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Aoife Scott: The past 18 months have been like The Hunger Games for us in the music industry

Musician Aoife Scott shares her story of the past 18 months and says restrictions have shown how little Ireland values creative careers.

Aoife Scott

“THE LIVE EVENTS industry” has always sounded like a very corporate way of describing what we do for a living. What I imagine when that’s mentioned is a scene where it’s run by men in grey suits, with briefcases, in corporate boardrooms trying to represent pantomime actors and festival jugglers.

When I hear it on the news, or read it in the paper I wonder to myself if people realise that the “entertainment sector”, actually means the lives of thousands of families trying to pay their rent/mortgages or even their food shop every month.

What’s really unbelievable to me writing this is that we’re still here; in the same spot 18 months later. The industry that I work in, is not yet open and is full of unknowns, anxiety, and fear about the future.

That the past 18 months haven’t been easy for the entire world, is an understatement. When you look at the loss, pain, and particularly the grief and loneliness; it’s been a very hard time and I think we all felt with restrictions lifting, everyone was hopeful of a better time to come.

Life as a musician in a pandemic

I wanted to give an indication of what it’s been like for me as a full-time musician in the pandemic. When your job is taken away from you it’s hard not to feel completely useless, worthless, and also a bit pointless. That’s what it felt like to me. And maybe in a way, I felt I had lost my purpose.

I went through a hard time and suffered a bad depression like many others in the loneliness and isolation of lockdown. I’ve struggled to come out of the darkness and finally did reach out for some help. I found it really difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel when there is nothing for you to look towards. *

Those with that mindset of “reskill, retrain, get a job outside your industry” – I hear and have heard what they are saying. To be honest, I can hear it myself as a voice in my own head when I’m feeling very low. When the fear gets too much – I think “Give it up, go find something paid”… but it’s not as easy as that.

This doesn’t feel like a choice. This is a hard industry to survive in. You nearly have to crawl and scrape your way through it to get to a place where you can consistently make a living. People have described a career in the music industry as a vocation. I’ve had to make sure I never left even when it’s been at its hardest. I am not telling you it’s hard for some sympathy here, I’m just telling you the facts.

It seems to me that the arts are completely undervalued by most of society which is why people get paid less when they create with passion. Does society feel you should get paid more when you hate your job?

The extended closure of our sector has meant we are losing people with highly valuable skills, left right and centre. If there is no action taken on this now, we won’t have any of the arts, events, and music left that makes our country so rich and diverse in talent. This is what makes us the people and culture that we are.

Frustration

Following meetings this week, I’m frustrated to find out that our Arts and Culture minister has not got a seat at the table at the Covid subcommittee which leaves us with no voice.

This summer was a missed opportunity to hold proper test events and to provide the correct and necessary measures to prove that the entertainment sectors can run safe controlled environments, that can enable people to attend these events and give hope for the future reopening. This road map should have been in the planning stages last spring when they were looking at the reopening of other sectors.

I feel like the PUP was the correct response 18 months ago, but in all this time it hasn’t taken into account the needs of the self-employed music and arts workers of the gig economy. This “one size fits all” does not work and the understanding of the needs of the workers are not being met by the current PUP.

We are living in fear of the payment being reduced or removed and the transferring of skilled workers to a jobseekers benefit which again shows that we are being pushed out of our careers and into unemployment. I am not unemployed but my industry is closed by the government.

I have absolutely no problem being patient and doing it safely when the time is right, but being ignored and the last to return to work is no way to treat musicians and the arts. Our cultural representation of Ireland to the world is not being respected.

For me – I feel forgotten, I am confused, and I am deeply hurt by the lack of communication from the minister and the department. The anxiety is at the highest level, not knowing where we stand, and when we might go back to work. Friends and colleagues are selling their instruments, and it is becoming regular to know musicians who have really struggled with their mental health due to the stress of everything and the lack of support and information.

Small changes

There are some very limited shows happening right now across Ireland. But nothing that will sustain the industry. I know that I’m in a privileged position to be in the tiniest of margins to avail of the opportunity to perform at some limited capacity outdoor venues as part of the LPSS scheme which will end in September. (Which also happens to be when the PUP is due to be cut). These are short-term measures and short-term thinking.

I can’t stop thinking of the other musicians who slip through these margins. Musicians who perform for tourists all over the country are the foot soldiers of our culture, keeping music alive in the toughest of arenas – playing and performing in the smallest of corners, the loudest of pubs, keeping our culture alive. The past 18 months have felt like The Hunger Games for our industry – only the strongest can survive. I’m scared for my friends and colleagues – in all elements of the live music sector. We have been left behind.

No one wants the live music industry to reopen unsafely – but, we have the best in the world in the business here to conduct these events. The industry is losing skilled workers, skilled artists and musicians due to the government’s ‘not fit for purpose support schemes’ and their lack of interest in listening to our event experts and the needs of the sector.

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We needed direction, leadership and more importantly a plan, six months ago. If it is not delivered, it may be too little too late for many.

Aoife Scott is an award-winning singer, songwriter and international touring artist from Dublin. Her Second album Homebird (2020) was recorded and produced in Nashville and Dublin by Ron Block ( Grammy Winner/ Alison Krauss & Union Station). Aoife comes from the musically renowned Black Family and along with her musical performances, has presented on Television and is an advocate for music Industry in Ireland. Aoife: *I was lucky to find “Minding Creative Minds” a service for creatives and they spoke to me at a time I really needed it.

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Aoife Scott

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