UK Live Music Census 2017 – update

As we announced back in November, the Live Music Exchange team are currently working on an exciting new project, the UK Live Music Census, the first exercise of its kind anywhere in the world to attempt to measure live music activity across an entire country.

Yesterday the University of Edinburgh published a press release about the Census and it has been very exciting to see the interest both from the media (BBC Online, BBC Radio Scotland – 2 hours 41 minutes in), Music Week, and CMU to name but a few), and also from live music lovers on social media via Facebook and Twitter. Hundreds of people are signing up to volunteer and be kept up-to-date via a web form on the project’s website.

So why is the UK Live Music Census capturing people’s imaginations in this way?

As the BBC Radio Scotland piece highlights by speaking to live music fans at the University of Glasgow, live music is different to recorded music: live music is special, it is an experience, something people pay for rather than illegally downloading, and something they might remember for the rest of your life. And as Alex Mann from the Musicians’ Union (MU) explains, ‘Live performance is the one aspect of being a musician that you can’t replicate’.

The Census aims to capture qualitative data such as this, but to enrich it with quantitative data as well, something that the smaller end of the music industry spectrum in particular – the open mic gigs, folk sessions, and grassroots music venues – has previously been lacking. As Beverley Whitrick from the Music Venue Trust (MVT) explains in the same piece:-

“Data is really important to us because what we are doing is making a change from the sort of anecdotal evidence that we’ve used in the past and really trying to bolster our conversations with government, local authorities, and also with funding bodies, and with the music industry about the need for support for these venues.”

And, according to UK Music’s Tom Kiehl:-

“It’ll give us a greater understanding about what is going on in the cities and regions which are being covered by the Census, and I think it’ll be really important to have the findings so we can pinpoint areas where we can probably work with individual cities and councils, perhaps to develop music strategies and music city vision statements.”

As well as our partners, the MU, MVT and UK Music, we have also been in consultation with stakeholders like Attitude Is Everything, Julie’s Bicycle, Help Musicians UK, Making Music,  PRS for Music and the PRS for Music Foundation and are currently working on the wording of the final surveys, which will open on 9th March.

We want to understand why audience members value live music – why they go, what they spend, and how often they attend. For musicians, we want to know how often they perform, what they earn and what they spend, how far do they travel to perform, and which venues are important to them and why. And for venues and promoters, what do they earn and what they spend, what are the barriers and pathways to success, and how do they perceive the social and cultural value of what they do.

The Census will consist of:-

(1) snapshot censuses on Thursday 9 March 2017 of Birmingham, Brighton, Glasgow, Leeds, Newcastle, Oxford and Southampton;

(2) nationwide online surveys targeted at musicians, venues, promoters, and audiences which will remain open for three months from 9 March to 8 May 2017.

With this data, we hope to be able to understand better why live music continues to be a vital part of people’s lives, and so help to protect it in the future.

To sign up to be kept informed about the Census and to get directly involved, please go to

This post was originally published on the Live Music Exchange website –


From Glyndebourne to Glastonbury: The Impact of British Music Festivals – Emma Webster and George McKay

A new report, written by Emma Webster and George McKay and published online last week, highlights the impact of British music festivals and shows that festivals are now at the heart of the British music industry, forming an essential part of the worlds of rock, classical, folk and jazz. Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s (AHRC) Connected Communities programme, the report is based on a critical literature review of more than 170 books, papers and reports.

The sheer breadth of perspectives about festivals was surprising: from the economic impact of the Edinburgh Festivals to the experience of performers and audiences Gilbert and Sullivan Festival to the impact of a chamber music festival on a bat colony, the literature on festivals highlights the way that they have captured the imaginations of researchers across the world.

The following offers a brief summary of the report – to read the full report and the accompanying annotated bibliography, click here.

  • Economy and charity: Festivals are big business – they have significant direct and indirect economic impacts, although a lack of consensus about the methods for working out just how lucrative festivals are for the local area makes comparison between festivals difficult.
  • Politics and power: The frivolity of festivals sometimes masks deeper issues around race, religion, class, sexuality, and gender – line-ups are often white and male-dominated, for instance – although music festivals have been sites for social and political debate, and sometimes action – the links between CND and jazz festivals in the 1950s, for example, or the role of Glastonbury in raising funds and awareness about political issues.
  • Temporality and transformation: Music festivals allow for intense production and consumption of music over a relatively short period of time in a particular place, and are sites for the intensification of ideas and even behaviour. Motivation for attending music festivals is not purely about the music; other factors may be social – renewing old ties, for example, or (less so) making new ones.
  • Creativity: music and musicians: Performance at particular festivals can enhance musicians’ status and increase the chances of further festival bookings – festivals can act as showcases and platforms for exporting musicians abroad. Festivals can also be sites for musical experimentation and hybridity.
  • Place-making and tourism: Festivals have become ubiquitous within tourism and place marketing campaigns and are vehicles for celebrating, constructing and maintaining national or cultural identity – the flag waving at the Last Night of the Proms constructing a particular notion of Britain, for instance. Music festivals often contribute to a positive image of a locale, both internally to its residents and externally to visitors, and hence attract people to live in the place and tourists to visit.
  • Mediation and discourse: Multiplatform mediation on television, radio, press, and online pushes the festival concept into the national consciousness and exports ideas about and images of Britain and Britishness around the world, as well as being a useful means of audience development.
  • Health and well-being: Festivals are either associated with either well-being and wellness – healing fields and the psychological benefits of being outdoors – or with negative health issues such as over-consumption or injuries; festivals can also put pressure on local health services.
  • Environmental: local and global: Festivals have local and global environmental impacts – locally via a temporary increase in population and in the production of waste, and globally via the increased carbon footprint of touring international artists.

We also examined how academic research has also impacted on festivals – from providing economic impact assessments to providing opportunities for public engagement, research collaboration and debate.

Finally, we made a number of recommendations for further research, because even though there has been an increasing amount of academic interest around festivals and impact from a variety of disciplines, there are still many gaps within the current literature. Perhaps surprisingly, there appears to be more work on the impact of festivals within the folk and pop literature (rock, jazz, ‘world’, etc.) than from the classical/opera literature, the latter of which has traditionally been concerned with musical works and composers rather than concerts and performances. Also, there is a relative lack of literature about the impact of festivals on musicians, both in terms of the impact on how they tour but also the creative and economic impact of festivals.

We hope that the report will be useful to other people studying festivals but also to the festival community and to policy-makers as a means of showing the impact of British music festivals, economically, socially and culturally at local and international levels.

This blog post was first published on the Impact of Festivals project website here.

Bye bye nightclubs in the Big Stay-At-Home Society? – Emma Webster

The Times’ leader on Wednesday 16th March ‘Bye Bye Bada Bing’ (p. 27) looked at the new retail price index’s ‘basket of goods’ (used to measure inflation) which this year saw nightclub admission removed as a measure of how we spend our money (‘due to collection difficulties and reduced expenditure as the number of nightclubs is declining’, ONS 2016). The article outlines some of the reasons for the seeming decline of the nightclub – cheap alcohol, home entertainment, student debt – but then offers its own ideas about the industry’s decline in a curiously crowing manner:-

‘For many people nightclubs were an unreliable and expensive way of meeting boyfriends or girlfriends. Deafened, fleeced, leered at and leering, young adults have braved the prices, the DJs and queuing in the cold hours for taxis home in order to socialise’.

There are many things to say about this and later quotes – the seeming horror at the inefficiency of the process, a latent hatred of nightclubs (perhaps stemming from unfortunate personal experience?), an implicit fear of gathering crowds, and the delight in the pursuit of individual rather than group pleasure. It is worth at this point remembering that the word ‘nightclub’ covers a wide variety of types of venue, from the local high street club with sticky carpets, to the epoch-shaping clubs of 1989’s second summer of love like the Hacienda, to superclubs like Ministry of Sound and Cream, the latter of which are multi-million pound, multi-platform concerns, both in terms of CD exports but also in bringing in ‘music tourists’ to the country. Although not all nightclubs are superclubs, the economic argument for clubs is compelling: even the Daily Mail recognises that the Ministry of Sound employs 200 people and brings 300,000 people through its doors every year, half of whom are tourists. Clubs may also double as music venues, or vice versa, and even the Science Museum now hosts silent discos. The night time economy, of which nightclubs form a significant part, is said to be worth £66 billion a year to the UK, and employs 1.3 million people – can we really afford to be so happy at its decline? The social argument is just as compelling as the economic one. Remember that while clubbers may go to clubs to meet members of the opposite or same sex, that is not their only purpose: they are also vital sites of escapism, safety valves for young people, and for what Durkheim would have described as ‘collective effervescence’ (1912/2001). The Times begs to differ, however:-

‘Now, thanks to the revolution in social media, they no longer need to [go to nightclubs]. If you like a certain type of music and want to meet like-minded people, then Spotify, the music streaming service, and music festival are far better bets than a late night at Paradise or the Bada Bing’.

Spotify is a Swedish company with offices in London. The majority of British nightclubs are owned by British interests, therefore recommending that we all ditch nightclubs in favour of Spotify seems an odd choice for a paper which purports to support British business. In addition, Spotify is a controversial service which is not universally loved by the artists whose music it sells. Last December, a collective of artists sued Spotify for at least $150m for allegedly knowingly and willingly reproducing and distributing their music without permission. It is also worth checking out this piece on how much Spotify (and other streaming sites) pay for 1 million plays – answer: not as much as you think. The point about festivals is also telling – while festivals may indeed be a good place to meet like-minded people, they are necessarily cyclical and often only happen once a year, unlike a club where people may go every week (and maybe actually get to meet people more than once!). I should also raise the obvious point here that it is far easier to sell someone stuff they don’t need online than in the inherently chaotic live music space

The final paragraph is the most telling:-

‘Otherwise dating sites such as Tinder, which these days carry none of the social stigma once associated with “lonely hearts” dating, offer an instant and unembarassing way to discover potential body and soul mates. It is very hard to see such choice as representing anything other than progress’.

Far from the progression suggested by the author (who, presumably hates all nightclubs), instead I see a move away from social spaces such as nightclubs as a complete regression. I admit to some bias, however; my first job after university was working as a flyerer for a club night in Sheffield, and some of my fondest memories are of lost weekends with friends, old and new, dancing for hours to acid techno and hard trance – it was liberating, social, and most of all, fun. Live music venues, nightclubs and pubs are all under threat in this country – great British businesses which make our towns and cities attractive, vibrant places to live and work. As Isabelle Szmigin says, ‘social media and apps … will never replace the excitement of a night out drinking and dancing with friends’, and a move away from socialisation (in all senses of the word) does not represent progress.

The glee at the demise of a social institution such as the nightclub and the push towards online marketing tools – sorry, dating and music apps – are just further examples of neoliberal individualisation; perfect illustrations of what could be described as ‘the efforts of the financial elite and their marketing machines to atomize people so they will be complicit in the destruction of the commons’ (Girou, cited in Chomsky 2015, p. 12). It was John Major’s government which brought in the 1994 Criminal Justice Act which effectively criminalised raves – perhaps the Tories and the right wing press just don’t like dancing? Or perhaps a country where nobody ever goes out is their end goal – after all, we’re all in it together (watching Bake Off) in the Big Stay-At-Home Society.

Chomsky, Noam. 2015. Because We Say So. San Francisco: City Lights Books

Durkheim, Émile. 2001. The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. Oxford: Oxford World’s Classics/University Press

I would like to thank Jan Webster for his always fabulous editing and insightful comments.

Top 5 Tips for Engaging with Government as a Researcher – Emma Webster

Emma Webster with Prof George McKay and David Jones, director of EFG London Jazz Festival, after All-Party Parliamentary Group Jazz Appreciation Group launch in November 2015

I was lucky enough to attend the three-day AHRC course, ‘Engaging with Government’, at the Institute for Government in London in March 2016. It was a superbly run course, with all aspects of the training obviously well planned and delivered, and some really inspiring guest speakers and course facilitators (Jill Rutter and Katie Thorpe). It was also a real privilege to spend three days with some very smart, passionate early career researchers, whose research interests ranged from genocide to secret intelligence to housing and architecture to live music.

The main messages of the course were that civil servants, Parliamentarians and ‘thinktanks’ are often open to academic research BUT they are always very busy and appreciate being told solutions as well as identifying problems, so to ensure that our research is presented as simply as possible.

We learned many top tips, but these next five are what I will personally be working on over the next few months – I hope that they’re useful to your own research.

  1. Get in contact with those people in government who are directly involved with your field of interest

These include:-

House of Commons and House of Lords libraries – these libraries prepare research briefings for ministers and Peers and their staff. Find out the author’s name(s) of any briefings relevant to your research and contact them to let them know about your research. A searchable list of briefings can be found here.

Select Committees – both the House of Lords and the House of Commons have Select Committees, which deal with specific aspects of government or specific issues. Work out which ones are relevant to your work, then follow them on Twitter and sign up for press alerts; also try to establish a relationship with Committee staff (e.g. ‘specialists’ and researchers). For links to lists of committees and committee members, click here.

All-Party Parliamentary Groups – informal cross-party groups for interested MPs and Lords, ranging from education to jazz to beer. For a register of groups and contacts, click here.

Civil Service directors of research – each of the government departments should have a director of research (or chief analyst or director of learning) – ring the relevant department to find out who this is and make yourself known to them.

  1. Triple-write all your publications

In order for your work to be as useful as possible to the widest number of people, consider preparing three versions of it: a journal article, a briefing sheet for ministers and civil servants, and a press release. These will all need to be written to suit each target audience – you can hold off sending out the briefing sheet and press release until your journal article has been published in order not to cause any problems with the publisher and to maximise impact .

Journal article: aimed at academics, so use of jargon is fine. Paywalls are restrictive and off-putting so ensure that your work is open access where possible.

Briefing sheet: aim for three pages, maximum six, use bullet points, ensure the main thesis is encapsulated in the first paragraph. Keep it simple and avoid jargon.

Press release: aimed at journalists so help them to find the ‘hook’ around which they can write their story.

For more about ‘triple writing’ and engaging with policy-makers more broadly, read this article.

  1. Ensure that your message is clear and engaging

Civil servants can often be more nuanced than ministers, who need definite solutions to problems rather than caveats and academic phraseology such as “on the one hand this, on the other hand that”. To help policy-makers and decision-makers quickly engage with how your research will be helpful to them, use phrases like: ‘This is the field and my latest research shows that ….’ and ‘This is why my research is useful to you …’ Tell stories and use drama and emotion to engage people’s interest – make people care.

  1. Build your online profile

Having a good online profile is crucial (and is the reason I started this blog!). One thing which became very apparent was how much Google is used as a research tool by civil servants and Parliamentary researchers (who often do not get past the first page of Google results), so make sure you appear on the first page of Google and that what comes up in the results is engaging. To climb Google’s page rankings, be sure to use keywords and link back to your blog as much as possible from other websites – cross-posting is one way of doing this. WordPress is easy to use and works well with Google – you can either have a personal blog ( or one which is about your field (Live Music Exchange) – aim to update it every week if possible. Twitter is also highly recommended as a means of building contacts, keeping on top of latest research and government business, and getting your own research out there – combining your research postings with more personal stuff is not easy but aim to emulate other academics who you think use Twitter effectively.

  1. Keep up with the latest issues in Parliament

The sooner you can engage with policy-makers and decision-makers, the better, so keep an eye out for future ‘windows of opportunity’ for which your research may be relevant and useful. To ensure that you are up-to-date with issues within your field of interest, read the Queen’s speech at the start of each session as it sets out the government’s policies and proposed legislative programme for the new parliamentary session – for the Queen’s speech 2015, click here. The other place to keep an eye on Parliamentary business to track current bills, keep up with committees, and follow topical issues.

Finally, keep an eye out for the next ‘Engaging with Government’ course – it was a truly excellent three days and comes highly recommended!