“Djs And Producers Face A Cost Of Living Crisis Like Never Before”
For DJs and producers, the impact is stark. The bulk of artists’ incomes, even in the highest echelons of the industry, are generated by touring. In dance music, the reliance on events and bookings is acute. “Making an income as a music producer feels like a myth for the type of stuff we do in 2023,” notes Me Me Me founder Man Power. Releasing music generates meagre financial returns for everyone but big record labels and superstars in the streaming era, and from a purely business perspective, it mainly holds value in building an artist’s profile to secure bookings. If nightlife events are struggling, then most DJs and producers are struggling.
Another issue is the rise of right-wing populism, which has been surging across Europe since 2015, and recently saw coups attempted in global superpowers like the US and Brazil. This side of the political spectrum tends not to value the creative industries, despite being worth billions in the UK alone, and consequently offers little protection and support in times of crisis. In the UK, the government responded to creatives’ struggles during the pandemic by telling them to get a different job.
The cost of living crisis is the latest stage in a storm of interconnected problems battering the music industry. As Tony Rigg terms it, “a continuing saga, rather than a challenge in isolation. There is an aggregate effect from the attrition.” In November 2022, charity Help Musicians published a study indicating that 98% of musicians are concerned about their earnings, with 50% “extremely” or “very” concerned they’ll be forced to give up in the wake of these consecutive crises. The unfortunate reality this reflects is that, currently, systemic issues both inside and outside the music industry mean the odds are stacked against anyone wanting to build and sustain a career as an artist.
Residing in major cities, among scenes that aid your artistic growth and popularity, is becoming increasingly unaffordable, while the economic disparity affecting more deprived and lesser spotlighted regions is getting worse. The steep rise in day-to-day living expenses is strained by having an unstable income, and soaring travel costs can be crushing given the reliance on gigging. This exacerbates an existing problem for musicians that touring can be particularly draining on physical and mental health and is in itself an increasingly challenging and unstable industry.
The threat to the underground is real, but the situation is not hopeless. There are funding and support options available that help artists both survive and thrive, there are institutions and people with the power and resources to enact positive progress, and there are ways people can help each other and influence systemic change by pulling together. The joy and the passion music generates is a powerful force — a ‘scene’ that unifies to work out common problems will be better placed to find solutions.
There’s no escaping the fact that the conditions for artist solidarity are tough right now. “DJing is more cut-throat now, because people know there’s limited resosources,” says Yewande Adeniran AKA Ifeoluwa, a DJ, writer and organiser. With more DJs taking gigs out of necessity, including opportunities they’d turn down in prosperous times, there’s more competition across the board. “There is definitely the odd thing where I’ve got to be a little bit like, you know what I probably should just take that. I may not want to do it but I should take it,” says London-based DJ and producer Parris. “It’s basically putting me in a situation where I’m like: do I need to burn through my savings? It would have to be a fairly questionable show where I just have to say no.” Taking bookings you’re unsure of can add another layer of stress to the job, in an industry where people live and die by reputation.
The increasing expense of travel is another exacerbating factor. The cost of flying has skyrocketed, reducing opportunities for cross-pollination and mutual inspiration. “You’re now missing that cross-cultural connection,” says Ifeoluwa. “I can collaborate with people online and it’s great, but there’s something almost special and magical about having that personal experience that we actually need. That fuels creativity in a different way.”