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Opinion

Paul McNamee: Lockdown proved the life-affirming value of music

The people who can write and perform great music are remarkable. The should be properly rewarded in trying times

What are you listening to at the moment? I’m not asking you to make me a tape. Though that’s not the worst idea. What are the sounds that are keeping you buoyant just now? There has to be something.

I know there are people out there who say they’re not really into music, but I don’t understand. I understand they say there are more important things. You and I are clearly not of that sort. We know the fundamental life-giving importance of music. During lockdown, people started to switch the news off and stick tunes on. Spotify reported a 1,400 per cent increase in working-from-home themed playlists. And these are wide-ranging. Dolly’s 9 To 5 has been a favourite. Ironically. There is more Bach, the Don, being sought, and more Beethoven. Lang Lang doing Für Elise has drawn listeners.

These last two will come as little surprise. Not so long ago a different streaming service, Deezer, reported a 270 per cent rise in subscribers to their classical music playlists. Half of these were millennials. This is good. This is very good. There are few things that can reach like classical music. And shake off the fusty elitist nonsense. The widescreen hope offered by Aaron Copland has been indispensable through lockdown. As have the strange abstractions of Messiaen. Who wouldn’t want to move things a little along and welcome some mid-period Miles Davis?! It was the theme to Raging Bull, sneaking up unbidden from the radio, that had me stock still and weeping in the kitchen. Lockdown has moved synapses and emotions around like untied chairs on the deck of a storm-smacked ship. It’ll take some time before they’re righted.

If musicians can’t make a living from being musicians they’ll have to go elsewhere and we’ll all suffer

We should insist on proper reward for this. The people who can write and perform great music, the sort that changes us or soothes us or gets us ready to just open the front door, are remarkable.

In recent weeks we’ve heard how so many performers and musicians are struggling hugely because of Covid-19. It has taken them away from live performance, which is the income bread and butter for so many. And while we call on the government in Westminster and in the devolved nations to help, the help should come from other places too.

Spotify and Deezer and other huge income-generating organisations should start paying more. Spotify announced at the start of the coronavirus crisis that they’d donate $10m to a hardship fund. And they have a tip jar so users can send a little cash directly to the performers. This does not feel nearly enough, in the short term or long term. If musicians can’t make a living from being musicians they’ll have to go elsewhere and we’ll all suffer. So, pay them more now. Pay the piper!

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In truth, it’ll mean we as users will have to pay some more too. But it’s a price worth paying. We’d be lost without it.

I’ll make you a tape. From properly paid-for sources! Trust me, I know just the thing for the mood you’re in…

Paul McNamee is editor of The Big Issue

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