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Small Businesses in the Cultural Industry Affected by Corona

24.07.2020

Opinion and Plea by Veteran CEO Wolfgang Rott (CMM GmbH)

Nearly four months of Corona-caused restrictions, including physical distancing, home office, closed restaurants, clubs, arenas and stadiums, are behind us and several things we dearly missed are slowly coming back into our lives. Team CMM is finally working in the familiar office again, our stomachs are not rumbling amidst a deserted business district anymore and many of our partners are likewise crawling out of the pandemic state of shock. The central question that is keeping all of us in the music business awake at night is: When will there be shows and festivals again?
Our event organizers, musicians and technicians were the first to get hit by the immediate and tough consequences. But the mere duration of this exceptional state, combined with the high level of uncertainty that prohibits any kind of planning, has already caused an existential threat, which is spreading across the entire creative industry. Releases get postponed without having a tour as backup to fund campaigns, therefore there is lower demand in PR and marketing.

Germany’s music industry itself is counting more than 127,000 employees in a sensitive network of strongly co-dependent, interlocked segments. At the same time it’s also just another deeply integrated part of a bigger structure, which is the creative industry with about 1,2 Million employees rendering 3% of Germany’s GDP and therefore more than its financial and energy sectors. Yet while there is a large number of groups that represent and step in for people working in the music industry, we are still miles away from mobilizing the power and influence of e.g. the coal- or automotive lobbies towards our day-to-day politics. This is where I hope for a stronger and publicly vocal bonding of the creative industries and the institutions within. In the music industry, we could notice several clear signals throughout the progress of the current crisis, in form of press releases, collective political demands or activities “on the streets” that began to raise attention. This is what my team and I are taking heart from and find hope in recently. From day to day we watch our artists suffer from growing existential fear – remarkably silent in most cases, since in some industries complaining is less rewarding than in others. The legend of the silently suffering artist is being lived by many.
The added value of cultural businesses is only slowly becoming recognized in politics. No surprise, since most musicians, organizers, labels, managers and countless helpers used to steer through crises without any help of state subsidies – up to working underpaid or volunteering for the sheer passion they have for all things culture.
Even though Canada or Sweden prove that supporting talents and venues specific to the rock and pop genre is worthwhile for the economy of a nation, there is not much political will in Germany for cushioning the blow that the ad-hoc cancellation of about 80,000 live events means to the live sector of our music industries – a segment of the labour market that is harbouring thousands of independent workers who have no place in the governmental rescue program.

The emergency relief of the (German) federal government for example provides self-employees with some grants for business expenses such as rent for workspace, costs for energy, work material or insurances. While this might be helpful for someone like a resident craftsman, it might not be for a performing artist who has to pay his rent, has already paid for instruments and depends on a steady income through live shows – that currently can’t take place until further notice, at least not the way they used to.

Only time will tell how well all this is being handled today. Will our club scene (already bleeding prior to Covid-19) survive and if so, to which degree? How many good people – musicians, technicians, managers and more – will be left putting blood, sweat and tears to work and how many will have moved on to other scopes of activities or even countries by the time we will have succeeded in fighting the pandemic?

Let’s think positive and fight until then. Crises have shown to mark the birth of new ideas and can push us to developing “out of the box” solutions. We at CMM will have our take on this by all means as we keep pushing intriguing releases while proceeding with our engagement in long-term event strategies.
If nothing else, welcoming new partners from outside our traditional core business has already broadened our activities and enriched them with exciting new synergies for a mutual benefit. Despite and with Corona: Access to growing European and global networks is gaining in importance by the day.

Our year started of with our dear partners 70000TONS OF METAL, including the frictionless pre-arrangements for our next turn. Even though the United States of America became a staggering question mark on the international map throughout the last months and many cruise ships stagnate in their ports nowadays, our transatlantic team remains operational, looking hopefully towards the future. Most important for now: safety first!

In addition, we kept supporting various interesting artists from around the world whose release plans took critical hits left and right due to their cancelled tourings and continuous interruption of the supply chains. So while we weren’t spared either – Thanks to fast reactions, tactical skills and elbow grease, we still had great releases: April has happened to become a forceful month for the Norwegian progressive-veterans CONCEPTION. Ireland's blues rock icon Eamonn McCormack has happily landed a hit with our labelservice SAOL and his album Storyteller and many bands from countries like USA, Canada, Italy or Germany have proved during these strange times: CMM and SAOL are the bond that holds an unsettled world together. Amazing awards have been won (STRIKER, JUNO awards CAN) and extremely professionally nurtured projects turned out to be acclaimed by fans and critics alike, e.g. RomuvoS (GER/IS/LIT) or Osyron (CAN) to name just a few.

New partners, who successfully agitate on the verge of our core business, do not only expand our own fields of activity, but also benefit from our exciting synergies and wide-ranged network which continues to gain relevance despite and with the current pandemic. Since April, which marked the peak of the German disease control measures, CMM GmbH works as PR-agency for EMP, Europe’s #1 e-commerce company in rock & entertainment merchandising. Our past coincidences with EMP within different CMM-campagnes have always been very fruitful and friendly, so entering a partnership in favor of EMP’s goals has just been a question of time.