Stevie G: Oh, it's an uncertain life as a music artist

“Are you still at the music?” is a familiar question for anyone who works in the music industry, upon meeting someone for the first time in years, says Stevie G in his Downtown column
Stevie G: Oh, it's an uncertain life as a music artist

The lack of venues has reduced work opportunities for performers, including DJs. Picture: istock

Anyone who works in the music industry will often be asked, at family gatherings or upon meeting someone for the first time in a few years, “Are you still at the music?”

Most of us in the industry can share memories of our own amusement at this constant question, though the Covid-19 pandemic meant that the questions about the need ‘for a real job’ grew more pertinent.

Lots of music people, from sound engineers to singers, did get a real job when the live-music industry all but stopped, though most who work in music have to supplement their income with other work anyway, as it is not that lucrative for 99% of us. Artists from other realms may tell you the same story, but as the cost-of-living crisis accelerates in 2022, it will be more than just music-and-arts people looking closely at where they earn or spend their money.

I’m fortunate to work in a few music fields, and I’m grateful that I had both radio and this column when the gigs stopped. I don’t gig as much now, because there are fewer venues, but I still consider myself a DJ, first and foremost, and I’m lucky that I teach DJing and music production, and other music-related subjects. Luckily, I am still busy.

The music industry is fickle and I know a lot of people who have given up recently.

There are many reasons why. Our lack of options regarding venues means that opportunities aren’t great for both live music and DJing, but things could definitely be a lot worse. Cork City Council’s recent announcement of a new policy for the arts promised a lot with regard to spaces, but obviously the lack of progress on our infamous events centre means we will continue to wait and see. Are we, as a city, really committed to music and the arts? I hope so.

I’ve spoken to a few people privately regarding the much-talked-about proposed changes to the licensing laws, and I’m confident that things are finally moving in a positive direction. That said, while it’s great that consultations are taking place, the law seems to move extra slowly and change takes forever.

A friend of mine in Dublin who runs a club on Sunday nights can’t continue with it any longer. The law is enforcing his 1am closing time and despite the best efforts of Give Us the Night, it’s another venue that will now no longer offer music. As for Sunday nights in Cork? Forget it. Those days are a distant memory.

Every industry faces uncertainty and I’m not moaning here. As I said, I’m lucky to be working doing what I love. In my spare time, I’ve been reading a lot of musician biographies and I’ve been struck by a recurring theme in music and the arts. These insecurities are shared by artists much higher than most of us on the entertainment chain and even established acts faced this many times in their careers. And these were careers built before streaming became the model on which the music industry runs, when artist dividends were much better than they are today.

Those with artistic passions have often been less great at managing the financial side of things and the entertainment industry has always attracted corruption and chancers. But if the arts are your calling, that’s what you will do and there are many talented musicians doing their best.

Many will combine this passion with subsidiary or extra work, and if that work is music-related, all the better. Others will try and keep music as a hobby, while others will move on.

Those who continue to work in music as the years go on might continue to surprise that relative in conversation at Christmastime, but eventually they, too, will learn that this is a way of life for many. With so many problems in the world, we all need that musical escape, and it’s not just the artists who will benefit!

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