21st June 2021
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UK Study Says Speaking & Singing Volume Is Key To Performance Safety

UK Study Says Speaking & Singing Volume Is Key To Performance Safety
By Michelle Sciarrotta

Preliminary findings studying the impact of singing have been released, suggesting that volume is the key to safety in live performances. The research has been undertaken by several UK Universities and is supported by Public Health England and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

The study

The Perform project measured aerosols emitted by performers, who spoke and sang ‘Happy Birthday’ across different volumes and musical genres. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was the volume, and therefore the projection of the aerosols that were found to transmit up to 30 times more aerosol particles when participants were belting and shouting as opposed to singing softly or speaking.

What does this mean for reopening music and theatre?

The official guidance has included helpful and practical tips, such as ensuring areas are ventilated, a one-way system is followed, and that performers keep a minimum of one metre away from each other if not further. Other guidance such as encouraging performers not to ‘belt’ or perform too loudly by substituting speaking and singing volume for more amplification is somewhat absurd, as if penned by someone who knows “of” music and theatre.

Interviewing UK music venues on the general reaction to the latest news, the NME found the collective response mainly to be one of disappointment and confusion.

Marcus Harris, promoter at The Lexington, London said:

“Anything that moves things forward is positive: but where things currently are, I don’t feel like these guidelines are applicable to many grassroots music venues. It’s all well and good to see socially distanced arena shows, but it’s also important to remember that it isn’t sustainable for the whole industry. Huge artists who can play shows of that scale need to start somewhere, and they start at the level of The Lexington and [other London venues] Moth Club, The Victoria, Shacklewell Arms.

We’ve plotted different levels of distancing at The Lexington. With two metres in place, our capacity is 15 people in the gig room, and smaller audiences like that aren’t financially viable for us. A lot of it is very hard for us to implement. The guidance says that the sound engineer should be kept separate from the artist, but here a huge part of their job is working directly with the band to get the stage set-up. They’ll need to go on stage if something goes wrong. We also can’t really implement one-way-systems: there’s only one entrance up to our venue, up a flight of stairs. How do people go up and come down safely?

The general guidance talks about low volumes and discouraging chanting and singing along and I think that’s an unrealistic expectation for any kind of rock gig. Who polices it? It puts any venue in an extremely difficult position. We’d have to hire an extra member of security, and it’s not a practical way to run a business that already runs on really fine margins as it is. We’re not really going to be functional for a long time; not until there’s more relaxed social distancing in place. I think the Government needs to understand that. We’re prepared to wait until it’s safe, but our industry still has to be there in order to come back again.”

Small music venues receive emergency funding

Fortunately, there has been some good news with the Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden increasing the recovery fund for English music venues from £2.25m to £3.36m.

Mr Dowden, said:

“I encourage music fans to help too by supporting music and cultural events as they start to get going again. We need a collective effort to help the things we love through Covid.”

The funding will be given to 135 recipients at an average of £25,000 each which will help cover running costs and help venues recover.

Also by Michelle Sciarrotta:

UK Live Music Scene Has First Outdoor Gig & Plans To Reopen Venues

Alice Smart: Interview with a London based Costume Constructor

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