As the virus has spread in the United States, the music industry has been uniquely affected. First and foremost, the need to eliminate mass gatherings to stem the spread of the virus has decimated the live-music industry with a slew of major tour and festival cancellations. But social distancing guidelines are preventing songwriters, artists, producers, engineers, and others from gathering for songwriting and recording sessions as well.
The coronavirus has also directly hit Universal Music Group at the highest level: Earlier this month, it was reported that CEO Lucian Grainge had been hospitalized after testing positive for COVID-19.
UMG, through its imprints, publishing house, and other wings — including its in-house charity, All Together Now — will now offer several forms of assistance to artists, songwriters, and independent labels, such as interest-free royalty advances. Additionally, label employees who are unable to work remotely (such as mailroom staff) or can’t fill out a 40-hour workweek will see no changes to their pay or benefits through the end of June.
For musicians unable to tour, UMG plans to provide them with the “tools and platforms” they need to reach fans during this time. Many artists have already turned to livestreaming as a way to connect with fans and make up some of the income they lost from concert cancellations, and UMG will help them easily share their work on every possible platform. The label’s Universal Music app will additionally offer enhanced data so that artists can best reach their fans.
UMG’s plans extend beyond its own stable of artists and songwriters, too, with a new program, All Together Now: Stay Connected. The initiative will provide direct financial support to the COVID-19 relief fund set up by the Recording Academy and its charitable foundation, MusiCares, which is aimed at helping both artists and behind-the-scenes personnel who’ve had tours and other events canceled. UMG will also be providing assistance to a similar organization, Help Musicians U.K., while it plans to match the contributions that its U.S. employees donate to qualifying outside charities, such as local food banks.
Finally, UMG plans to further throw its weight behind the artists already working to aid relief efforts. Some recent examples include Billie Eilish’s downloadable coloring book, with proceeds going to UNICEF, and Selena Gomez’s “Dance Again” merch line, with a portion of proceeds going to the MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund. “[W]hether it’s a special performance, a new song, a helpful message, or something else, UMG is backing numerous artist and songwriter initiatives to help those in need,” the label said.
Ted Kalo, executive director of the Artist Rights Alliance, which counts Rosanne Cash as a member of its board, said of UMG’s initiative: “This thoughtful, broad-based approach is a model for what is desperately needed. People who create music need reassurance that their income and health care aren’t lost. Providing major and sorely needed support to organizations bringing aid to everyone impacted by the virus is also critical. It is just one effort by a single company, but it is a very good start.”