- 27 Apr 21
As part of our special feature on the impact of Covid-19 on the Irish music industry, Murt Whelan, founder of Murt Whelan Sound, shares his experiences, and looks to the future...
How has the impact of Covid-19 affected you and your business?
We have lost over 90% of our business as a result of Covid-19. Our company was pretty much shut down on March 12 2020.
What is the worst aspect of it all for you?
For the first six months or so, it was not knowing what was ahead, how long this would last, would we get through it, would everyone that works with us be ok?
Did you have to let staff go?
Yes, we let had to leave staff go and no longer had work for our regular freelancers, which number over 60. This would be warehouse staff, technicians, drivers etc.
People with high rent or with large borrowings have been worst hit. How have you been?
In 2018/2019, we purchased a lot of new equipment, so when this hit we were left with loans and leases for over €1.8 million of equipment with no work coming in. Thankfully, so far, our banks have worked with us, but I don’t think that will last for much longer. We were fortunate that our landlord gave us a rent break for the first six months, but since October we have being paying full rent . Unlike a lot of other industries, we have received NO government support to go towards our fixed costs. Companies like us all over the country cannot avail of the CRSS scheme, which is really annoying.
Some people have been finding it hard to survive. Is that something you’ve encountered?
I am very lucky in that I have someone that runs the company with me so I have been able to share ideas and come up with ways to make sure the company survives. Personally it has been tough but I have cut my outgoings to the bare minimum and am availing of the wage subsidy scheme. It doesn’t cover all my personal bills, but certainly puts food on the table.
Music is a people business – how has the loss of contact with staff, colleagues or with others in the business affected you?
We try to keep in contact with our staff and freelancers regularly. I also have a good relationship with a lot of the other companies, and so have kept in contact with a lot of them – as well as others in the industry who we work alongside and for.
Were you in a position to trying anything new or different?
No we took the decision to pause the company and not diversify – only time will tell if that was the correct decision.
Mental health has been a huge issue for a lot of people involved in music. How has your experience been in that regard?
I’m a positive person and consider myself mentally strong, so I’ve been pretty ok. I have had the occasional stressful day, but have dealt with it fairly well. I do worry about the self-employed freelancers I know. Some are finding it very tough which is a worry.
How important is it to you, to get back to work?
This industry is a huge part of who I am. I need to be on a festival site or in a venue with my colleagues and customers. I just want to work: it’s what I’ve always done.
Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future?
I’m very optimistic. I do believe that when we are allowed to work again, at a time that it’s safe, there will be an appetite to go to concerts, festivals, theatre etc. As an industry, we’ve shown how strong and viable we are for surviving this long with no work and no meaningful government support – so I do see good and hopefully busy times ahead.
• Murt Whelan is founder and head of Murt Whelan Sound, based in Limerick
'Music Industry in Ireland: Where To Next?' is a special feature in the current issue of Hot Press, running to over 20 pages, featuring music industry professionals as well as artists including Moya Brennan, Jess Kav, Luka Bloom, Fia Moon, Kneecap, Gavin Glass, Mick Flannery, King Kong Company, Mary Coughlan, Rosie Carney and many more.