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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 17 November 2020

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motion, Topical Question Time, Covid-19, Social Security Benefits, Veterans and Armed Forces Community, Decision Time, Musicians and Music Industry (Covid-19)


Musicians and Music Industry (Covid-19)

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-23195, in the name of Claire Baker, on the impact of Covid-19 on Scotland’s musicians and music industry. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises the impact that the Covid-19 pandemic has had on musicians, songwriters, composers and the wider music sector, including music education; believes that this has limited the ability of people in the sector to perform and earn income; understands that the Musicians Union and PRS for Music have been working hard to support their members by carrying out surveys and work such as encouraging action to be taken, and distributing over £3 million in hardship funding; understands that 34% of musicians surveyed have said that they may quit the industry due to the impact of the pandemic, that 47% have had to look for work outside music and 65% are facing financial hardship; notes that PRS for Music is predicting a fall of income of between 15-25%, including a 75% decline in income from live performances; acknowledges that, subject to pandemic protocols, many spaces for professional and non-professional musicians to perform and rehearse, including recording studios, are closed, further limiting options for creative output and generating income; regrets the impact that this will have on communities, including in Mid Scotland and Fife, their cultural activities, economy and wellbeing; understands that public health restrictions acutely impact live music venues, promoters and production companies; notes what it sees as the impact of the ban on background music on musicians’ and composers’ copyright returns, and, to ensure that Scotland’s music and wider cultural infrastructure is protected, acknowledges the view that there is a need for the continued support of musicians and the music sector at what it sees as a time of crisis.


First, I thank all the MSPs who have supported the motion and helped to bring the debate to the chamber. I also thank the cross-party group on music, and Tom Arthur MSP, for their assistance with drafting the motion.

November 2019 was my super November—I went to five gigs that month. I was in the Hydro, the Usher Hall, La Belle Angèle and the Carnegie hall in Dunfermline. I saw artists on international tours in full venues, and I still managed to go campaigning the next day in a general election.

Here we are a year later, and all those venues, and others across Scotland, are sitting quiet, as they have been for months. All the musicians have no live audiences. All the crew, who often make a living working on different tours, are out of work. All the promoters, the technical support and the venue staff have seen their industry decimated. They are all facing a long road back to recovery.

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on everyone who works in the music sector. We must not underestimate the value of the sector, and we need to recognise the breadth of livelihoods that it supports. During lockdown, so many people turned to the arts to get them through it all. Music was a motivator, a comforter and an entertainer for so many people.

Before the pandemic, the music industry across the United Kingdom was worth £5.2 billion to the economy, and the live music sector had broken the £1 billion barrier for the first time. The UK is a global leader in producing content, and our music is listened to by people around the world. In 2019, Scotland welcomed 1.3 million music tourists, and music tourism alone supported almost 5,000 jobs.

Coronavirus, the lockdown and the restrictions have brought that all crashing down. People’s ability to perform and earn an income has been severely limited, and opportunities for recording, rehearsing, teaching and collaborating have all been restricted.

The Musicians Union and PRS for Music have been surveying their members during the pandemic. Although there has been some financial support, 34 per cent of musicians surveyed said that they may quit the industry due to the impact of the pandemic, and 65 per cent are facing financial hardship. Musicians’ incomes already compare unfavourably with those in other professions that require a similar investment of time and money in education and training, and receiving only a percentage of income as support has left many facing hardship.

There is also clear evidence that too many freelancers have fallen through the cracks. The campaign group ExcludedUK has highlighted that 3 million freelancers across the UK, many of whom work in the cultural sector, are excluded from any support packages. The UK Government needs to change that and provide support for all those who are self-employed, and the Scottish Government needs to provide as much support as possible through the hardship schemes.

The culture organisations and venues recovery fund awards were announced last week. They have benefited some medium-sized music venues, but we need to recognise that grass-roots music venues continue to be at risk. The Music Venue Trust has announced a red list of venues that are at risk of imminent closure. Backstage at the Green in Kinross, which is in my region, is on the list, along with venues in Inverness and Ayr.

The support from the grass-roots music venues stabilisation fund was intended to last only until October this year. Music venues are listed as eligible businesses for the temporary closure grant in tier 3, and for the business restrictions grant. However, with no trade, and with bills mounting up, that support will, for many, cover only a third of their overheads. Other music businesses, such as recording studios or rehearsal rooms, are excluded from the strategic framework funds, even though the restrictions impact heavily on those businesses and many are facing insolvency. The list of eligible businesses needs to be expanded; alternatively, we must provide flexibility for local authorities to make awards that reflect their local economy.

Last week, the Welsh Government announced an additional £10.7 million for culture recovery, along with increased support for freelancers. We need to see more resources coming forward in Scotland. It is worth noting that, although the investment of £107 million in the arts was significant, almost all the funding streams were oversubscribed and the application windows were often extremely short. There is still £6 million left to allocate, and additional consequentials are coming to Scotland. Those sources must provide relief for the music sector, which is still facing a crisis situation.

However, we also need to consider how to generate some income and provide opportunities for performance. Small indoor seated events can take place in tiers 0 and 1, with restrictions, and guidance has now been published. In response to my question a few weeks ago, the Government said that it had paused the pilot events programme. Scotland’s events recovery fund has now been launched with £2.75 million, but it needs to be made clear whether that will support live music events and pilots. Although venues can open, the restrictions will make the majority of them unviable. Support needs to be in place to test the safest way to operate, and all Scotland could benefit from the lessons that can be learned in the tier 1 areas.

There are calls for greater ambition. In the summer, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland published “In the Bubble of Our Making: Reopening the Arts in Northern Ireland”. It is a fairly comprehensive document that looks at removing barriers and encouraging innovative ways to perform. There is also the report “The Art of the Possible”, which Geoff Ellis of DF Concerts recently produced.

Live entertainment is not a business that can easily be turned off and on. The planning involved in a tour, from booking flights to securing the articulated lorries, is significant. If we are to see a return to live music at some point, planning needs to start now, and issues around insurance, physical distancing and audience testing need to be explored. The industry needs support to provide a pathway and a road map back to performances.

I have previously asked about the ban on background music, and I welcome the fact that an expert group is looking at the issue. However, there must be swift progress on that. There is already evidence that a lower specified decibel level does not cause people to raise their voices and that it does not cause aerosol transmission. Lifting the ban would support the hospitality sector as well as those in the music sector who benefit from copyright returns.

MSPs will wish to raise other issues, but I will end by highlighting music tuition. The next generation of musicians and composers are at risk of losing valuable time and opportunity. The Incorporated Society of Musicians has raised the issue with me, and I agree that music education tutors and pupils would benefit from a consistent approach that supports their studies, and that clarity over what can be provided in school and in private tuition is important.

Music is a sector that closed first, and it will likely be the last to return. Scotland’s music sector and all who work in it are still in a very vulnerable place. We need support for the here and now and strong investment for the future.

There is a high level of interest in the debate—we are now into double figures for the number of members who wish to participate. I therefore invite Claire Baker to move a motion without notice, under rule 8.14.3, to extend the debate by up to 30 minutes.

Motion moved,

That, under Rule 8.14.3, the debate be extended by up to 30 minutes.—[Claire Baker]

Motion agreed to.


I thank Claire Baker for securing this evening’s debate, and I thank Tom Arthur and the cross-party group on music for their work and their support for the industry.

I am convener of the Education and Skills Committee, and our report on music tuition really highlighted what music brings to us. It is not about a number on a balance sheet; it is about the reaction and the wellbeing that it brings to people—the joy of working and being with people, and of performing with them. What it means to us in our interactions as human beings is almost immeasurable. For me, it can mean taking part in a little session with folk musicians in my local pub—or, indeed, going to see Ms McNeill and her band playing there—right through to the big-venue events such as Celtic Connections and the other festivals in Scotland that we know about.

There is a lot of interest in tonight’s debate, so I will just talk about one area. In doing so, I wish to highlight one of Scotland’s best up-and-coming folk performers, Iona Fyfe.

Like Claire Baker, I have been reminiscing about what we would normally be doing at this time of year. Last year, I was delighted to speak at the first Scots language awards, with Iona Fyfe and Steve Byrne from Malinky providing the music for the evening. It was a fantastic experience. In fact, it was Iona’s first appearance after spending a long time recovering from major surgery to her knee following a fall. Her plight, and the impact that the fall had on her, highlight the precarious nature of work for some of our musicians. She was not able to work for six months before Covid hit, and the awards ceremony was her first appearance after recovering—but then we almost immediately went into a situation where she was unable to work again. That meant that her earnings did not reflect her earnings potential under normal circumstances, so it was very difficult for her to access any of the support and grants that were in place, or any of the support that would normally have been there for her, had she been performing throughout that time.

The precarious nature of employment in the music industry, which affects venues and the people who perform music, highlights just how difficult things are. The fair work agenda that the Scottish Government has pursued has gone a great way towards doing away with unpaid shifts for young people, for example, as we seek to move away from zero-hours contracts and so on. Unfortunately, the music industry has many of those practices within it.

If we really value music in our lives, after Covid we will have to look at the longer-term problems with employment arrangements that leave people badly underpaid for what they do—indeed, people can be asked to perform for free. We must also look at the fact that musicians are not rewarded properly in the context of licences and streaming systems, given what they bring.

The Musicians Union has highlighted that 47 per cent of musicians have been forced to look for other work, 70 per cent are unable to take on more than a quarter of their usual work and 36 per cent have no income whatever from music—and tuition is a huge part of musicians’ income.


The importance of Scotland’s musicians and music industry is beyond doubt. That truth is expressed in Arthur O’Shaughnessy’s poem “Ode”, lines of which have become very true in the current restricted circumstances in which our music makers sadly find themselves. It starts:

“We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams; —
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams”.

The music that frames and reinforces our traditions, the music of the many artists that Scotland has produced in recent times, and the events and music that we are normally able to enjoy every day form a key part of Scotland’s social fabric. It is therefore deeply troubling that these past months have seen such a decline in opportunities not only for musicians to produce and perform music but for the Scottish public to be able to experience and enjoy it.

The figures that accompany the narrative emphasise—if emphasis were needed—the problem. They are deeply troubling. There are dramatic falls in income. For example, up to 65 per cent of musicians say that they are facing financial hardship, which tells the tale of a sector that has needed, but wanted for, support from the outset of the pandemic.

The urgency of the issue for the health of the economy in general is but one of many considerations. More important is the effect on individuals, whether we are talking about creative musicians themselves or their audiences.

The current circumstances follow hard on a recent flowering of Scottish music. Between 2017 and 2018, there was a 38 per cent rise in people travelling to Scotland for our music. The sector had become worth more than £430 million to the economy and supported more than 4,000 jobs.

Figures tell only one side of the tale, of course; the impact on people is always the most important. Music is critical to the employment, prosperity and wellbeing of people across our tourism and hospitality sector, as well as Scottish residents themselves. Venues and industry bodies here in Edinburgh have expressed a combination of exasperation and sadness at continued, and—worse, potentially permanent—closure.

Live music performance is only one part of that. Recorded music has faced many general challenges in recent years. The ways in which it is purchased and listened to have been changing in the long term, causing potential harm to revenue generation and returns.

The tight restrictions that are associated with the continued lockdown have affected music still more. They have prevented a variety of public venues from playing music, which has severely hit returns from copyright. The question arises as to the sense in continuing such restrictions.

We need to recognise, even in these times, that music is not just entertainment. As O’Shaughnessy recognised in the concluding lines of the first verse of his poem:

“Yet we”—

music makers—

“are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.”

Let us ensure that the movers and shakers who make music in Scotland for the good of our nation are able to continue to do so.


I, too, congratulate Claire Baker on securing the debate, and Tom Arthur from the cross-party group on music for supporting it. I am well aware of the terrible toll that the pandemic has taken on the music industry and I draw members’ attention to the evidence gathered by the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee inquiry into the effect of Covid on culture and tourism.

Today, I want to speak from personal perspective, or more precisely, from the experience of my daughter, Eleanor, who is a 23-year-old musician. She graduated two years ago with a first-class degree in actor musicianship and her career got off to a good start. Last year, she was the onstage musician at the Lyceum and Citizens’ Theatre production of “The Duchess of Malfi”. She is also a singer-songwriter with her own band. At the time that the pandemic broke out, she was living in Glasgow and had several different income streams to support her art: she had several residencies in Glasgow music venues, playing blues and rock, she taught young musicians at the weekend at a rock school and, to top that up, like many young musicians, during the day, she worked in hospitality, in a coffee bar. All that disappeared—literally overnight—with lockdown. It has never come back and her experience is typical.

Eleanor was more fortunate than some in that her employer put her on furlough and she has the safety net of her family. However, like many young people, she is fiercely independent and wants to make her own way in the world. For many of her musician friends, whose income came from playing five or six nights a week, there was no furlough. That is why emergency funds for self-employed people are so important. I support Claire Baker’s comments on the need for the UK Government to do more to help freelancers who miss out. Creative Scotland’s hardship fund for creative freelancers has helped many musicians and they have reported back that it is very easy to access. However, it is, of course, oversubscribed, although it opened again. I encourage everyone in Government to ensure that everyone who needs help gets it.

I also the welcome the awards to grass-roots music venues. We took a lot of evidence on the challenges that those venues face. I understand that, as Claire Baker said, some of them have said that they will still have to close.

It is more than simply a lack of income. It takes years of practice and hard work to be able to play to a professional standard. Having that taken away overnight is a bitter blow. Performers often draw their mental energy from playing for an audience, so the impact on their mental health is significant. There are some great examples of self-help. I urge members interested in the issue to go to the next stage, a social media platform started in Scotland by musicians who are interviewed about their experience of the pandemic and then play sets outdoors with professional recording and filming equipment. It also has its own crowdfunding campaign and can be found on Facebook and Instagram.

It is often said that the pandemic would have been unbearable if it had happened 25 years ago, before the internet was able to connect us. For musicians, the internet also has a downside. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, many musicians made money from record sales and live gigs were used to publicise their records. That model has now been turned on its head and most musicians, even quite successful ones, are—not to put too fine a point on it—being ripped off by global streaming and downloading services. One example was posted on social media this summer by the acclaimed traditional folk musician Steve Byrne, who co-wrote the Malinky song, “Pad the Road Wi Me”. It was downloaded 17,737 times on Spotify and for that, Steve was paid the handsome sum of £2.09. That is why I refuse to use streaming services—iTunes is only marginally better than Spotify, with the artists getting 10 per cent of the sale. Back in 2008, a CD-single sold for £3.99, and the songwriter could expect to receive 12 per cent of that. In that example, Steve Byrne would have got about £8,000—that is not a fortune, but it is a great deal better than £2.09.

The Scottish Parliament does not have any control over big tech, but it is time that those who do have that control tackle the exploitation of musicians. Our lockdown would be unbearable without music and musicians. They might not be classified as essential workers, but the work of musicians is hugely important the wellbeing of us all. I back the calls for continued support from the Government. Once again, I congratulate Claire Baker on securing debate and thank her for doing so.


I thank Claire Baker for bringing this important debate to the chamber, and I thank Tom Arthur—who will speak next—for the work that he does with the cross-party group on music.

My own city of Glasgow has its fair share of successful bands, such as Primal Scream, Simple Minds, Biffy Clyro and Belle and Sebastian—it is always hard to choose which ones I am going to mention. They have grown out of an energetic music scene with many small live bands and venues. I declare that I gig—as Clare Adamson mentioned—with the band Mc4. I have been gigging in Glasgow and the west of Scotland for the past four years, which has taken quite a bit of my energy.

Clare Adamson will agree with me that live music venues—such as Girdwoods, on her local patch, and the Village Inn in East Kilbride—are so vibrant for communities. They bring communities together, and so many local musicians have benefited from being able to play there. We play for the love of our music, and we miss it so much. I know that many musicians across the country miss playing to live audiences so much.

Tens of thousands of bands make a living, or supplement their income, by playing weddings and functions. It has been hard for them. Every weekend that I play in my own city, I see it absolutely buzzing with live audiences. We know that people come from all over the country to hear music in Glasgow. Yesterday, I spoke with Del Cotton, who is the owner of Hireaband. He said that, in some ways, it would have been easier for the functions sector just to have been told to put off events until next April, rather than having a drip, drip of changes to restrictions, but of course it is easier to say that with hindsight.

Joan McAlpine, in an excellent speech, talked about her daughter. My heart goes out to the young musicians, including those who are trying to learn a musical instrument but have been deprived of opportunities to learn, because music does not seem to be a great priority in schools. Given that our nation is characterised so much by its love for music, I hope that the debate will highlight that aspect as a necessary part of our recovery.

The wedding and function band sector puts millions of pounds into the pockets of musicians. That includes traditional musicians, who have suffered huge pain over the past nine months. As Claire Baker said, among those who are feeling the impact are not just musicians but roadies, lighting engineers, sound engineers, public address system companies and promoters. Our music sector is currently on its knees. The vast majority of musicians mix self-employed and employed work, and they are therefore among those who have been most badly hit by the pandemic.

Musicians’ earnings tend to be extremely low in relation to the level of skill that they possess. They are highly skilled, but not highly paid. We know that, during the current crisis, more than a third of UK musicians have thought about leaving the sector, and 41 per cent have not received any Government support. I ask the cabinet secretary to say in summing up why that is the case; I find it totally unacceptable in a country that is supposed to value its musicians.

At some point, there should be an audit of the types of funding that have been made available. While some have done very well in that regard, others have not done well at all, despite having the same needs. There is a wide variation in terms of the grants that have been received. The grass-roots music venues stabilisation fund, which was announced in July, was scheduled to help meet the costs for small venues until the end of October. Given today’s announcement, I would like the Government to consider extending the fund to March 2021 in order to help keep small venues afloat.

As Claire Baker said, Geoff Ellis has been working hard behind the scenes to put forward some constructive suggestions for how we might get the live music scene running again in the UK, under the banner of Live Nation. That might involve, for example, testing audiences before events. Realistically, things will probably not be able to get to back to normal completely until a vaccine is distributed. However, we must plan for the stages that follow the roll-out of a vaccine .Scotland needs to get back to major events by next summer, with a corresponding increase in tourism and hospitality. That will be a major economic boost to our own towns and cities. In Glasgow, there are plans to look ahead to an exit strategy for next year under the banner of “Back to Live”. Those plans are based on reducing capacity, and those in the industry are simply looking for Government to be open minded about them.

Music is part of the character of our nation. As we manage our way out of this tragic pandemic, we need a properly worked out recovery plan for live music and the associated industries. I do not believe that we are anywhere near that now, but I hope that this debate will spark questions, as we go forward, about how we can make that recovery possible.


I remind members that I am a member of the Musicians Union and previously worked in music.

I sincerely thank Claire Baker for securing the debate so that we could have it this side of Christmas. I also thank colleagues on the cross-party group on music for their work in preparing the motion. In particular, I thank the secretariat and David Francis, who co-ordinated the drafting to ensure that the motion captured as many views as possible.

When I was working full time in music and out on the road 120 days and 130 nights a year, I never thought that I would have the privilege of being a member of the Scottish Parliament. When I became a candidate and was then elected, I promised myself that I would make time to be a voice for musicians.

I have been speaking to musician colleagues and friends and I really feel for them, so I decided to use my time in the debate not to share my views, but to enable musicians—many of whom I know but some of whom I do not know—to speak for themselves. I put out a call for views on social media yesterday and I said that I would try to share as many views as possible in the chamber.

These are the words of musicians in Scotland, right now:

“My music career is basically on hold until the vaccine has been distributed ... luckily I picked up a delivery driver job after seeing a notice in a window, which basically saved me as it allowed me to be able to pay for my monthly bills.”

“Scotland relies on tourism and destination weddings to create jobs and wealth. How will that be affected if there are no hotels, no entertainers and no tech crew?”

“The lockdown on music affects musicians, DJs, events staff, not only financially but also mentally—not only the people who work at these events, but the people who attend and live for their friends and family get-togethers. They have nothing to look forward to as there is no end game here.”

“In terms of providing a challenging and rewarding environment where bands can hone their skills and go on to achieve wonderful results and no small amount of international recognition, Scotland punches far above its weight. The visible side, the most obviously successful side of this, is rightly lauded, but the grass-roots side that always allowed these acts to grow into what they became is always taken for granted and now it’s suffering and in very real danger of being permanently diminished”.

“We personally—and our whole industry—are at crisis point. This year has been a nightmare. The vast majority of musicians’ income these days comes from live touring, since streaming fees are nominal and online merch sales are not enough to live on.”

“The majority of our friends in the industry are facing significant financial trouble: many are facing bankruptcy; many have families to support. The impact of having our industry ripped out from underneath us is impacting our mental health too—so many people who work in live music are extremely depressed. Everyone is scared for the future.”

“My freelance friends and colleagues, on whom all the Scottish orchestras depend, are in a terrible situation and I am very aware of the widening gap in circumstances between them having little or no income—a situation that will not improve any time soon.”

“I haven’t gigged since March. I was lucky I had three years of accounts, so the SEIS payments have helped me a bit.”

“It’s a serious kick in the teeth to every musician that has spent their teenage years learning and perfecting their instrument and providing night-on-night entertainment to the citizens of our society, keeping them upbeat, laughing, giving people something to look forward to, a place to go for the evening.”

“I have lost nearly £121,000 in fees and am now firing through my own savings that are running really low due to it, and I feel annoyed as that money was for my kids’ future and to go towards their further education.”

“The total inability of the opportunity to make music is driving young freelance professional artists into really challenging positions for mental health and their future in the profession.”

I have read out about 500 words of the more than 5,000 that I received in the space of 12 hours—and more are coming in. I will look for opportunities to share those views in future debates and through other media. I am grateful to members for listening and I hope that all members will reflect on what they heard. I know that the cabinet secretary is deeply committed to the music sector and I encourage the Scottish Government and UK Government to strain every sinew and to look at every possibility to ensure that they provide maximum support to all musicians in Scotland.


I thank Claire Baker for bringing the debate to the chamber, and Tom Arthur for his support. I have very much enjoyed my time in the cross-party group on music. The debate is important because it highlights the significant impact that Covid-19 has had on musicians and the music industry.

I also thank my daughter, a professional traditional musician who, as a young person embarking on a career in music, has shared her thoughts and experiences with me. Young people face particular challenges when embarking on a career in music, perhaps fresh out of college, when there are no current opportunities.

Music is a universal language spoken by everyone. It is the means by which we all experience the world, through the songs of childhood, the music we play and listen to and the hymns that we sing. For musicians, music is all that and more.

The months of the pandemic have highlighted the importance of music in our lives. Stuck at home during lockdown, many of us turned to the arts to sustain ourselves. We listened to music that was created by professional musicians. We watched films whose soundtracks were created by professional musicians.

During these past few months, however, musicians have faced massive challenges, most particularly through the lack of financial support. According to the Musicians Union, one third of professional musicians did not qualify for any government support, 34 per cent are considering abandoning the industry completely because of financial hardship, while 47 per cent have already been forced to seek work outside the industry.

Most musicians have a portfolio career. One musician will often be a performer, composer, teacher, community music practitioner, music therapist, recording engineer, and session musician, as well as many other things. Without live work, many musicians have been able to support themselves financially by turning to another aspect of their portfolio career, but many others have lost every single aspect of their career.

For musicians, music is work. It is their day job. It is their livelihood, contrary to what some politicians might say. It is their identity; it is who they are and it supports their wellbeing. We must realise that, without more financial support for musicians, we are facing a crisis in the music industry that might reduce it by a third or more. The effects of that will be felt not just by musicians themselves, but by us all.

Every aspect of the music industry needs support. If one falls, the rest follow. For example, without venues, there are no jobs for sound and light technicians. Without technicians, there are no jobs for performing musicians. Without musicians, there are no jobs for recording engineers. And so it goes on.

In particular, live streaming needs to be fixed. The pandemic has brought the serious flaws of the music industry into sharp relief. It has shown that musicians are sustained primarily by income generated by the live side of the music business and that streaming royalties are hugely insufficient. I welcome the inquiry into the economics of streaming launched by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee in the House of Commons.

I thank all those who are supporting the music industry at the moment. I thank everyone who has been campaigning for better support for musicians. I thank, for example, Bandcamp for supporting musicians by holding Bandcamp Fridays every month whereby all money spent that day on purchasing musicians’ albums goes directly to the musician.

I thank the musicians who have helped us through lockdown with their live stream concerts. I thank the music teachers who have speedily made themselves technically adept in delivering online music tuition.

As we come to the end of a difficult year, and as we face more difficult months to come, many of us are holding on to certain things to sustain ourselves: family, friends, our communities, exercise, and the arts and music most particularly. Without more support for musicians, we risk losing much of the rich musical culture of Scotland—yet another loss in a year already characterised by far too much loss.


I thank Claire Baker for bringing to the chamber today’s debate, which is on an important issue that, until now, has perhaps not had the attention that it deserves. At the outset, I declare an interest, of a kind, as I am a currently not very active tenor in Back Gaelic choir.

Scotland has a distinctive and diverse musical scene. Not altogether surprisingly, I believe that nowhere is that truer than in my constituency, the Western Isles. Whether it is traditional music, pipes, or singing for worship, music and song are part of the fabric of life in the islands, and those traditions spill over into the band scene, too.

As others have said, Covid-19 and the restrictions that have accompanied it have had a huge impact on music and the music industry. Festivals have ceased, venues are struggling, and musicians are quitting the industry. Music production and events companies are seeing demand for business staples, such as wedding films, public address system hire, studio recording and live performance, dry up and, crucially, dry up all at the same time.

In terms of large events, the Royal National Mòd—the highlight of any Gael’s year—had to move to online only. The Hebridean Celtic festival in my constituency, the Eilean Dorcha festival in Uist, as well as the fèisean movement, which was founded in Barra, have also had to move to online-only events. Not only is that a huge cultural loss, as others have pointed out, it is also an economic loss. For example, the HebCelt festival draws in around 18,000 people to the islands every year, with a net boost to the local economy of more than £2 million.

It is also worth focusing on how the pandemic has affected music in schools. We are all aware of the benefits to young people of taking part in music in terms of creativity and other skills. Although schools have returned, there is a ban on singing, piping and playing wind and brass instruments. The ban is in place for an understandable reason, but it is worth acknowledging that it is having a real impact on young musicians, as well as their teachers, who can no longer teach face to face in schools.

Teachers are witnessing promising senior pupils give up playing altogether. I have heard that attributed, in part, to the video submission method that tutors are being encouraged to use—for understandable reasons—which can be complicated, and is perhaps not appealing to anyone other than the most dedicated pupils. I do not pretend that there is not a reason for those restrictions but, given that Covid will be with us for some time, perhaps we need to think about new ways of bringing those musical activities back into the classroom where it is possible to do so, and start planning for that. We must avoid losing a generation of musicians.

Making money as a musician was tough before the pandemic, but Covid has made it virtually impossible for all but the biggest names. For bands, not being able to tour or do live performances is having dire finance consequences, which need to be recognised. Those consequences are most acute for smaller bands, whose income relies much more on live events and merchandise than on streaming, for all the reasons that Joan McAlpine, Andy Wightman and other members have made clear. For all bands and artists, exposure and getting their name out there is a huge function of playing live.

I cannot end without giving a name check to Peat & Diesel, the local phenomenon from the Isle of Lewis. I hope that, if another Peat & Diesel were to come along right now, it would get the platform to make it. To ensure that it does, we must start planning now for what Scotland does when live music makes its widely longed-for and happy return.


I thank Claire Baker for securing the debate. I declare an interest as chair of the Labour trade union group, as we work with the Musicians Union.

The arts and cultural sector is one of our greatest assets. For some people, that means galleries, the ballet or an orchestra; for others, it is karaoke, a tea dance or a jamming session. Whatever it is—whatever floats your boat—we all agree that there is great pleasure and enjoyment, and a sense of wellbeing, to be derived from watching and listening to talented people sing, dance, play music and perform.

In many communities, those events take place in the local pub, community hall, social club, community arts or music venue, rather than places such as the Hydro, the Festival theatre or the Glasgow concert hall. Those small venues are the life-blood of the Scottish grass-roots music scene. In my region, we have many of those venues. That is evident during the Edinburgh festival but also at other times of the year. They include Dreadnought Rock and Smiths in Bathgate, Sneaky Pete’s, miners’ welfare clubs, music clubs and bars, bowling clubs, Royal British Legion clubs and all those other places where live music and entertainment takes place. They are struggling to survive. They are confused by the inconsistency of the way in which grants are awarded and funds have been rolled out in different areas, with different criteria and local authorities taking different approaches. They are confused by the mixed messages and different approaches being taken by Government at all levels from one month to the next.

During the summer I was in the Hootananny in Inverness. Many people will have been in there. It is usually jumping at the peak of the summer tourist season, but there was just a handful of people and no live music—indeed, no music whatsoever. The fact that the place was empty was not surprising given that the reason for its existence is to provide music and be a music venue. Why would people go if that was not there?

That all has a massive impact—an emotional one as well as a financial one—on the performers, owners and people who work there. No bookings means no punters, no punters means no performers, no performances means no income and no income means bills unpaid, empty fridges and creative minds in turmoil.

Does Neil Findlay agree that it is odd, given Scotland’s love for music, that we seem to be the only country that has banned background music throughout the pandemic? We are still waiting for the conclusions of the expert group, but I understand that it is the people on the expert group who have called for the reversal of the ban. Does Neil Findlay agree that that seems odd and that we should call on the Government to report on that as soon as possible?

If actions are being taken that are having such an impact on people, they have to be based on sound evidence and science. That is what people are querying.

The issues that people have raised are not just confined to the owners of venues. This affects DJs, roadies—this week I have spoken to two sound engineers I know well who have barely earned a penny since the start of the crisis—managers, agents, bar staff, door staff and venue owners. The list goes on and on. Some are community organisations and some are independent businesses.

I have spoken to several performers and they are in a desperate situation. Work dried up completely, almost from day 1 of the crisis. People have referred to the numbers of people seeking to leave the industry or looking to do anything else just to get some money through the door. There is a real fear about what will happen when furlough ends.

Today, we heard that West Lothian will move up to level 4. That decision appears not to be based on science or evidence—it is a political decision and the evidence does not back it up. The people who run those venues will be scratching their heads and saying, “How come that decision has been made?” When we look at the evidence that was presented for making that decision, it simply does not stack up. I say that having had a cursory glance at the evidence that has been presented. If I am wrong, I will take that back.

It could be a disaster for grass-roots music and arts, which develop organically and are often promoted and supported by local venues, and it could result in areas becoming cultural deserts, where the talents of young and old alike become further collateral damage in the Covid crisis.


I thank Claire Baker, Tom Arthur and the cross-party group on music for this important motion on what is happening in the industry. The cross-party support that it has received certainly reflects the mood outwith this building in the music industry.

I represent one of the most vibrant cities in Scotland. Glasgow has an incredible music scene and was officially recognised as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization—UNESCO—city of music in 2008. At the time, Scotland was one of only three countries that had had that honour—I was very proud of that. The city is now part of a 47-strong network of cities of music and until the pandemic showcased more than 130 live performances in any given week—more than any other Scottish city, I think.

I do not need to tell members or anyone outside the Parliament that our music scene is world renowned and caters for all tastes—everything from contemporary to classical, country and of course Celtic. Celtic Connections is internationally acclaimed and has grown and thrived over the years, but this year was like no other, as the event had to adapt to the circumstances of the pandemic.

Pauline McNeill mentioned Geoff Ellis of DF Concerts; I thank Geoff for his paper on the art of the possible, which makes interesting reading. I think that the Scottish Government has received a copy.

The “Scottish Music Industry Coronavirus Crisis Impact Business Feedback Report” lays bare the devastating effect of the virus on the industry, saying:

“Music venues have been devastated. Grassroots venues—large and small, for gigs and clubs—are very close to collapse. Some have been able to access bits of support but many have not qualified for various support schemes or have been denied funding, including furlough, due to technicalities. Even those who have been successful accessing some funding are depleting whatever case reserves they had and are very close to going out of business. The situation for music venues is dire. Many will soon—if they have not had to already—lay off all their staff, stop paying suppliers and will not be able to pay their overheads. If music venues go out of business then their salaried staff become unemployed, contractors have less work, suppliers lose valuable clients and the GVA contribution to the local economy is significantly diminished.”

It is a very worrying time. Grass-roots music venues such as the Hug and Pint, the Garage and King Tut’s, to name just a few, have been the springboard for so many up-and-coming musicians. I have sat in King Tut’s on many a Sunday afternoon when my nieces’ band was playing. We would see 20 to 30 young people come through that venue on a Sunday afternoon, playing for the joy of it and learning from one another. It provides a great platform from which up-and-coming musicians can showcase their talent and creativity.

Many venues applied to the grass-roots music venues stabilisation fund—that is quite a mouthful—and some were successful. However, venues are pretty worried and tell me that, if the fund is not renewed or replaced by something else, the industry will not survive. Perhaps the cabinet secretary will talk about that when she sums up the debate.

As members said, not just performers but many other parts of the industry are feeling the impacts of the pandemic. I am thinking about promoters, light engineers, sound engineers and roadies, but that is by no means a comprehensive list; it is just a snapshot of the jobs behind the scenes that ensure that our live music scene thrives. I wish that we could do something as soon as possible to save venues and ensure the survival of the music industry, not just in my constituency in Glasgow but throughout Scotland.


I thank Claire Baker for bringing this important debate to the Parliament and I thank Tom Arthur for his continued work in the CPG on music.

I was interested to hear Sandra White talk about King Tut’s. For people from the west coast of Scotland, King Tut’s is a major venue. Part of the mythology around Oasis is that the band was discovered there—I think that it was Alan McGee who saw them live there and signed them that very night; the band’s history started there, which shows how important such venues are.

I wanted to speak in the debate for exactly the same reason that I wanted to do so in the recent debate brought by the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee: I love music, and it is an extremely important part of my life. Unlike Tom Arthur and Pauline McNeill, I am not a musician; I just batter away at my guitar in the house. It annoys my wife, but it makes me happy.

Part of the appeal of music is how it makes us feel. During the pandemic, musicians have shown us how important their work is to our mood, how we feel and how we relate to the world. As I have said previously, as a west of Scotland male I often do not express my feelings through words, but I can sing three verses of a standard song. Why would someone possibly say, “I love you” when they could sing three verses of an American classic instead?

Music is so important, and the mythology of musicians is part of its appeal. Robert Johnson, the master blues guitarist, died young and did not make much money during his time as a musician. He spent his life playing juke joints and street corners, with little commercial success. Some musicians are currently struggling even harder to make a living because of the world and the times that we live in. There was not much documentation of Robert Johnson’s life apart from his recordings of 29 songs. However, it has become the stuff of legends, the main one being that he supposedly sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads so that he could become a master blues guitarist. Presiding Officer, for a number of years I have been hanging about Paisley Cross with my guitar, but I am still pretty garbage at playing it. I am still looking for the devil so that I can sell him my soul and so become a master.

The mythology and ideas that run through music become an important part of everyone’s cultural background. I know about Robert Johnson only because, as a teenager and in my 20s, I hung about with a lot of friends who were in bands, playing guitars and blues music. They taught me about a man who was instrumental in what would become popular music, including blues, rock and rock ’n’ roll. That man died penniless in 1938, but there I was—many years later, in Paisley—knowing about him because of what my friends told me. That is how much music means to people.

The two major music venues in Paisley are the Old Swan inn and the Bungalow bar. I would like to highlight the Bungalow, which recently received £21,000 as part of the £2.2 million Scottish Government grass-roots music venues stabilisation fund. However, as Paisley moves into level 4 we will need to look at what support will be available for such venues in future.

The Bungalow, which is run by a community trust, is an important part of our town’s history, although it is now in a more modern building than previously. As I said in a recent debate, in the 1970s Paisley embraced Glasgow bands and punk music in order to make a bit of money, partly because the operators of the Bungalow bar saw that as a way forward. What do the Skids, the Associates, Orange Juice, Roddy Frame, Buzzcocks, Echo and the Bunnymen, and Aztec Camera have in common? The answer is that they all played the Bungalow bar in Paisley. I am sure that they mention that every time that they talk to anyone, because that will have been one of their major achievements.

A venue such as the Bungalow, which has been hugely important to Paisley’s community, is a major part of its culture. As Neil Findlay said, Scotland’s music is not all about opera and the major chamber orchestras. Things as basic as pub bands and pub music are important to those of us who go out to hear them. We must consider how we will deal with them in future to ensure that we still have such venues when we come out the other side of the pandemic. Otherwise, pub music will become just another musical myth or legend.


I thank all members who have spoken in the debate and who have shared their passion and pride in music and musicians. I thank Claire Baker for securing the debate, and Tom Arthur for his support and for giving voice to musicians.

Scotland has a well-deserved reputation for the strength of its music industry. From traditional music to the most modern makers such as Nova, the winner of this year’s Scottish album of the year, Scotland’s music is recognised throughout the world. It is a way for us to show who we are as individuals and as a country, and for us to reflect on our place in the world.

Listening to music can be a private experience or a communal one, and few things bring people together like the shared experience of live music. We are all aware of the devastating impact that the pandemic has had on the music industry, and particularly on live music. The restrictions have undoubtedly saved lives, but they have been hard to bear for fans who cannot see their favourite artist live and for people who have been unable to meet their friends to make music together.

It has been even harder for those who work in the industry. One effect of the pandemic has been to remind us of the vast ecosystem that supports the music industry. Musicians and performers might be the most recognisable people in the industry, but they rely on a host of professionals, such as sound engineers, lighting engineers, road and stage crew, managers and promoters, as well as those who run and work in venues up and down the country, and many more besides.

Throughout the pandemic, the Scottish Government has sought to ensure that financial support has been available to people in the music industry. We have ensured that a wide range of music industry roles are eligible for Creative Scotland’s hardship fund for creative freelancers, which is currently open for applications. The budget for the fund was originally £5 million, but I have increased that to £8 million so that as many people as possible can receive support. We must do what we can to ensure that people can stay in the industry because, once we lose skills and experience, they will be difficult to replace.

Can the cabinet secretary give some guidance to people who are not accepted for those funds? Where can they look to secure some sort of financial assistance to survive?

There are many different routes to access assistance. Obviously, people who have received assistance from one set of funds might not be eligible for another set. Clearly, it is welcome that the United Kingdom self-employment income support scheme is back, and is at a better level than it was at previously. The hardship funds that exist are very wide, and I have not had complaints about people not receiving them. If people have had problems, that is likely to be because they have been in receipt of other funds through other routes.

We have provided £2.2 million for grass-roots music venues. I hear what members say about the importance of that fund. It is a recognition of those venues’ role in nurturing and showcasing artistic talent. The fund has provided support for 72 grass-roots music venues throughout Scotland. Music industry businesses have received support from the culture organisations and venues recovery fund and the performing arts venues relief fund, as well as through the original pivotal enterprise resilience fund and the creative, tourism and hospitality enterprises hardship fund. I have ensured that as many as possible of the support funds have been available for music venues. The support has reached individuals and businesses across Scotland in all parts of the music industry.

We have also supported youth music and music education through a £3 million youth arts funding package, which is delivered by Creative Scotland. Last week, youth arts organisations, including many youth music organisations, received £1 million from the targeted fund. Recipients included Drake Music Scotland, Fèis Rois, the National Youth Choir of Scotland and the Scottish Brass Band Association, which does so much good work all over Scotland, including in my constituency in West Lothian. The funding will support those organisations to expand their work, provide creative opportunities to young people and provide work and income for artists and musicians, and practitioners generally.

During the pandemic, the music industry has done whatever it can to maintain some level of activity and to stay in touch with audiences. The Scottish album of the year award took place at the start of November, and the Nordoff Robbins Scottish music awards and the Scots trad music awards will take place virtually. Many artists have streamed performances, which obviously have been stripped back, and others have continued to write and record new music, although we recognise the challenges that exist in that regard. We have been able to allow recording studios and practice rooms to open, in line with guidance that was published on 30 June.

We know about the resilience of the industry but, as we have heard from many speakers in the debate, there are also vulnerabilities. We know that the support that we have provided cannot replace income that has been lost through the closure of live music venues, but it is an effort to try to support people to survive through this very difficult period.

The funds that the cabinet secretary has announced are all very welcome but, as I said and as she will recognise, they have been oversubscribed. Will the Government look again at the money that has been provided for the strategic framework and consider whether greater flexibility can be built in so that more businesses that are connected to the music industry can apply? Although some businesses are able to open, that is just not viable because people are not using their services; at the moment, those businesses cannot access support.

Just over a week ago, we had the indication of additional funding. We will use the remaining funding that we have in the cultural funds to look at what needs topped up or supported. I have been attacked for not spending all the funding, but I deliberately kept some back because we knew that there would be oversubscription, which we need to address. We will, of course, look at the strategic framework funds that are available and identify what support is still required in a number of areas—not least, events, on which musicians depend. That is our view of what the funds will do.

One of the things that will help the industry most is consideration of what recovery might look like and how we can open up so that artists can perform. The strategic framework allows music venues to open in levels 0 and 1. We obviously have to be careful, particularly at this stage. We have produced guidance that restricts indoor venues to a maximum capacity of 100 people in a seated area. Some venues in level 1 areas are making plans to open; that will be of great interest, and we are keen to see how those concerts go.

We need to identify how we can provide a route back. That is why Scotland’s events recovery fund, which opened on 2 November and is administered by EventScotland, is looking at how we can restart the events sector as restrictions are eased. That addresses the point about initial events not being viable financially in terms of the revenue that is received, but support to allow such events to happen can help in identifying a route back so that communities and the public can regain confidence in hosting and attending events. Grants of up to £35,000 are available, so I ask members to help to publicise that fund, too.

Live music is represented on the independent events industry advisory group, which has been working on a longer-term plan for the return of live events, including live music. The group takes a very constructive approach.

There is much to do. A great deal of concern has been raised in the debate. The concerns are understood but, from the very beginning, when Creative Scotland produced the first freelancer hardship funds, Government’s job has been to take action, make an impact and help venues and musicians to survive. The pandemic has forced much of Scotland’s music to fall silent, but the voices in this Parliament have ensured that the needs of music have been heard. I appreciate the sacrifices that many of our musicians are making at this time.

Music is a central part of Scotland’s life. We have recognised that in the support that we have provided. I am determined to ensure that the voices of musicians and the music that they play will be heard throughout Scottish venues and that we will come through this with a vibrant music scene. As I said, I thank everybody for their passion and pride in our musicians. Some of us have to put the policies into practice, which is what I have been doing, as Scotland’s culture secretary.

Meeting closed at 18:18.