Help Musicians is being supported by Spotify through its COVID-19 Music Relief project. Spotify is making a donation to this and all organizations listed, and will match public donations made via the above linked page dollar-for-dollar up to a total Spotify contribution of $10 million.
While music has helped comfort and connect fans as they isolate in their homes, many musicians’ livelihoods have been put on hold indefinitely. "Take away someone's ability to pay their rent, and it doesn't matter how creative they feel or how strong their business skills are. They cannot drive their career forward if they're sleeping on a friend's sofa and not knowing how to pay for food," says James Ainscough, CEO of the 99-year-old UK charity Help Musicians.
As soon as studios and venues began to shutter across the globe, music professionals have had to seek out support in ways they never have before, and longstanding foundations like Help Musicians have proven to be more vital than ever. The donation-based organization quickly sprang into action to launch a £5 million Coronavirus Hardship Fund, which granted £500 to any professional musician suffering financial hardship. "Over recent decades, we've built up a fund in order to make sure that, in moments like this, we have significant resources available," says Ainscough. However, the response has been overwhelming, "A couple of days into the crisis here in the UK, we had the same number of calls to our crisis line in one day that we would normally expect to get over four months."
Within the first three weeks, Help Musicians made payments to nearly 16,700 musicians across the UK, many of whom received their check in mere days. "Grant received today, 24 hours after application submitted. The government could learn a thing or two from you guys," Tweeted British mezzo-soprano opera singer Thalie Knights. Other artists have used the fund to procure food and supplies, and guarantee another month's rent. Singer/songwriter Scully Ward is now able to pay his phone bill and car insurance. "I am mobile for another three months and able to keep trying to earn for myself," he says. "This is quite literally a lifeline."
Still, one grant won't be enough for most individuals, so Help Musicians has been working on setting up a second phase of funding (this will open in the next two weeks) to help support musicians over a longer time period. "We estimate that at least a quarter of musicians won't qualify for government help, so we're working out a way to support them over the next three to six months—until venues and recording studios reopen and the world gets back to normal," says Ainscough.
Supporting three sides of the triangle
Beyond working through financial constraints, Ainscough stresses the importance of mental health, one of the three sides of Help Musicians' triangular approach to supporting musicians. "Our principle is that musicians need three fundamental aspects to be strong in order for their career to thrive," he explains. This includes putting an emphasis on physical and mental health, funding and fostering creativity, and having the right business skills. "If one of those three sides of the triangle gets weak, then your career starts to falter. Our job is to provide support for musicians on any of those three sides of the triangle over time, depending on what they need," Ainscough adds.
Right now, mental health is one side that’s most vulnerable to falter, which is why Help Musicians' 24/7 Music Minds Matter helpline has become an important resource for anyone involved in the UK music industry. "You can ring that number and talk to someone who's trained in counseling and also understands how the music industry works and the specific pressures musicians are under," says Ainscough.
While Help Musicians has had to swiftly shift their focus in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, they're still committed to supporting musicians in all stages and aspects of their career—just as they've been doing since English composers Edward Elgar and Vaughan Williams founded the charity in 1921. Last year, the organization launched a new program called the Do It Differently Fund, which offers musicians help with all three sides of the triangle, including financial assistance, physical and mental health support, and access to a business mentor.
This year, they've had to reconfigure that program to accommodate the newest challenges facing musicians. Their first COVID-19 round of Do It Differently granted about 85 artists roughly £3,000 each, plus extra business, health, and creative support. Given the demand, they just launched a second round. Musicians can find more info to apply here.
What can musicians do right now?
Help Musicians has teamed up with a number of other UK music organizations to offer a wealth of resources to music industry professionals at www.coronamusicians.info. Here, you'll find links to various charities, ways to receive financial assistance and health support, and advice on creative development, working and performing online, and other helpful information.
Such resources can be invaluable, with the underlying goal for any kind of assistance being to help keep the flame of inspiration going for creative individuals. "There's a danger that, because musicians don't have the opportunity to perform to an audience, they’ll just stop making music or stop enjoying it," Ainscough says. He recommends making sure that music is still at the heart of your day. "Listen to stuff that you wouldn't normally listen to. It's a great moment to broaden your perspective or learn a new instrument or technique, to add something to your arsenal of creative weapons," he adds.
As Help Musicians heads toward its 100th year of existence, Ainscough is nothing but optimistic about the future of the music industry: "Right now, music is connecting people who would otherwise feel isolated. There is this enhanced love of music—people are no longer taking it for granted. It's no longer that thing in the background," he says. "We're going to be in a world where people love music even more than they did—or at least realize how much they've already loved music."
Who can apply?
Read Help Musicians application criteria here.