For the first time in 89 years, the solid oak doors of Abbey Road Studios have closed. The north London recording studio has been at the reverberating heart of British music since its grand opening. It was here, in that inaugural year of 1931, that the ageing Edward Elgar conducted Land of Hope and Glory, and it remained open during the Second World War – Glenn Miller made his final recordings there in 1944. The Beatles made it famous in the 1960s. Kate Bush, Sting, Blur, Radiohead, Amy Winehouse, Adele and Ed Sheeran have all recorded there. But today the studio website informs all comers that: “In line with the strict measures introduced by the UK Government to limit the spread of Covid-19, the Studios are now closed for at least three weeks, with just our security team remaining in place.” And with Abbey Road’s technical wizards all in lockdown, even the studio’s online mixing and mastering services are no longer available.
Abbey Road’s closure is emblematic of the near-total halt in activity across the music industry. Geoff Taylor, chief executive of the BPI (British Phonographic Industry), says that, before the pandemic, the nation’s music industry remained the world’s most successful exporter of music after the US and had been “reporting a strong performance in 2019, with revenues rising 7.3 per cent, the fourth successive year of growth”.
But this spring’s growth has been nipped in the bud. “The most profound effects of the virus on the music industry have been cessation of all live performances and gigs, recording sessions and video shoots,” says Taylor. “This puts at immediate risk the livelihoods of thousands of musicians and other self-employed workers in music and across the creative industries more widely. We are very concerned about the impact on artists, venues and freelancers right across the music business. According to UK Music, which represents the whole music industry including the live sector, around 72 per cent of those who are work in the music industry are self-employed.”