I am a parent in music and a board director of Parents and Carers in Performing Arts (PiPA), campaigning to improve the working conditions of parents across theatre, dance and music. This is my second article this past month regarding parenting and managing a music career…the first was published by the ISM here https://www.ism.org/advice/parenting-under-covid-19 .
(This blog was initially published in April 2020 on www.vbain.co.uk and has been updated with the launch of the new The F-List)
How have parents in the music industry been coping with sustaining their careers with their children at home? I spent a few days contacting parents across the industry, discussing the immediate aftermath and how they have been managing.
I heard back from people in all areas of music who exemplify the challenges; from the singer whose husband is a doctor on the coronavirus front line at a London hospital, to band members trying to keep creativity flowing with kids vying for attention, to industry workforce colleagues at labels and audio companies trying to juggle Zoom meetings with kids’ schedules.
Four big challenges stand out; firstly, and most obviously, there are the financial consequences of the lockdown, musicians have seen bookings cancelled, and diaries empty. Seventy-two percent of the music industry is self-employed (Source: Department of Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, 2018), leaving most to rely on the government’s Self-employment Income Support Scheme, or Universal Credit to survive.
Andrew Lansley, the double bassist in Thrill Collins, is the father of two children, aged 4 and 8. His wife is working from home. Andrew said: “Being a parent means I’m used to things getting destroyed without warning! But this did little to stop my jaw from dropping when it took just five days to lose over £25,000 worth of shows (and still climbing) once the coronavirus lockdown really took effect in the UK.”
“We need a conversation with major music platforms, like Spotify, about fair royalty rates.” says Emma Lee-Moss, a musician who performs as Emmy the Great and PiPA’s Music Ambassador. She is Mum of a 1-year-old, with her husband who is freelance, also at home. She explains: “It’s great that they are organising an emergency fund, but we need to be well-paid for our work in the first place.” She continues: “I’m trying to roll with the situation. I’m thinking about how I can diversify my work.”
Working in music for a living is a precarious life. Various music industry companies have offered lifelines since the crisis struck, including Spotify but also Help Musicians, PRS for Music and AIM with support for various sectors of the industry. All parents in this sector should be reaching out to these organisations for assistance. [i]
The next biggest issue appears to be ‘juggling’; finding the space and time to work whilst parenting full-time. According to research by PiPA (2019), parents in music are more likely to be freelancers. The flexibility of being freelance in normal times is a positive, but in these times of social distancing, the normal juggling of work/life balance has been turned on its head.
Irene Tiberi, based in Rome, is a label representative at Fondazione Musica and member of SheSaidSo parent’s board. She is Mum to a son age 3 and living with her partner who is a music producer: “Many of us don’t usually get to spend so much time with our children… and from that perspective, this seemed some sort of twisted opportunity…until it started to kick in: we’re talking about months.”
Music business lecturer, Tamara Schlesinger, who performs as Malka is Mum to two children, aged 3 and 7, her husband is also a freelance film editor.“I am trying to lecture online while finding some space to create and split parenting with my husband. It’s been exhausting and tough…. The balance feels impossible at the moment.”
The government confirmed that employed workers can be furloughed if they are unable to work due to caring responsibilities arising from coronavirus but this is not an option for freelancers who must try to keep their careers going, whilst educating and entertaining children. It’s a huge challenge.
And the impact is proving difficult for those having to work remotely, such as teaching. Jorge Sorsa, composer and professor of music in New York is a father of a 3-year-old and his wife is also working from home. Jorge explained: “It’s basically a juggling act. My workdays usually start at 4am and run till about 9:30am when I take over childcare until 4pm. In the interlude my wife works. She then takes our son from 4pm to 6pm. I’m sleeping 5-6 hours every night, I am exhausted.”
CEO of Moja-audio, an online audio engineering service based in France, Agathe Perego, and husband Nicolas have two daughters aged 4 and 5. Agathe explained how they are getting by: “Containment has a huge impact on our ability to work. We absolutely have to prioritise our tasks as much as possible, we focus on the essential (especially customer relationships) and we redouble our efficiency.”
Where parents normally have relied on a combination of assistance via nurseries, childminders and grandparents, there is now no childcare support network available.[ii] A lot of parents are having to wait until their children are asleep before they can focus and produce music or participate in activities like online meetings.
Heather Peace is an actor/musician and promoter of the HearHer Festival. She is also a Mum of three children, 2-year-old twins and a 5-year-old. Her wife is a teacher responsible for children of key workers both in school and at home. Heather said: “After seeing fellow musicians streaming gigs online, I’d been gearing up to doing one myself, until I realised having children in the house constantly made it nigh on impossible. I’m now working on an acoustic record after the children go to bed each night, working remotely with my guitarist.”
Though much restricted, most couples are simply trying to make the best of it. Andrew Watts is an international countertenor and professor of singing. He is also the Dad of two boys aged 6 and 8, and his husband is an NHS doctor working in a large London hospital. Andrew told me: “When we are both at home, I take time away from the boys to schedule online sessions with students. I have several ongoing projects and this time has given me space to really connect with those.”
It can be a challenge at the best of times to balance a career in music with the responsibility of bringing up children, but we now have a view of the familial life of our colleagues that we haven’t seen before, with children making surprise appearances and revealing the human side of life. Linda Coogan Byrne is a music PR consultant who during the lockdown is living with her sister and two nieces, aged 8 and 9: “We are all in the same boat and on calls and meetings online everyone one of my colleagues, clients and media friends all are used to the background noises now and unpredictability of kids running around.”
Alex Bean, Senior Marketing Manager at RCA / Sony, with an 18-month-old son and husband at home, furloughed. “Everyone who’s been in a group video call with me and who’s heard my son having an impeccably timed melt-down has been very polite about it… The upside being that, it’s been lovely seeing other people’ families in calls, especially when I’m just getting to know the team.”
The third issue is the psychological impact; the crisis can affect musicians’ ability to produce music. Jon McClure, lead musician in Reverend & The Makers, and wife Laura, also in the band, are parents to two children, ages 2 and 5. The couple have been very active on social media, streaming gigs, but Jon comments: “Personally I’m finding it incredibly difficult to be creative at the moment. As if the anxiety isn’t bad enough, there is just nowhere to go to escape. And even then, everything I write seems insignificant besides the magnitude of that which exists beyond the doorstep.”
That a career in music can take its toll mentally has become a big topic over the past few years. Listening to music has been proven to be beneficial to our mental health but ironically those who create it are especially vulnerable to depression and anxiety. In a recent survey by the ISM on the impact of Covid-19, 64% of respondents stated they were suffering from mental health issues as a result of the lockdown.
For parents on their own the situation is incredibly tough. As single parent Aruba Red, alt-Soul artist, whose son is 4 years old, points out: “I don’t think there are enough measures being put in place to help safeguard people’s mental health during this time. Parenting in isolation is a very problematic issue present in our society at the best of times, the response to covid-19 has magnified these issues ten-fold.”
We need to be thinking as an industry about increasing specialist support in the period after the lockdown finally eases, to help parents cope.[iii]
One technique that that has helped some, is focussing on the positives of being able to spend more time with their children. Agathe Perego adds, “The days follow one another and look alike but we try to take the good side of things and enjoy our precious family moments. This moment allows us to refocus on what really matters.”
And finally, what of the impact on children themselves? Parenting is demanding, but what is apparent from the parents I heard from was the quality time, and activities, they were now able to enjoy with their children. Double bassist Andrew Lansley added: “My favourite creative outlet with my children has been “The Beaks Academy for Home-schooled Children” which has been producing homemade films and music videos since lockdown. Beaks is one of our cats”.
Gill Dooley, music manager, consultant and mum of two children aged 6 and 9 is married to a music producer and songwriter. Gill said: “Both kids love music, so they’ll wile away some time on the guitar or on their pots and pans drum kit. They’re also sprucing up their Spotify for Kids profiles and playlists. And we even let them choose the breakfast time vinyl every once in a while! Queen being a new favourite!”
Composer Jorge Sorso said: “We have put our imaginations to work. Unstructured improvised days work best. We have done everything from build a theatre, trains, spaceships…we watch silent movies such as Voyage to the Moon. We have also experimented with analogue synthesisers, he can be creative and engaged. Taking advantage of this precious time together.”
Even when sharing homes with children who are adults adjusting still need to be made. Madeleine Mitchell, concert violinist, and a single parent of daughter, 21 explained: “I’m at home in London with my daughter who’s reading music at Oxford and will have to sit her finals in June online from our living room. She finds it quite hard to work at home, but we’re grateful to be well so far.”
The incredible resourcefulness and resilience of those working in music shines out from all of these parents. So many people in all areas of the music industry, all in different circumstances, everyone making the best of an exceptionally difficult situation. In unprecedented times, parents in music are finding creative ways to cope with the unfolding crisis.
Sources of assistance for parents in music…
[i] Coronamusicians.info was created following a discussion between Help Musicians, the Incorporated Society of Musicians, the Ivors Academy, the Musicians’ Union, the Music Managers Forum, the Music Producers Guild and UK Music as one easy-to-use place where musicians can find all the help, advice and signposting they need to support them through the coronavirus outbreak.
[ii] PiPA have made some of their Charter Programme resources available for free on their website including guidance on working from home with children.
[iii] Music Mind Matters: Help Musicians run a free, confidential, around the clock helpline for the entire music industry.
Music Support: A helpline for anyone in the music industry suffering from alcoholism, addiction, emotional or mental health issues.
ISM: ISM operate a 24-hour helpline for its members and can arrange free counselling.