things in this forced standstill! We freelancers are often madly fragmented in our everyday work! We usually work on many projects and productions at the same time, we are used to working many hours without being paid and something like spare time or weekends are rare for us. We usually have a high level of identification with what we do and therefore often the work on an artistic project is our top priority. This is often good for the quality of the work, but sometimes not that good for our personal well-being and health.
In this respect, there are many people in my immediate environment who are also active as freelance musicians, who feel a deep inner sigh of relief and a certain gratitude for this collective break.
Of course always with a laughing and a crying eye! We’re all missing our cultural diversity and our freedom of movement madly, and a break is just a break when it’s clear that things are going on afterwards. The uncertainty as to how our cultural life will evolve in the coming months naturally also makes us feel uneasy.
How does one cope with that? How can we act together in solidarity? What do you expect from politics?
I think it is a chance to be heard by people in politics and to create awareness for the fragile situation of the independent scene!
Last year, our City Councilor for Culture arranged a remarkable symposium on the state of affairs of the independent scene in Vienna, where it became very clear that freelance musicians need to network in a much closer way and join forces in associations of interest for to be able to present their concerns politically as well. In other areas, such as literature, this has been the case in a very structured way for many years. Insofar we are now using this opportunity to unite and make one common voice out of many.
On the part of politicians, I do hope above all that not only are we being thought of now, but that an awareness is created in general that we have no safety net whatsoever in the independent scene. We can’t go on sick leave, which means that many of us have already played countless concerts when they should have been staying in bed instead.
Our social security contributions are insanely high and the system is a burden for many, because often large subsequent payments are asked for 2 years retroactively , for which many are not prepared. We are very much on our own with many tasks, and basically we have to know and be able to do everything ourselves: Accounting, tax settlement, marketing, management, etc… This list could go on and on. All these things we are doing in our “spare time”.
We are individual entrepreneurs who are responsible for everything, but only get paid for one thing, and that is – in my case – making music. And there’s just not enough time to do exactly that. There should be much more federal support! Sure, you can apply for subsidies, but you can rarely count your own working hours into it.
Everybody wants to be a culture-consumer!
Then everybody must also contribute his/her share to the fact that we may have a comfortable existence.
Do you think that live-streams of concerts could make a contribution?
Honestly, I don’t think that everything that happens online can make up for it financially. I think it’s great and on an emotional level really fabulous that many people make their music and live concerts available – but for my feeling it’s not a real alternative to the concert business.
At the same time you are the director of the festival wellenklænge which takes place in July. To what extent does the crisis change the working process?
We are of course thinking about it, also because the Corona crisis measures really took hold just one day after our advance ticket sale started. But it’s still too early to seriously worry about whether the festival can take place in July. We’ll all have to wait and see if and how the measures take effect. To be honest, I don’t even want to think about a cancellation. Much of the work for our Festival 2020 has already been done! We’ll just wait a few weeks more with the actual production to avoid wasting work time unnecessarily.
How do you personally deal with this strain?
We are very lucky to live on the outskirts of Vienna, to have a garden and the Vienna Woods right under our nose. I try to make my days as productive as usual – I am used to a home office and I love to work here in the countryside. As usual I start my day with meditation & yoga, do office work, compose and practice and – very important especially now – do sports every day. There are a lot of people who are angry about other people going for a walk or running. Of course I can understand that on the one hand, because it is certainly incredibly tiring and nerve-racking to be locked up in a city apartment with a family. But the Vienna Woods are big enough for many people, you can keep enough distance and you can walk many, many kilometers without meeting anyone. I think this is extremely important, especially for mental health, which will be put to the test in the next few weeks.
PETER NACHTNEBEL (CONCERT ORGANIZER, FLUC WIEN)
March 10, 2020 will be remembered in the Austrian event management scene as the day of the glowing mobile phones. An unprecedented government decree suddenly wiped out small and large events. On both sides of the line there was perplexity paired with a residue of confidence. Further measures were to follow quickly. Barely three weeks later, all business came to a global standstill. The catastrophe is big, is the catastrophe big?
One does not have to resort to the drastic words of the current governor of the Austrian Central Bank – quoting Joseph Schumpeter (“creative destruction”) – to be able to foresee that some agencies, PR companies, clubs, technology rental companies, etc. will not survive the epidemic or will only survive in a very badly hit way. Whether the market will reorganize itself “creatively” cannot be predicted at this point. However, it would be naïve to believe that potent α-companies are not already working on takeovers of crisis losers. Behind the friendly a kiss here, a kiss there façade of the Austrian music industry, frosty entrepreneurship prevails as everywhere else. One‘s crash is another one‘s laugh.
“So what”, one asks oneself, picking up a thought of Rainer Krispel who recently criticized in a Facebook posting the race for the best dates and capacities after Corona “this appointment hassle, this on-going further-further-further of the almost automated booking machines and of the filling of houses/locations”. Those weeks it will still take until “business as normal” returns should give us the opportunity to think about what this business should actually look like.
Since the “anglification” (i.e. the picking up of American/English ways of doing business) of the alternative music scene at the turn of the last millennium, “professional” work has also been done in Austria: A network of agencies, festivals, beverage producers, radio journalists and blogs is building “Artists” according to annual plans. These are driven through the country according to the A-B-C scheme (small venue, medium venue, large venue). A mention by Eberhard Forcher, an appearance on breakfast television, a sold-out concert in Berlin makes the industry cheer. The actual artistic performance is secondary. One does not talk about it. Or one doesn’t talk about it because one doesn’t know for sure. Who has time to listen to an entire album by an artist when the next production is already at the door?
The Covid crisis will shape the third decade of the 21st, maybe of the whole century. The idea of radical sustainability should by no means be limited to ecology, but should also include culture. A look at the recent past shows us that we have stuffed ourselves with vast amounts of musical fast food – even in the alternative music scene, which already knew better.
JAKOB BOUCHAL (AGENT, MATCHES MUSIC)
So far we have quite consciously decided against live streams. I think there’s a reason why it hasn’t really caught on until now to watch concerts via live stream at home on the couch – technologically it has been possible for quite some time, not just now since the crisis. A concert, a DJ set, any artistic performance is about building a moment, a mood or a feeling, and that just doesn’t work that well on a small screen.
I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes, but I have the feeling that many artists are not doing themselves any favor at the moment by quickly sending plugged together, slimmed-down versions of their live sets from their living room to the internet via a mobile phone camera. Moreover, with major festivals and even completely non-musical brands pumping a lot of money into live streams, it’s even harder for indie artists to keep up in terms of sound and image quality, lighting, camera and editing.
My great concern is that the perceived value of music is now declining even further. Many people are now used to the fact that music on the Internet costs nothing, there is often a lack of awareness that music is a service that is also worth something. Is it really a smart move to flood the internet by streaming tons of concerts?
I also see it as a problem that many musicians are currently trying to raise money by streaming live concerts. To bridge emergencies this might work, but the narrative “musicians can now earn money by concerts via live-stream” will harm the musicians in the long run more than it helps them now. If you want to support musicians, you should simply buy their music, as often and as directly as possible.
KONSTANTIN DROBIL (SUBSTANCE RECORDSTORE, TROST LABEL)
As a retail store, we have been closed by order of the authorities since March 16. Almost 100% of our sales are gone – without the daily sales we cannot cover our fixed costs. This will work out in March and with gritted teeth in April, but after that it will threaten the existence of the company! Through the so-called “hardship fund” for small and medium-sized businesses, the livelihood of the two operators is financed, but we would need a subsidy for the running costs of the store – let’s see what else is coming…
The annual Record-Store Day was to happen in April, which is by far our best sales day of the year. This day has now been postponed, the calculated revenues are gone, and it is by no means certain that the new date in June will be held.
The only nice thing about this situation is the support of regular customers through local solidarity mail orders. Of course, this doesn’t make up for the loss of turnover in any way, but it is a gesture, and let’s us hope that when this madness is over, people will continue to pay more attention to where they shop and prefer regional origin (i.e. the local store) to quick one-click orders from anonymous corporations.
As a label, we are feeling the effects of the crisis on different levels:
Three albums were planned for March which are ready at the pressing plant but could not be delivered yet. Presentations have been postponed, advertisements have been booked, but there is no sound carrier yet, etc. In the following months, the situation will become even more intense – two albums are already in production for April, three are planned for May. The productions are mostly pre-financed, but there is no possibility to recover the costs through sales quite soon.
With the music we release, concerts are a very important way to sell the albums. That’s why the numerous cancellations hit us hard: in March e.g. a two-week South America tour (Steamboat Switzerland), then in April a USA tour (Peter Brötzmann), four dates in UK and Scandinavia (Arashi), a UK/Benelux presentation tour for the new release (Kodian), a one-week Brazil tour (Full Blast), several international dates of Mopcut (Lukas König), etc.
Further, the international record stores are of course closed, so no orders are coming in. Distributors are struggling with their liquidity and with limited shipping possibilities, therefore also – almost – no orders.
I have an employee who continues to be paid (and will not be laid off), a relatively high office rent and the usual running costs.
In addition to the AKM fund, there’s also the LSG fund for labels – but only under the condition that a certain minimum amount of LSG royalties has been reached the previous year. If the label does not release radio-suitable music that spreads into the mainstream, it is almost impossible to reach this limit. I hope that this will be handled in a more accommodating way (as the general hardship fund will be improved as well) and that not only the commercial companies will be supported.
FRANZ HAUTZINGER (MUSICIAN)
I know exactly what my situation is like:
I still have:
2100€ in cash savings
.A few gold coins.
6 packets of cigarettes,
6 bottles of wine.
Food for about 1-2 months.
Monthly living costs approx. 600€.
All concerts in March cancelled.
All concerts in April cancelled.
All concerts in May cancelled.
June? July? August? We will see.
I am stuck in France,
in the middle of Burgundy in the country.
Old stone house with a garden.
I practice trumpet all day long (interrupted by eating, gardening, other work…)
I think and compose, I produce
I am artistically active.
Feng Shui in the house, in the garden, in my whole life.
I work in the garden.
It is quiet.
It’s always quiet here,
but now even calmer because no planes.
I hear only the wind, the birds and the insects.
But then I realize that the country, the countries in Europe, are resting and are restricted zones.
A catastrophe without parallels.
Normally, I travel around the world and make a living.
A total economic disaster because: no concert, no production, no fee.
No money circulates.
For a few weeks that will work out for sure, with a lot of discipline mankind is practicing!
And even if reconstruction will be happening in Austria in July (which I hope),
it does not mean that nationally and above all (as far as I am concerned) internationally
one will be able to tour that easily…
And anyway, what will it be like when you can play a concert again, live and in front of an audience. Does anybody want that then? Sitting in a room with many others and be very close? It will be a very exciting moment.
I don’t see any chance for the international concert business before 2021.
Like so many at the moment, I’m sharing the past with others (via Internet, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, etc.)
And we think and talk about the future.
That’s very nice and it creates social contacts.
People take their time and communicate…
I do hope that the Internet will last!!
I’m thinking about the future… Which one?
The world has changed and will remain changed.
Many things will come back and many things will change…
Brings a lot of good, new, innovative and creative things with it.
Art is in full swing at the moment. There’s a lot to be coped with and processed,
a potent ground.
Then I go back to the garden and then I practice again and think and create.
It’s an experiment we’re living in right now. One doesn’t know how it will end.
What remains for me to say personally?
In any case, my purpose is very clear:
To be an artist,
To be a musician,
24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year,
until my last breath and beyond.
It’s a good concept, isn’t it?
Let’s see what my report will look like in five weeks…
UTE PINTER (IMPULS, OPEN MUSIC)
How am I doing as an organizer?
In many respects probably just like many other organizers. It is not clear and cannot be reliably defined at the moment, when and how live events can take place again; what will happen with future cost developments, especially apart from the artists’ fees which up to now often had to be the most flexible in terms of inflation adjustment and inflation rate; how international travel can be resumed; whether postponements within the calendar year make sense at all (issue: oversupply); whether infrastructure and venues will continue to be available, whether cooperation partners will survive; how the audience structure will have changed (keyword: financial possibilities, but also very personal, psycho-structural changes); what society will need in the future, where personal preferences will be set; how society will generally develop and of course what setbacks there will be too regarding the spread and return of the pandemic – not to mention political questions about democracy…
A big question, especially for the scene and small promoters is of course how everything will develop around the payment of subsidies. The Province of Styria has taken a very important step in this respect, e.g. by extending the accounting period for events into 2021, which means that postponements are possible not only within the current year. Other important issues along this line are e.g., legal security in case of cancellations (including, of course, compensation possibilities for artists, etc.), easy adaptability of the program according to price trends, tour offers and the like, timing of subsidy payments (keyword: liquidity), etc.
The local, national partners have already taken the first steps in the right direction, but I am still waiting for more concrete information on the EU project level…
No crisis without a chance, so to speak. Thus, in a small, personal setting, good cooperation, good contacts, working approach in the interest of the cause and relationships of trust have been strengthened and have in many respects proven to be a model worth living for and with a promising future. Whether a catharsis will take place on a broader level and in what shape remains to be seen.
And it is above all the artists, the creative parts, who have proven to be not only flexible but also extremely proactive. As an example: the multi-partite large-scale project “Klang-Manifeste” which I wanted to bring to Graz for the first time as a cooperative project via my concert series open music (21.3.-8.4.), has migrated in many parts to the internet and offers live online contributions. For this purpose, a separate, independent online platform, echoraeume.klingt.org, has been established together with other initiatives, which can now be used for further contributions, i.e. it is also a sustainable platform.
Concerning impuls I have a certain amount of time buffer for the Academy, the festival in February 2021 and the composition contest, but I am already working intensively on the concrete program, on calls for proposals, etc., and I hope that internationality may also be maintained in the future. Current projects such as “Text im Klang” will have to be postponed, as will be the “impuls MinutenKonzerte” in June.
And for my contributions in the field of contemporary music and jazz for Jeunesse, the coming season has of course been planned a long time ago and subscription sales have started. How things will look like regarding concerts planned for this season depends entirely on the government’s guidelines, which hopefully will bring us clarity soon.
As for the word “deceleration”, which is so often used these days, it has only been observed in certain aspects, if at all. This makes it all the more important for organizers and artists to be able to secure legal and financial security as quickly as in the classic economic sectors and employment relationships.
Translated from the German original by Julian Schoenfeld