Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the concert hall… Lockdown 2 💥
Musicians everywhere are feeling the effects of the Covid pandemic and some of you have been out on the street (by which we mean Parliament Square) demonstrating with live music to let the Chancellor know that the arts are a vibrant part of the economy and deserve support.
At Polyphony Arts we have been closely following the implications of Covid for the industry at every step, and we have developed (and are constantly expanding) a suite of resources to help classical musicians help themselves and find support in these trying times.
Following the success of our live chats on Facebook during the first lockdown, we have now launched our own podcast: Music Works. We are pleased to say we already have 14 episodes out there covering topics from business mindset as a musician to finding opportunities in challenging times to sexism in the music industry. Our speakers include composer, Ella Jarman-Pinto, Anna Ouspenskaya of Virtual Concert Halls and Naomi Pohl, Deputy General Secretary of the Musicians’ Union. You can find the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Podbean.
Do please subscribe and leave us a review!
We have also been putting our minds to other resources we have designed expressly to help musicians like you and we have developed a number of online courses, programmes and other support packages including gift cards for family and friends to tuck in your Christmas stocking.
Subscribe to our mailing list to receive all the latest news of what we are up to, news and advice on Covid and get advance notice of upcoming resources plus any offers we are able to share with our subscribers. (Spoiler alert – we have a very special offer announcement coming up this weekend, exclusively to our mailing list!)
Don’t let the Covid-19 lockdown hold you back – there is a way through this, and we can help you unlock it.
Finally – Our message to you all:
We know that the future can look bleak with so many cancellations. We know the industry will take time to recover. But we also know there will be a recovery, and you need to be at the forefront of this. Don’t allow negative stories to bring you down – surround yourself with people who are positive about the future of classical music. They are out there. We are out there. At Polyphony Arts we are here for you. This is our industry, our music, our passion, and we will fight for it together.
So, it’s good news, bad news for the self-employed, but at least there is some news at last.
We’re already well aware of the help the Chancellor has offered to businesses and people in PAYE employment, but until now, the plight of freelancers i.e. the self-employed, – and that means almost every professional musician – has gone unaddressed.
No longer. After much public debate and pressure from various political and business quarters, the Chancellor has finally announced a scheme to help sole traders and those of us who do work for ourselves.
That’s the good news.
The scheme will offer a taxable grant worth 80% of net income up to a maximum of £2,500 per month for 3 months. There is also an acknowledgement that, given the uncertainty as to how the current situation will pan out, this may be extended as and when.
So far so good, but this contains within itself much of the explanation why it has taken so long for Rishi Sunak to lay out the government’s measures for such an important sector of the country’s workforce.
The clue is in how to work out how much grant you can expect. 80% of ‘trading profits’ (that means net income to you and me), seems a clear enough sum, but the question is how will this be calculated?
But first things first. The initial question must be: who can apply? How is self-employment defined?
Does this apply to you?
The announcement specifies five criteria that you must meet to count as self-employed:
you have submitted an Income Tax Self Assessment tax return for the tax year 2018/19
you have earned money as a self-employed person in the tax year 2019/20
you are actively working (self-employed) at the point of making the application, (or would be but for COVID-19)
you intend to continue doing so in the tax year 2020/21; and
you have lost income due to COVID-19
The net income derived from your self-employment must make up more than half of your income and must total less than £50,000.
This is where the calculation becomes more complicated, but bear with me and read slowly.
The government will not limit itself to calculating the amount you may be able to claim based on your 18/19 tax return figures, but will average these over your after-tax income for the previous two tax years as well i.e. 2017/18 and 2016/2017. (Don’t forget , this must also make up more than half of your total taxable income in each of those tax years).
All of which makes reasonable sense with one proviso:, what if we have only been working in a self-employed capacity for one or two years, I hear some of us cry? Does this mean we will fall through an especial unpleasant crack? Mercifully not, if you started your self-employment between 2016-19, the Inland Revenue will only use the figures for those years for which you have filed a Self-Assessment tax return subject to the criteria set out above.
(Please note: if you have not already submitted your self-assessment tax return for 2018-19 (!!!), you must do this by 23 April 2020.
I repeat, once again, piu forte for added emphasis: IF YOU HAVE NOT ALREADY SUBMITTED YOUR SELF-ASSESSMENT TAX RETURN FOR 2018-19 DO IT NOW, AND AT THE VERY LEAST BY NO LATER THAN 23 APRIL 2020.
But what if you have only become self-employed in the current tax year (2019/20)and therefore filed no return? Unfortunately, in that case, you will not qualify for this scheme and you will have to rely on Universal Credit (see further information at the end of this article).
How much can you expect to claim?
This is the nub of it. We have seen that the Treasury/Revenue will look at your net income averaged over the last three tax year and allow 80% of that figure (i.e. 3 years’ net income divided by 3 x 80%).
But (and there almost most always is a but), this will be capped at a maximum of £2,500 per month payable for 3 months as things currently stand.
But that’s still good news and there’s more: the grant will be paid directly into your bank account in one lump sum.
Please note, the grant does not have to be repaid – it’s a grant, not a loan (more good news!) – but it will count as income for tax purposes when you are filling out your 20/21 return. (May we all live so long.) If you claim tax credits, you must include any grant you receive in your claim as income.
So, what’s the bad news. (Apart from the whole lousy situation?)
The bad news
You can’t apply yet. In fact, you can’t actually apply at all, and you can’t expect any money before June.
So how will you know if you are eligible? Don’t worry, HMRC will contact you if you are, and invite you to apply online.
Do not call them, do not hassle them now; our trusty tax folk are working their socks off to get all those self-assessment tax returns that were submitted for Jan 30 this year processed so they can make the necessary calculations and identify who will qualify. Let them get on with it.
I’m sure you will all have heard it before: “don’t call us, we’ll call you.”
On a brighter note, although the grant may not be paid until June, it will be backdated to March.
A word of warning
With this in mind, be on your guard for scammers who are always looking to make a fast buck out of someone else’s crisis. If someone texts, calls or emails claiming to be from HMRC, saying that you can claim financial help or are owed a tax refund, and asks you to click on a link or to give information such as your name, credit card or bank details, it is a scam. Hang up the call, delete the text or the email and carry on with your day.
But what about now?
Having read all this you may be feeling what might at best be described as modified rapture. There is help at hand, but that hand is not going to show itself for a good two months. Many of us are hurting now.
So what other more immediate help is available?
Other help you can get
Until this grant scheme kicks in, here is a list of additional help for the self-employed the government is also providing:
We’ll keep you posted if and when we get more information to help all you music freelancers out there, but, in the meantime:
STAY SAFE; STAY POSITIVE; STAY HOME and WASH YOUR HANDS!
27 March 2020
Join our mailing list for career tips and more advice for musicians and get our FREEguide “Four Essential Tips For Building Your Network: A Resource For Musicians“ : https://polyphonyarts.com/mailing-list/
As international concern about coronavirus spreads and different governments give different advice and introduce different measures to deal with what has now been designated a pandemic, those of us who work in live performance are facing an uncertain professional and financial situation as venues close, engagements are cancelled, and predictions over the severity and duration of the outbreak seem confusing, not to say downright contradictory.
As a boutique music and events management agency, we at Polyphony Arts are extremely sensitive to the impact this will have on our clients. We are a team of three women with differing demands on our time, which means we are used to flexible and remote working, enjoying the ability to use email and videoconferencing calls to manage our clients’ business around the world as well as enjoying each other’s company in our regular co-working sessions. If we have to self-isolate, we can, technically, continue with business as usual.
But our business is dependent upon the artists and arts organisations we represent, and our concern has to be protecting their careers in the medium to longer term, and their income as an immediate priority. These are the questions we have been increasingly facing as the virus and the accompanying measures dominate our headlines.
There are, of course, several aspects to this crisis which have implications for musicians who rely on their physical presence and skill to earn their living, and venues and organisations who rely on the physical presence of those performers and the wider public to generate their revenue.
So the first question, of course, is how is the virus likely to impact the performing arts in light of this?
The evolving medical situation
We know the virus is highly contagious. The statistics show a high rate of infection and spread within the population. People with compromised immune systems and other underlying health issues, especially the elderly, are particularly vulnerable. All of us are asking, how can I protect myself and how can I protect those who are close to me and those who are especially vulnerable? This is, understandably, almost immediately followed by question: what are the implications for my work is a live performer or for my business is a live performance venue or event?
Our first port of call for help and advice on how to manage ourselves is, not unreasonably, our government(s). In the UK this can be found on the UK government website under various headings. The current advisory for those who believe they have contracted the virus can be found here:
if you have symptoms of coronavirus infection (COVID-19), however mild, stay at home and do not leave your house for seven days from when your symptoms started.
plan ahead and ask others for help to ensure that you can successfully stay at home
ask your employer, friends and family to help get the things you need to stay at home
stay at least two metres (about three steps) away from other people in your home whenever possible
sleep alone, if that is possible
wash your hands regularly for 20 seconds, each time using soap and water
stay away from vulnerable individuals such as the elderly and those with underlying health conditions as much as possible
you do not need to call NHS111 to go into self-isolation. If your symptoms worsen during home isolation or are no better after seven days call or contact NHS 111 online.
Arguably these measure should also apply if you believe you have been in contact with someone who has contracted the virus.
Staying home is fine, if you have no engagements and need to put in some serious time practising your scales (assuming the dry cough that is one of the symptoms will let you), but not if you have engagements in your calendar.
And what if you feel perfectly well, but those engagements are overseas? We now know Italy is in lockdown so all concerts and public events are cancelled even if you could get a flight into the country. The US has (reluctantly) introduced a ban on travel to and from various countries (but not the UK and Ireland?!) The landscape is changing every day. When I began researching this article two days ago, there was a page on the government website with advice for travellers returning to the UK from overseas. Visiting it again today, I find it has been withdrawn and I am redirected to the page quoted above giving stay at home guidance.
International travel seems to be pretty much off the table. Flights are being cancelled (we might spare a thought here for the airline industry which operates on extremely tight margins and which is also deeply worried about the survival of some carriers).
But, even if you managed to get yourself to your venue in Belgium, say, or Japan? The likelihood is that you will find it closed and events cancelled. Yesterday, classical-music.com, the official website of BBC music magazine, published a list of tours and festivals that have been cancelled or postponed due to coronavirus (which we should now refer to by its proper title: COVID-19)
So the next question for both performers and venues is, inevitably, what about our contracts? What are the terms for cancellation and how will this affect my income?
Solicitors, Harbottle & Lewis, who represent a number of significant music clients have a issued an overview of the likely legal position regarding those contracts in English law – many of the principles are likely to be similar in other jurisdictions. You can read their insight here: https://www.harbottle.com/coronavirus-contracts/
To summarise, it is likely your contract contain a force majeure clause. This is a clause which spells out what happens if any one of the parties to that contract cannot perform their contractual obligations because of events outside their control. This is likely to cover the coronavirus pandemic as a “triggering event”. The clause will also set out if the parties are allowed more time to perform their obligations, who pays any increased costs, and whether there is a right to terminate the contract. But this is a matter of interpreting the contract’s exact wording. Many force majeure clauses require contract performance not to be possible at all. If a venue has been closed because of government requirements that may be seen differently from a musician deciding to self-isolate because they feel unwell or have had contact with a sufferer. This is important! Harbottle & Lewis are very clear: “careful analysis of the wording of your contract is important to make sure that you are not jeopardising your position. Getting it wrong can have serious consequences, and may put you in breach of your contract.”
But what if you have read your contract and it does not appear to contain a force majeure clause? In that situation you may find you are subject to what lawyers call “the doctrine of frustration”. Now, we are all feeling pretty frustrated with the whole COVID-19 situation, but this is a specific legal concept which arises where a party to a contract simply cannot fulfil a fundamental obligation under that contract, due, for example, to an unforeseen event such as the government locking down all travel or a venue closing due to a contamination. In this case the parties are released from their contractual obligations. (Again, it all depends on the exact wording of the contract in question).
But, of course, that includes the obligation to pay fees. It may be frustrating and disappointing to find you won’t be playing the Walton viola concerto to a packed audience in King’s Lynn, but it is downright worrying to know that you won’t be getting paid either and there’s plenty more of that coming down the line. Similarly, it may be heart breaking to see all the careful preparation and plans you have made for your beautiful festival coming to nothing, but it may also, and more importantly, be actually bank-breaking to have paid out in anticipation of the event and not being able to realise the income. And what about all that grant funding you have been awarded and, in part, already spent? We are still waiting upon the Arts Council to decide on its policy in this regard and many other grant funding bodies large and small will have to be taking similar positions regarding the repayment or otherwise of moneys awarded to projects that have to be cancelled.
What can you do? The answer at the moment is not a comforting one. If you have cancellation insurance, that’s great, but it is very expensive and only large venues and events can really afford to carry it. The latest budget announced by the Chancellor this week offered a lot of help to small businesses who are affected by COVID-19, but most of this is unlikely to reach arts organisations and individual, self-employed musicians.
People who are not eligible for sick pay such as the self-employed will now be able to claim Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) from day one of illness rather than day eight. ESA is form of aid to those who are too sick to work (provided they meet certain conditions) and is worth £73.10 a week (£57.90 if you a child genius i.e. under-25). Not exactly riches. There are now calls for statutory sick pay to be extended to the self-employed.
But there are also knock-on effects that are not caught directly by advice or legislation. How do people with young children manage to continue working if child care centres and schools close? Our founder and director, Katie, has a three year-old son. She is very dependent on regular childcare to run the agency. We have had a lot of conversations among ourselves about the implications for her and all three of us if Sam can’t go to his pre-school. We all know musicians who are in a similar situation.
Some options you may have
As agents we can’t force venues to open or contracts to be honoured nor should we if we want to be responsible in doing our bit to help mitigate the spread of the virus, but what we can do for our clients is be proactive in managing cancellations and asking for rebookings even if these are as far ahead as 2021. If a venue liked our artists well enough to book them now, why wouldn’t they be sympathetic to moving that booking to a time when we all hope this situation will have finally passed? There is a lot of good will out there amidst all the stress; tap into it!
If you do not have representation, this advice still works for you. Speak to your promoters and venues. Some circumstances are out of your control; being pro-active about managing cancelled engagements going forwards is something you can and should be exploring..
A final word
Finally, and this is a personal message from us all at Polyphony Arts, one of the best things you can do, and one that can get lost in the blizzard of conflicting information and anxiety, is to take care of yourselves. This is a stressful time for all of us and one of the hidden casualties of the virus is not our physical, but our mental health. Take care, and be aware of your stress and do your best to manage your well-being. The music community is a close knit and supportive one. We need to stand together, to be responsible, and to take care of ourselves and each other. Our livelihoods and our industry depend upon it.
Music Manager, Polyphony Arts
At Polyphony Arts we strive to support musicians through the opportunities and challenges of being part of the modern music scene. If you’d like to join our mailing list for free tips and advice, you can sign up here https://polyphonyarts.com/mailing-list/
Disclaimer: this article is drawn from a number of identified sources. Polyphony Arts does not hold itself out to have any expert knowledge of the medical or legal content of this article. If readers have any questions or concerns about the issues touched on here, we recommend they seek appropriate specialist medical or legal advice.