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Coronavirus takes a heavy toll on small music labels

A banner that says all busking performances are banned due to the raised virus alert is seen in the Hongdae area in western Seoul on March 8. (Yonhap)
A banner that says all busking performances are banned due to the raised virus alert is seen in the Hongdae area in western Seoul on March 8. (Yonhap)

As the entertainment industry struggles through the novel coronavirus outbreak, the prolonged pandemic is taking an especially heavy toll on small music labels and independent musicians.

According to Record Label Industry Association of Korea on Thursday, the 44 member labels of the association have seen a loss of more than 3.5 billion won ($2.85 million) due to the cancellation or delay of events scheduled between Feb. 13 and April 11. A total of 61 gigs have been either rescheduled or called off during the period.

The losses were estimated presuming 80 percent of tickets would have sold if the concerts had proceeded as planned. This excludes other supplementary fees, such as expenses for renting venues and hiring engineers, which turn into dead money with cancelled gigs.

The association conducted a survey of other small labels and individual bands active in the Hongdae district of western Seoul -- home to urban music and independent artists -- and discovered another 82 gigs inside the area have been delayed or canceled between Feb. 1 and April 11, resulting in about 800 million won in losses to the companies and musicians.

The association further estimated around 200 concerts, big and small -- including those of popular Korean singers and K-pop idols -- have been canceled within the time, causing approximately 58.8 billion won in financial damage.

“The concert season usually begins in the spring, but most of the concerts within the next months have been called off. The tickets for the May and June concerts are supposed to start opening around now, but since we don’t know until when the coronavirus situation will continue, everything’s just been put on an indefinite hold,” Shin Jong-gil, secretary-general of the label association, told The Korea Herald.

“Most labels have given up hopes for the first half of this year. But even for the performances in the fall season or later, it’s difficult for the musicians to prepare since everything is uncertain,” Shin added.

As the smaller labels and bands operate on a low budget that keeps them going until they gain profit through concerts, holding an event itself poses a burden to them, and unforeseen cancellations may endanger operations of the organization itself.

“Most of the small labels have around or less than 10 staff, and some of them have gone into limited operations, either laying off a few staff members or sending them on unpaid leave, while the CEO goes around searching out measures to maintain the company through this doomed period,” Shin said.

Shin explained that the association conducted the survey to objectively show the extent to which the coronavirus has impacted the industry, ahead of requests for further financial relief from the government.

By Choi Ji-won (