The Edge Of Unemployment

Brought to you by DJ Trev

I opened up this document and it’s actually an article I started to write when we were but two months into lockdown. Woh, remember those heady days of Lockdown? Thousands had panic bought toilet roll, and whilst everyone was scared, broadly speaking we were trying to give the government the benefit of the doubt, because this was new territory for all of us. In the original piece, I waxed lyrical about mental health, and maintaining a sense of structure to my life. It’s all well and good – worthy stuff, peddling a message of optimism and a broader prayer for community…the problem is – I never finished it. Like – I suspect – many projects of the freelancer – I started it with the best of intentions then, for want of a better term, life got in the way.

I’ve been, in many ways, incredibly lucky with my job; a relatively casual approach has often been enough to get me through. Don’t get me wrong, I have had to work hard – but equally I have always been able to have a few projects on the boil and as long as ONE of them paid off, I had a roof over my head. Then Lockdown happened. I mean REALLY happened. Not that first two months where we thought it would maybe last for another month, and it was – whilst scary – a bit like building a fort in the garden. Then the spirit of “it’ll be OK” changed to “it’s going to be OK, right?”; before souring to “this isn’t going to be OK, is it?”. The current mood, a few months further down the line, involves a lot more swearing, and not much optimism that it is, indeed, going to be OK at all.

Obviously, there were many people who didn’t have the luxury of the early period, where things weren’t too bad.
Living in Harrogate, made things a lot better for me than they will have been for people in cities, but I don’t doubt that there are people in Harrogate too, for whom the first few weeks were terrible. But I have to be honest, when I say that initially, it wasn’t too bad. One of the factors was that my partner was pregnant. It would have been a borderline terrifying period no matter what, so really I had plenty to occupy my mind. As you do, we made adjustments and accommodations, prepared ourselves as much as possible, and waited to see what happened.

When The Government announced the first wave of payments for self employed people, they actually seemed to have got it right. There were plenty of things about their policies I didn’t agree with, but I pay my taxes, and the first payment of 80% of my wages was something I could work with. The fact the payment wouldn’t arrive for months was fortunately something I could absorb; I imagine that will have made things very difficult for a lot of people. But I can only comment on how it was for me.
The next announcement dropped things to 70%. OK, things would be a little tighter, but no worries – after all everyone was going to have to feel the pinch. We’d cope.

Around that time my life changed completely. If, until then, I’d often start creative projects and not have time to finish them, the big change would be that I wouldn’t actually have the time to start them. Or even the mental capacity to think of them in the first place.
My partner gave birth to twins. We knew we were having twins, but all the ante-natal care I imagine we’d usually expect was on Covid-hold. I’m not really sure any kind of preparation could have braced us for the changes twins would bring.

For the first month, we got through it, operating on what felt like ten hours sleep per week, but was if we are honest… about nine hours sleep per week. For people who don’t have kids, this isn’t hyperbole, it’s actually what happened. We have a great support network, and the hard work and planning we put in paid off – as until last week – I’ve been able to not really worry about the financial side of things too much. That’s not been the case for everyone, I can’t imagine how bad what what about to come has been for other people

The government had, as far as I was concerned, thus far looked after us. I might not think their other responses were right, but it would have been churlish of me to complain about the financial package I’d got. I had other things on my mind anyway.

Then the Chancellor announced their plans for winter.

Give I’d been on 80% for the first three months, then 70%, I was braced for 50%. I wouldn’t even have been surprised at 40%. We were told I’d be given 20%.

You know when in the olden days on the telly-text football scores, if a team had taken a real kicking, they would spell out how bad it was, so you didn’t misread it? Self Employed people will be getting T.W.E.N.T.Y. P.E.R.C.E.N.T. of their income over Winter this year. Clearly this is meant to be a one-size-fits-all response.

People who have had their trading ability reduced, will get a prop up payment of 20% to help see them through. I’m not sure that will be good enough for them, but at least – albeit with higher costs and a slower turn around – they will still be allowed to work.
Meanwhile, DJs, singers, comedians, actors, Audio Visual experts (there’s whole load of us mugs, who have worked as hard as any other self employed person, but are currently not allowed to work) are getting told we will have to live off 20% of our usual income. I’m not going to list everyone this will hammer, but if you’ve ever enjoyed a music event of any kind, everyone who was working it is suddenly having to rethink everything.

Let’s be realistic here: for people in entertainment, this isn’t prop up payment to get us through a rough patch. Rishi Sunak is saying “get a proper job”. We’ve heard that forever, as it goes. When I told my careers advisor I wanted to be a DJ, he laughed. Many – I’m sure well meaning – friends and relatives have – in a jokey “but seriously Trev how long do you think this will fly” nature – made it quite clear that Djing isn’t a real job. If I hadn’t been doing this successfully for 25 years, I’d could be convinced that I’d just bobbed to Woolies and bought “”Now That’s What I Call Music17” and two Fisher Price Record Players and found people just threw money at me. Frankly, getting told to raise two newborn twins off 20% of my income, feels like I’ve been told: “wake up, your job is a joke – the massive industry that employs thousands and pays huge amounts of tax that you’re part of is not even worth trying to save”.

And won’t that be just the same for anyone in entertainments? OK, you may think DJing is just pressing play and you could “do that, easy mate”. But what about acting? Not all actors are on Tom Cruises money, not all ballet dancers are Rudolph Nureyev that one famous ballet dancer you can think of. And without the actors and ballet dancers, the theatres are gone. Venues aren’t allowed to open, so across the entire sector jobs are haemorrhaging quicker than people dashing to the toilets after a three hour second act.

People who entertain for a living haven’t taken the easy route. Doing jobs where you HAVE to be better than the competition, constantly, isn’t that easy. Acting isn’t just saying lines someone else has written. Writing those lines isn’t just googling another word for thesaurus. Being a professional musician isn’t just knowing the doing your lines back stage before dying on a tour bus. Being a DJ isn’t just pressing play. Running festivals isn’t just “build it and they will come”.

Every single sector of events, the arts, theatre and entertainments has just been hamstrung. Please understand that I know my place. I DO play other peoples records, I’m not a musical prodigy. I don’t class myself as an artist with an epoch defining sound. I am, however, part of a bigger picture; one that gives this country colour, culture and convivial times. If that is allowed to fall by the wayside, if every entertainer – from the classical pianist who plays concertos but makes up their wages by performing background music in a restaurant, to the comedian who writes, crafts, refines and rewrites jokes that hey maybe you don’t particularly like, to the singer in the pub who might be the next Bob Dylan, to the dj who plays rubbish requests for a living but dreams of greater things – is overnight put in a financial situation that is simply untenable, it will be a Grey Britain indeed that emerges from all of this.

There will, of course be people reading this who think I’m a rubbish dj, and this is all well overdue anyway. Every person who performs for a living have their detractors. But the fact that they are able to perform and earn a living tells you they are good enough. Our careers haven’t failed because we aren’t good enough. They are being allowed to die, because the government doesn’t seem to value us at all.

Right now would be the ideal place for me to give you a “call to action”. But what can you do about this, right? Everyone is facing their own challenges. You don’t have to fund us single-handedly: if you have a favourite band, instead of buying your next t-shirt from Amazon, buy one from their website. If you like a Dj, share their output on social media. If you like someone’s writing, tell them. If you like the London Philharmonic Orchestra, buy an album by The London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Even small acts could be the difference between an artist just giving up, and an artist keeping going, continuing to entertain you. Speak up about this. Become a “friend of the festival”, share someone’s podcast. Beyond that… I wish I knew what else you could do. I wish I knew what I’m going to do. I guess the question is, are you prepared to just let all entertainments die? I hope not. I know if nothing else, I’m going to make a racket about it.

If lockdown didn’t suck for me at first, I was very lucky. I continue being lucky in that I have two amazing kids that I’m getting to raise. But I want to bring them up in a country that still have a vibrant culture, and not one where only the essentials survive.

Hey -it’s not all desperately bleak. There are some events taking place within the current restrictions. If you can support them, please do. Please be patient with everyone who is experimenting and trying to work out a way to continue.
More of all, just get through this. Stay well, and – I’ve never meant a thing more – I hope I see you at an event soon.

Dj Trev xxx