Next Stage Artist Snapshot 2021

Year published: 2021

In spring 2021 our Next Stage initiative collected the thoughts and feelings of Deaf, disabled and neurodivergent artists about returning to venues and festival to play music. We heard from 31 people, including: solo artists, band members, singer songwriters, DJs and musicians with roles in multiple projects.

These are the messages they wanted to share with the live music industry ahead of it fully re-opening that summer:

Let’s do this

Nearly all artists wanted to get back to playing live, including Deaf, disabled and neurodivergent artists. Over half of the artists told us that after the extended break from gigs and festivals, they wanted to perform live more frequently than they were before March 2020. Although for a few artists the pandemic had reduced their desire to gig, with 6 artists from the 31 saying they didn’t want to return playing as many shows as they were before.

If you’re booking shows or running a venue, expect disabled artists and find the best ways for you to meet their access needs and put on a great gig with them.

“Don’t forget about artists with impairments. Making gigs accessible for performer benefits everyone not just the artist.”

Give things a go

After over a year of hitting pause on gigging and touring, disabled artists wanted to see the industry return with diverse line-ups, bold curation and open minds. If you’re booking line-ups at a grassroots venue or putting together a stage at a festival, seek out talent from all backgrounds. An artist with lived experience of an impairment or long-term health condition may do things differently but the results will be equally as transformative for audiences.

“Do not assume that someone who is autistic is therefore inherently a weak stage performer – the dynamic between social interaction in-person and when facing an audience is completely different.”

“Disabled people want to perform as much as anyone and our experiences as artists might actually diversify your bills and give your audience something new to listen to.”

Think about everyone

Although many of the artists were eager to play gigs again, 43% of the artists told us they were not feeling confident about getting back on stage. Some were unsure about the continued dangers of Covid-19, whilst others believed attitudes towards disabled people had regressed during the pandemic.

In order to feel confident when playing live, performers with access requirements shouldn’t face disabling barriers. We asked the artists to outline specific access needs that they are worried won’t be met when returning to venues and festivals. Here were the 5 most mentioned access needs:

  • Clearly communicated invitation to share access requirements, removing the fear of disclosure.
  • Fully functioning accessible toilet for artists.
  • Quiet space available before and after set.
  • Step free stage access.
  • Positive staff and crew attitudes.

“If we are a proud industry that strives to be the best, we must pull together, think of others and start advocating.”

Online is not a solution

When venues closed live streaming provided a platform for many artists to continue engaging with their fans and sharing their creative output. Despite the availability of this virtual option, venues and festivals remain vital to artist development and should aim to be accessible spaces for all performers to thrive in. The live stream from home is a great additional platform for an artist, but it should not replace the chance to get on a stage in front of people.

“Be flexible and listen to artists’ ideas more. Give things a go and let the artist be in charge more if you can’t understand their issues and how to deal with them. The end product is the important one.”