National music strategy badly needed for the sector

In recent years, the arts have received some renewed focus from governments and the political system.

The launch in 2016 of Culture 2025 — Government’s framework policy for the cultural sector — was important in building on the work of the Arts Council and other stakeholders to establish a cohesive vision for the sector.

The announcement of Creative Ireland last year added momentum.

For the first time, the arts appeared to be moving from the policy-periphery to a position at the centre of government thinking.

However, appearances can be deceptive. While these policies are welcome commitments, what is less clear is how they will be implemented. And what is largely invisible unfortunately is where music fits in. How is policy taking account of Ireland’s music industry, a sector that is intrinsic to our national identity?

Music is a part of us — our collective psyche, our way of life. Beyond its social and reputational benefits, music is a vital economic driver — directly and indirectly — creating jobs, helping small businesses develop and boosting local economies through festivals and music events. Music creators and performers are entrepreneurs, running their own businesses.

IMRO commissioned Deloitte to author a report. The Socio-Economic Contribution of Music to the Irish Economy found the contribution of the music industry to the economy is €703m annually, and employment in the sector stands at over 13,000. This significant contribution comes against a backdrop of welcome but relatively limited state investment in music. Further expansion is possible.

Almost a year on from the launch of Creative Ireland, we have seen some policy improvements for the arts broadly, but there is little mention of music. More can and must be done.

The arts cannot be a catch-all term that covers all sectors when there are sectors that require specific supports. We have seen focused strategy work well with Irish film, and believe that Irish music requires the same level of political attention, particularly in the context of the significant economic contribution delivered by this sector.

In three years, we have seen an increase in employment of 14% and an increase in economic contribution of 48%. If we are to continue to maintain and develop the success of the music industry, now is the time for the development of a dedicated national music strategy.

We are aware that budgets are constrained, particularly in the arts. However, a national music strategy does not require a huge investment. Rather, it requires a change in thinking underpinned by a limited number of practical, implementable measures.

Firstly, we believe the establishment of a cross- government music forum, working with a cross-sectoral industry advisory panel, would be a powerful mechanism.

Ensuring a fair return for music creators remains a key concern. A concentration on copyright is required, particularly at a time when the music copyright landscape has changed utterly as a result of technology.

The industry is under threat from the extremely low level of return to writers and performers, from platform services such as YouTube and Facebook.

Although the volume of musical content consumed online is higher than ever, revenue generated is not fairly distributed to creators. The European Commission’s proposal in the draft directive on copyright seeks to address this issue. Support at an Irish level is crucial.

While music is often viewed as a recreational activity, for professional musicians, many of whom are self-employed, it is their livelihood. Creative-skills development through advanced training and education services will ensure musicians realise their potential, and that the ‘business of music’ is understood.

Finally, we must take action to address income uncertainty facing musicians. This is perhaps the single greatest barrier faced by entrepreneurs in the creative and cultural industries. Greater support for musicians in accessing finance should be prioritised.

n Victor Finn is chief executive of the Irish Music Rights Organisation


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