It’s a Friday evening and I’m watching a live concert. It’s the middle of the pandemic - lockdown seems to be a state of being now - and, whilst there are aspects of live music I definitely long for, I realise there are advantages too. These live streams mean that I don’t have to choose between my health and the health of others, and a concert, for one. That was nine months ago. Now, live music is firmly back in person, and for many in the UK the world is “back to normal”.
Phew. Glad that’s sorted, then.
Except, what normal are we going back to if it excludes a huge portion of our population? The pandemic opened conversations around disability and access in the industry that we need to see continue, and it’s an issue that the live music industry hasn’t yet faced. This crisis opened our minds to a less busy world, a world where we aren’t constantly battering our environment, a world where productivity wasn’t the final goal. Those are things I hope we continue to discuss...but it also showed us the power of invention. Specifically, the power of invention in creating accessible content for disabled people.
For 15% of our population, things we were fighting for long before 2020 - home-working, cultural live streams, financial schemes, flexible working - went from grandiose impossibilities to everyday fixtures in our lives. Therefore, when everything went “back to normal”, we noticed the absence in live music. For clinically vulnerable people, much of the live music scene has gone back to being inaccessible as live-streamed performances are taken out of the equation. For many other disabled people, it was never accessible in the first place.
Many disabled musicians and fans of live music want to see these live streams remain, even as in-person gigs become more possible, and are suggesting a hybrid model that welcomes more people to live music. An example of this is Accessible All Areas. Curated by Australian musician Eliza Hull, it’s a live-streamed gig featuring artists such as Ruth Patterson and James Holt, and includes further accessible options such as closed captions, an Auslan interpreter, and video description. Events such as this allow those with disabilities and chronic health conditions to enjoy live music as well as opening the industry to those who can’t afford travel, childcare, or have more temporary issues that prevent in-person events. This event is one response to the conversation that live streams pushed us to have about accessibility.
Access in the live music industry goes beyond these live streams; this is just one way we can continue to put access at the forefront of the live music experience. For those venues that want to do more to their physical spaces to be accessible, it can be tough to know where to start. One common argument against implementing, for example, interpreters or ramps, is that accessibility is expensive. In a world where the arts are severely underfunded, this is a huge barrier. Another is that, for buildings with extensive heritage, accommodations such as lifts, and ramps are just not possible to create without ruining the heritage of the building. Unfortunately, as our society is not used to putting disability access as a priority, it will be easy to find a thousand excuses to not implement accessibility. For all these excuses, there are a thousand ways you can work towards making a more accessible climate with your live music venue, without ruining your work as a business. For example:
Providing clear photographs of the venue easily available
If there is no step-free access, explain the situation in detail e.g. ‘eight steep steps to access the gig’
Having clear information about accessible toilets, whether you have one and where the nearest one is if you don’t
Tell people whether they can access a seated view of the stage
Telling people whether there is step-free access to the performance space
Provide a contact email address, so that people can ask you questions.
As you can see, there are lots of small ways you can start to be more accessible just by communication. Just having a conversation around your lack of access is a step that many live music venues are scared to take, but it must be had. Being accessible is about finding out what you can do to be more inclusive with the resources you have, as opposed to focusing on what you can’t do right now.
Accessibility also has a wide scope - wider than perhaps we always consider. For example, a UK survey found 80 per cent of disabled fans encountered problems buying tickets online (source in link), whilst promoting and employing disabled musicians is another way to start conversations around accessibility. Dandy Doodlez, a chronically ill musician recently featured on BBC Introducing, recorded her entire album from her bed. Imagine what we could learn from talking about access to, and employing, these artists.
For live music venues, accessibility should be brought to the forefront. If accessibility was built into the foundations of a music venue - in as much capacity as it can be - we would find a better experience for all people. Doing what you can, and having the conversations around lack of access, is the way we should be looking forward. This is not just an issue limited to live music venues, but it is one that is pressing and should take precedence. If we continue to shut out Disabled people from our art simply for ease, what are we saying about our live music industry? That it is exclusionary, narrow-minded, and not for us all. Most live music venues will agree that the highlight of a concert is the sense of community - thousands of people screaming along to the same words by the same artist. Shouldn’t we all get to have that experience of community, in whatever way is safe and accessible for us?
The pandemic allowed us to open the door to the live music industry for disabled people a tiny fraction. Instead of taking two steps back now, we should be figuring out a way we can continue to open the live music industry to Disabled musicians, artists, and concertgoers. Accessibility is a work in progress, and we must continue to push for it in the live music industry, and we will be a more creative, inclusive, curious society for it.
Author: Chloe Johnson
Chloe is a freelance writer and deputy editor of Conscious Being Magazine, a platform created by and for Disabled women and non-binary folks https://www.flipsnack.com/consciousbeingmagazine/cb-magazine-issue-2-tjlgj3krzp.html
She loves everything to do with arts, culture, music, heritage and literature and is currently working on a novel.
Instagram - @lemoncaketales
Commission Mission 2 was created by Young Guns Network to Commission 4 new freelance writers to create articles to inspire, inform and entertain young people in the music industry on the topic of The Return to Live Music After Covid 19.
The commission was funded by the Youth Music Innovation Fund.