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.

Continue reading UK Live Music Census 2017 – update

The Ecology of Live Music: the evolution of an idea – Live Music Exchange editorial team

To mark the publication of our academic article on the live music ecology [open access, via link], the LMX team is publishing our original discussion notes.   These illustrate the origins of the ideas that inform the article but include points that weren’t further developed (and perhaps should have been). We thought it worth making public—particularly in relation to this topic—an aspect of the academic process that is usually hidden.  Here then are the position papers we wrote before developing the article.

Simon Frith

At some stage—I don’t remember when—we started using the term ‘ecology’ to describe the way we were approaching the analysis of live music. We now apply the term routinely and claim that our ecological approach is what makes our work valuable and distinct.   Is this claim justifiable? There are two immediate points to make here. The first is that ‘ecology’ is a buzz term (like ‘creativity’) – it’s obviously a good thing to be ecological, to talk about the ‘ecosphere’, ‘eco-systems’, etc. Presumably there’s more to our use of this term than vague self-congratulation. Second ‘the ecological approach’ already has a distinct meaning in musicology (or, rather, in music psychology). Eric Clarke has pioneered an “ecological approach” to understanding the perception of music, arguing (to quote the blurb for his book) “that the way we hear and understand music is not simply a function of our brain structure or of the musical ‘codes’ given to us by culture, but must be considered within the physical and social contexts of listening.”  Clarke’s argument is certainly relevant to the study of live music, but it is not the reason for our use of ecological language.

Ecology is the scientific study of the relationship between living organisms and their environment; it is a branch of the natural sciences. The only live music organisation to think in these terms is Julie’s Bicycle, which is precisely concerned with the effects of, say, festivals, on the environment in this sense—in terms of carbon emissions, environmental damage, etc. Our perspective is different: we are interested in the relationship between social organisms (groups of people, social institutions, etc) and their cultural environment (social spaces, ideologies, other institutions, etc), i.e. material conditions which are not just physical or biological. These relations have always the central topic of study for both sociologists and social geographers, so what’s the purpose of claiming to be ‘ecological’?

Bear in mind that we are not taking an ecological approach to music (or music institutions) in general. We are using the term to get at the particular conditions of live music making. There is both a positive and a negative impetus here.   The most obvious characteristic of live music is that it has to happen in a particular place, a particular acoustic and geographical setting. The social context for a live music event thus necessarily involves a physical as well as a cultural environment. The ecological approach here (which is probably not that much different from social geography) thus means understanding the relationship between different spaces and how they are mutually sustaining (whether across territories, as in the case of touring, or within urban environments, as in the case of planning ‘zones’). The space-specific nature of live music is thus a positive impetus to develop an ecological approach. (As it was for Clarke in the context of music psychology.)

The negative impetus that shaped our approach was the rejection of ways of thinking about live music that understand the promotional business in straight market terms or else assume that there are clear distinctions between different music worlds. We call our approach ecological because we want to draw attention to the importance of collaboration and mutual dependency between different businesses (even competitive businesses) and to blur the dividing lines usually drawn between different kinds of music-making and music-makers. To put this another way, we want to show that what seems like irrational behaviour in terms of market economics (putting on or playing at a concert which will not bring any financial returns; charging less for tickets than people are willing to pay; trusting a promoter …) can be seen as quite reasonable if understood in terms of its real-life environment (which has to be understood across time as well as space). Live music is interesting to study because it can only be understood by refusing to accept the usual distinctions of music sociology—between state and commercial interests, between amateur and professional players, between high and low music, between big and small promoters, and so forth.   We call this an ecological approach to emphasise that there is a single environment in which all these activities happen (an environment that these activities themselves shape).

Martin Cloonan

I also can’t recall at which point we first used the term ecology but I’m pretty certain that what we meant by it was some sort of holistic approach to understanding live music. So while our initial research focus was on promoters, we soon found that understanding them and their world meant understanding the key relationships in which they are involved – with artists and their agents/managers, with venues (even if they own them), with ticket agents (ditto), with other promoters (including both adversarial and cooperative relationships), with various regulatory authorities and so on and so forth. It meant asking what promoters need to do to continue to make a living or simply to keep promoting for the love of it.

Meanwhile, the fact that live music has to happen somewhere immediately brought to our attention a whole host of relationships involving regulations which simply don’t apply to recorded music. In the general run of things, if I put out a record it doesn’t have health and safety implications but if I put on a gig it does. Understanding live music ecologically means consideration of such things.

Simon betrays his Marxist heritage with his reference to the ‘material conditions’ of live music, but that is indeed what we are talking about. Simon is right that decisions about the promotion of live music often defy crude market logic in the sense that the profit is not always a prime consideration for promoters or even a consideration at all. But the laws of supply and demand hold some sway. A key moment in many promoters’ careers comes when after making money booking a lot of acts that they liked, they find that in order to carry on being they have to book acts that other people like. The logic of the market dictates that any promoter booking only acts that she personally likes is unlikely make a fortune. Much like record companies, promoters second guess public taste–and the best ones do so ecologically, That is, they look at the bigger picture. They are very aware of the wider world and their place in it. Survival is dependent on this.

Competition plays a key role here and it is worth reflecting that across the Western world at least, only two concert promotions companies really matter: AEG and Live Nation. At the top end of the food chain you may not have to deal with one of these companies, but life is much easier if you do. Interestingly they tend to think of themselves as events organisers and so music does not always have to be their focus. Thus DF Concerts (which is co-owned by Live Nation) can put on both Bruce Springsteen at Hampden Park and the Pope at Bellahouston Park. Logistically these events have much in common and to understand live music ecologically means knowing something about the wider entertainment and leisure industries. After all, pubs remain key sites of live music.

There is much to be said about the fact that a great deal of live music (I would suggest the majority) takes place in venues that were not purpose built for music. To think ecologically I would suggest reflecting on your local town/place of residence and consider the various venues, their histories, what music they put on, who owns them and how they survive. Perhaps, following Ruth Finnegan, we might think of live music pathways, for promoters, musicians and audiences. Or we might think about the huge amounts of public money that have been ploughed in to the Arenas which have transformed the concert circuit in the UK and ask where the money made in these places ends up.

For me, then, to think ecologically about live music must involve some consideration of who is controlling the means of production in a situation where for audiences the ‘product’ means so much more than such a term generally implies. To think ecologically is not the same as thinking economically, but to start with the economy might not be a bad way to begin thinking ecologically.

Matt Brennan

In 2011 IASPM Canada held a conference at McGill University on the theme of ‘Music and Environment’. The call for papers noted that ”in recent academic discourse we have observed a turn towards the ecology of sound, which can imply political advocacy of the preservation of an environment’s sonority”. Martin, Emma, and I did a panel session, and my paper was unsubtly titled ‘The ecology of live music in Britain’. What follows are some arguments from that paper with added hindsight.

The term ecology is creeping its way into the discourse of music sociology, and is loosely used to describe the study of the relationships between people, social groups, and their environment, and how such relationships can operate in a dynamic system – not unlike an ecosystem. Frith, Cloonan, and Williamson touched on this approach without explicitly mentioning the word ‘ecology’ when they argued, 2009, that one of the necessary ingredients for a healthy local musical culture is a diversity of musical spaces: “the variety of places to play, rehearse and see all kinds of music – rooms, venues, clubs, colleges, universities. Variety is the key term here, variety in terms of size, genre, time of opening, kind of audience, etc.’ (Frith et al 2009).

Emma and I then used this notion and the explicit term ‘live music ecology’ in a 2011 article expressing our concern at the increasing consolidated ownership of venues, agents, and promoters by Live Nation, AEG Live, and their subsidiaries, in which we also discussed the impact of the live music sector’s economic structure on the live music environment:

The growth of corporate concert promotion, Live-Nation style, is bound to have effects on the ecology of live music. If the live music sector is to be sustained, new talent must develop, and for this to happen venues are needed for new ‘amateur’ artists as well as for established professionals. Indeed, live music needs an environment in which the amateur and professional spheres overlap and interact. This is why ‘top-down’ organisations such as Live Nation are potentially problematic: if the balance between venues and ownership leans too far in one direction, then the whole ecology is endangered. On the other hand, the fact that live music is inevitably embedded in particular localities with their own unique set of contingencies makes it difficult for a corporate promoter ever to impose a completely standardised network of facilities. It will be interesting to see if the Live Nation model of promotion will continue to grow – it could [just as easily] collapse. (Brennan and Webster 2011, 17-18)

I therefore agree with Simon and Martin that an ecological approach to understanding live music is useful but I want to play devil’s advocate for a moment and interrogate the dangers of using ecology as an analogy. It’s tempting to map concerns about the consolidation of the live music industry onto common narratives of ecological crisis. Consider this familiar idea: creating a monoculture leaves an ecosystem more susceptible to being wiped out by a single disease. The mirror question is ‘if the current live duopoly of Live Nation and AEG Live runs into trouble, will it devastate the British live music ecosystem?’ Armchair science also tells us that different species are linked together in an interdependent chain: if bees become extinct, for instance, it’s not just bad for bees but has serious negative ramifications for the entire ecosystem. The mirror question is ‘if small venues are struggling while large arenas thrive, will the whole system eventually become unsustainable?’

A third ecological narrative is that the introduction of a foreign species into an ecosystem can sometimes wreak havoc on the environment (the negative impact of the North American grey squirrel on British woodlands and native species like the red squirrel is a much cited example). The mirror narrative is that promoters operating at a transnational level may muscle out smaller local promoters with local expertise that has been naturally developed over time.

The question is: do these analogies bear out in practice?  It is easy to leap from an understanding of the fragility of an ecosystem to an equivalent concern for the UK’s live music ecology. But this may be misleading! Our historical research shows us that at the end of the 1950s the music press ran many stories on the decline of the country’s network of variety theatres and dance halls, but we now know this predated one of the most exciting and vibrant periods in the history of British live music. We need to look at evidence without making assumptions and build our theories from the evidence not the other way round.

Emma Webster

The concept of ecology informed my doctoral work, and the term is used liberally within my thesis. My research examined three case study cities – Sheffield, Glasgow, and Bristol – comparing the promotion of live music within each city and exploring how infrastructural factors affect live music culture in each place. Ecology is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as the study of the relationships between people, social groups, and their environment, while an ecosystem is defined as “a biological system composed of all the organisms found in a particular physical environment, interacting with it and with each other [and/or] a complex system resembling this”.

I thought of each locality, then, as a live music ‘ecosystem’ which exists within a wider ecology. Adding to Simon Frith’s formulation of the necessary ingredients for a healthy musical city, I suggested that as well as the physical spaces in which to produce music, a local live music ‘ecosystem’ consists of the networks between people, social groups, and their environment (Webster 2011, 12). A local live music ecosystem thus exists within unique local physical, social, industrial and economic infrastructures, but also within wider regional, national and international frameworks, hence ecologically speaking, the local is inextricably intertwined with a wider ecology. As ex-venue owner Andy Inglis states, “a new venue opening close to an existing one might have no immediate effect in a certain town, for instance, but may have in another, or may take a week, a month, or a year to gradually have an impact, resulting in the existing one closing; it may be the sole factor, or it may be the straw the broke the camel’s back.” (Inglis 2013).

The ethos of the live music project was from the start to research “all kinds of musical event, from orchestral and chamber music concerts to stadium shows and rock festivals, from rap and reggae gigs to acoustic and jazz club nights.” As my research showed, while venues within a local ecosystem are affected by other venues within the local ecosystem and within a wider economic and cultural ecology, the various music worlds may also intertwine within a venue itself (albeit with perhaps little actual overlap at any given event).

My research also found that while venues may be associated with a particular genre, they are by no means tied to it. In one month in 2009, for example, The Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, hosted concerts by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Alison Moyet, Runrig, and the East Dunbartonshire Council, the latter featuring 350 school pupils from across East Dunbartonshire singing Christmas carols. In a similar vein, venues may be affiliated with one of the different types of promoters identified by Frith et al (2013) – ‘state’, ‘enthusiast’, and ‘commercial’ – but, again, they are not necessarily restricted to one type (although ‘enthusiast’ promoters are unlikely to promote in very large venues).

Looked at in this way, the discursively separate worlds of classical and pop, folk and jazz, are interlinked via the physical spaces in which they are performed, the audiences who enjoy a range of different genres, and the ‘amateur’ and ‘professional’ musicians who perform therein. The Live Music Exchange live music news Twitter feed has taken on this ethos and hence tweets stories about opera, musicals, folk, jazz, pop, rock, electronic dance music – the list goes on. In a similar vein, we publish stories about tiny venues in Bath as well as massive arenas in Nottingham. The Twitter feed includes stories and articles about broader cultural issues, such as music education, the regulation of live music and arts funding (or lack thereof).

That venues and promoters within a local ecosystem are diverse and may share some characteristics but vary widely in others, is part of the reason that each local live music ecosystem is unique. We advocate diversity among the live music ecology because without such variety, as Matt suggests and I have discussed elsewhere (Webster 2011, pp. 237-8), live music in the UK would perhaps be relatively homogenous. As one promoter warned, concerned at the increasing spread of O2 Academies around the UK: ‘It’s like going to, say, West Berlin, and going, “Oh, it’s a Woolworths … Oh, it’s a WH Smiths. Oh, I was expecting something different”’ (Hobson 2008). 

Adam Behr

I come to the use of the term ecology from a slightly different point of origin. Being, as it were, the Ron Wood of the broader live music project I joined the KE project that became LMX, after the conclusion of the initial research project. The term ‘ecology’ was by then a fait accompli so my understanding of it was informed by the outputs of the original project (notably Brennan and Webster: 2011, Frith et al IASPM Journal) and also the proceedings of the Business of Live Music Conference [March – April 2011]

This isn’t to say that I had no preconceptions about how live music operates in a given area. In the very broadest sense – and this allows for all the variants of ‘ecology’, ‘environment’, etc. – it is a system of some sort. It is also a set of relationships – between venues, promoters, artists, agents, local councils and so on, and one way to approach this is to compare the ecological model other ways of conceiving socio-musical systems. The obvious comparators here are Becker’s ‘art worlds’ (1980) and Bourdieu’s ‘fields’ (1993). Becker’s understanding of art as collective activity within a network is clearly relevant to the much touted aspect of ‘interdependence’ within an ecology’, but it’s not clear to me that all of the aspects of an ecological system work to create meaning in the same way as the participants of an ‘art world’.

Bourdieu’s emphasis on competition also has some resonance. A key difference, however, between Bourdieu’s account of cultural fields and our understanding of the live music systems is that not all aspects of the latter are agents. It’s hard to think, for example, of a venue as an agent – notwithstanding that the promoters, musicians, etc. using it are – and yet venues are clearly key nodes in the live music ecology. The point here is that an ecology of live music has a concern for physical space and materiality that ‘cultural field’ and ‘art world’ approaches lack. Further, not even all of the key people who impact and shape the live music ecology are necessarily musical agents (or members of a music world) as such. A local councillor, say, or planning official, don’t have the same relationship to the cultural field as, say, a music critic or awards judge, yet their actions can have crucial and long-lasting consequences ecologically.

All this is to emphasise the material conditions of local music making and to agree that it is impossible to ignore that these conditions are entwined in economic structures. In this way I agree with Martin’s suggestion that we can use economics as a way into thinking about ecology. This means viewing the economic relationships as the system that acts on – and is affected by- the live music ecology, in a manner analogous to, say, the weather and the physical ecology. Politics (local and national) might also be described in this way.

As an addendum, there’s also perhaps a more opportunistic element to all of this. As Simon suggests, ‘ecology’ has become a buzzword in discussions of live music. It’s not just academics using the term but also journalists and, more significantly, policy makers and consultants. Ecological metaphors seem to have become a useful way of explaining academic research into cultural systems to lay readers (part of our required ‘knowledge exchange’ work) and of justifying local and national music investment strategies, whether by state or corporate agencies, to their constituents. It helps that there are, as Matt notes, structural resemblances between the live music ecology and the physical ecology: interdependence, parasitic behaviour, symbiosis an so on.   From this perspective we could say that thinking of live music in terms of ‘ecology’ is also an effect of the material conditions of the people doing the thinking, whether LMX, Edinburgh City Council or UK Music. Such people are, of course, themselves part of the live music ecology, which has the neat result that the concept of ‘ecology’ here is itself ecologically determined!


Becker, H. (1982), Art Worlds. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Bourdieu, P. (1993) The Field of Cultural Production: Essays on Art and Literature. Cambridge: Polity.

Brennan, M. and Webster, E. (2011) Why concert promoters matter. Scottish Music Review, 2 (1), pp. 1-25

Frith, S., Brennan, M.. Cloonan, M. and Webster, E. (2010), Analysing Live Music in the UK: Findings One Year into a Three-Year Research Project, IASPM Journal,1:1

Frith, S., Brennan, M., Cloonan, M. and Webster, E. (2013) The History of Live Music in Britain, Volume I: 1950-1967. From Dance Hall to the 100 Club. Aldershot; Ashgate Publishing.

Frith, S., Cloonan, M. and Williamson, J.(2009) ‘On music as a creative industry’ in T. Jeffs and A. Pratt ed. Creativity, Innovation and the Culture Economy, London: Routledge, 2009, 74-89.

Hobson, M. (2008) Personal interview, Sheffield with Emma Webster, 21 August.

Inglis, I. (2013) Wanted: nine million affluent gig-goers. Live Music Exchange website. Available from: <; [Accessed 20 March 2014].

Webster, E. (2011) Promoting live music in the UK: a behind-the-scenes ethnography. PhD thesis: University of Glasgow.

Ten Things Learned at Venues Day 2015 – Emma Webster

The second Venues Day event was held at the Ministry of Sound on Tuesday 20th October 2015. The event coincided with the launch of the report, London’s Grassroots Music Venues Rescue Plan, produced by the Mayor of London’s Music Venues Taskforce, in response to the high number of venue closures in the city. At last year’s inaugural event, the idea for an association of music venues was mooted, and the Music Venue Trust must be congratulated for setting up not only the Music Venues Alliance, but also a trade association, the Trade Association of the Music Venues Alliance (TAMVA), which launched at Venues Day.

Live Music Exchange’s Emma Webster was at Venues Day and has put together ten things learned at the event for this week’s blog post.

  1. Make some noise! The word ‘crisis’ was used throughout the day to describe the current state of grassroots music venues, not just in London, but across the UK. However, as Shadow Culture Secretary, Michael Dugher MP, suggested, the music industry and politicians need to start by admitting that there is a problem. London now has a rescue plan, backed by the Mayor, but, as Music Venue Trust’s Mark Davyd later suggested, we still need to make a lot of noise so that politicians and local authorities are aware of the issue; Dugher recommended emailing MPs to raise awareness.
  2. Where are the big promoters? The first panel of the day featured Geoff Taylor from the recording industry trade body, the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), who stated that the (recorded) music industry is conscious of working within a wider ecology and that record labels recognise the value of small music venues to their own business, in that they recognise that the ‘live music scene is an intrinsic part of going on to be a successful recording artist’. As with the 2014 event, however, the elephant in the room was the lack of input from the ‘top’ end of the live music industry, i.e. the larger promoters and ticket agencies. While Venues Day attendees berated the recording industry for not investing heavily enough in the grassroots end of the industry via tour support, for me it was again surprising that no-one mentioned the lack of support from major promoters and ticket agents. Indeed, BBC Radio 6’s Steve Lamacq warned of the potential danger of live music going the same way as football with the large venues attracting all the money and the smaller local venues – like local football clubs – in a state of decline. Lamacq suggested that if 15 year-olds can’t get to a gig on a bus, they may never get to see a gig and may never engage with live music; he suggested that the money needs to trickle down from the large-scale to the grassroots levels in order that there are decent venues with decent equipment in order to produce long-term music fans. I suggest that perhaps next year’s event could feature a spokesperson from the upper echelons of the live music industry – Live Nation, for example – in order to help make this happen.
  3. Introduce the Agent of Change principle. Mark Davyd of the Music Venue Trust suggested that, while the Department of Culture, Media and Sport is theoretically supportive of small music venues, national planning guidelines are not working for small venues at present and that more deregulation is required. As CEO of Ministry of Sound, Lohan Presencer, had earlier pointed out, ‘housing trumps music’ in that new housing will usually be favoured over an existing music venue. To counter this and to offer some protection to music venues, the Rescue Plan mentioned above contains a recommendation for the adoption of the Agent of Change principle, as does LMX’s own Edinburgh Live Music Census Report. The Agent of Change principle forces the party responsible for the change – a developer wishing to build new flats next to an existing venue, for example – to pay for any necessary measures and interventions, e.g. sound proofing. Minister for Culture, Ed Vaizey MP, and Dugher both suggested taking a delegation to see the planning minister in order to add the Agent of Change principle to the planning bill which is going through Parliament at present.
  4. Under attack: the Live Music Act 2012. As Mark Davyd suggested, one effect of the Live Music Act 2012 has been that his venue now has a lot of amateur competitors (as predicted by Andy Inglis in 2012), and that local authorities are now regulating music venues even more heavily than before, citing the example of London’s Village Underground, which apparently has 72 conditions on its licence. Davyd suggested that there is a need for a follow-up to the Live Music Act 2012, a suggestion which was quickly taken on board by the Peer responsible for the original Act, Lord Clement-Jones, who suggested developing the ‘Live Music Act Part 2’, once the issues on the ground are better understood.
  5. Venues to access arts council funding? Vaizey suggested that a music venue ‘has as much right to call itself a cultural venue’ as a regional theatre and that venues should apply for arts council funding. However, as pointed out by Mark Davyd and others, the timeframe of the live music sector is much shorter than that worked to by many arts council-funded organisations, and arts councils tend to fund programmes rather than one-off events and/or infrastructure. It was suggested that rather than arts councils putting funding into tours which enable one artist to buy decent equipment and transport – ‘they get £20K of equipment plugged into shit speakers … and think that live music smells funny’, that the funding be put into venues instead (or as well as), which would then benefit a much greater number of artists; 20 venues could support 1,800 new bands.  Suggestions are that arts councils reassess their funding application process to suit small to medium live music venues and/or to consider funding infrastructure costs, and that PRS for Music Foundation’s Momentum funding also be accessible to venues.
  6. Live music venues may not just be for live music. Venues were also recommended to consider changing their business models to become community interest companies or social enterprises, as this opens up other funding streams and also offers other protections. It was also suggested that venues use their space for other activities, such as rehearsal space, parent/baby activities, yoga or even wedding. The benefits of the new national group could be seen a week later wherein one venue manager used the Music Venue Alliance Facebook page to ask other venues for further ideas as to how to make use of their venue space outside of usual live music hours.
  7. Tax breaks for venues have still not materialised. Venues Day 2014 saw a Conservative MP offering tax breaks for small live music venues (before the last General Election, it should be added). Ed Vaizey this year said that he was happy to look at a VAT discount as calls were made by some for venues to receive the same benefits as orchestras and theatres. In general, more research into the economic impact of venues was suggested by a number of attendees throughout the day, including Dugher, in order to make the case for the value of the sector to the Treasury, especially at a time where government departments are facing a comprehensive spending review.
  8. Survey of European venues shows that size does matter. The Live DMA European Network is the umbrella group for venue associations across Western Europe. The organisation has carried out a very interesting survey of its members to find out more about who they represent, common issues, and operational models. One of the most interesting findings was that the bigger the venue, the higher the percentage of programme costs covered by ticket sales. So for small venues (<400 capacity, which make up around 50% of Live-DMA’s members), only 41% of programme costs come from ticket sales, whereas for big venues (+1000), 96% of programme costs are covered by ticket sales, indicating that bar income and subsidy are therefore essential to enable smaller music venues to survive.
  9. Audiences aren’t getting any younger. One of the most surprising discussions on the day was that some venues are noticing that their audiences are growing older and that it was becoming increasingly difficult to attract a younger audience; it was suggested by some people that young audiences may be staying in and socialising online instead of going out to local music venues. I would like to speculate that some venues’ offer may not be what younger people are now looking for. For example, live music and alcohol has had a strong relationship for many years, with festivals in particular associated with heavy drinking. However, research in the UK appears to suggest that the proportion of young adults who reported that they do not drink alcohol at all increasing by more than 40% between 2005 and 2013, and it may be that live music is starting to move away from its traditional links with social drinking. In addition, venues, particularly those literally underground, may have poor or nonexistent wifi connections, which again may be putting younger audiences off. Could we, then, be heading for a return to 1950s coffee bars but this time with added superfast wifi connections?
  10. Are ticket levies the way forward? A general gripe throughout the day from a number of attendees was about PRS for Music and the perceived lack of support for live music venues from PRS. One suggestion to help redistribute more funds to grassroots venues was for the UK to adopt the French model of a levy on tickets which would then be distributed to small venues and tours; in France, this is by organisations such as the Centre National de la Chanson des Variétés et du Jazz. Could PRS for Music do the same in the UK?

All in all, it was another good event – hopefully Venues Day 2016 will see progress on all the points raised above and we look forward to the next instalment from the Music Venue Trust and Music Venues Alliance.

The Edinburgh Live Music Census Report Launched Today – Adam Behr and Emma Webster with Matt Brennan

Today sees the launch of the report from Edinburgh Live Music Census Pilot Study.

You can access the full report here.

In June of this year, researchers from the Live Music Exchange conducted the UK’s first live music census. Surveys of Edinburgh’s musicians, audiences and venues – in tandem with observational data collected across the city on June 6th ­– fed into the report we’re launching today.

We will be discussing findings at the City of Edinburgh Council’s Culture and Sport Committee on Tuesday. Also on Tuesday is the national Venues Day, organised by the Music Venue Trust, where some of the issues affecting Edinburgh and cities across the UK that are raised in our report – and by the Music Venue Trust’s work – will be discussed.

The key recommendations and findings from our research are below.

Details of the public meeting of the City of Edinburgh Council Culture and Sport Committee, including the Council’s ‘Encouraging Live Music in Edinburgh’ report to the committee and the meeting agenda for 20th October, can be accessed here.

There is more information about Venues Day at the Ministry of Sound, London, here.

Below are key recommendations and findings from our research that we will be discussing on Tuesday.

Key recommendations to Edinburgh City Council:

  • Change the licensing clause – stipulating that amplified music be ‘inaudible’ in neighbouring residential properties – to refer to ‘nuisance’ or decibel-level (through negotiation with Licensing Board).
  • Adopt the ‘agent of change’ principle as guidance for informing planning decisions around venues and advising residents, and work towards its enactment by the Scottish Parliament in law[1].
  • Ensure that the city council’s forthcoming refresh of its cultural policy recognises both the economic and cultural value of live music to the city, and promise to do what it can to protect small to medium capacity music venues in particular in this challenging climate.

Key findings

  • Edinburgh currently has a minimum of 267 venues offering live music including music played by DJs.
  • The most prevalent types of venue in Edinburgh are pubs/bars.
  • We estimate that on Saturday 6thJune there were approximately 11,500 people attending at least 86 live music events in Edinburgh.
  • The total average annual spend at live music per person for a typical live music fan is £1,120 (including tickets, food and drink, transport)
  • Approximately £170,000 was spent at venues with live music on the night of the Census (approximately £90,000 on ticket sales alone).
  • The total estimate of spend on live music in Edinburgh per year (including tickets, food/drink, and travel) is at least £40 million.
  • We estimate that musicians and DJs in Edinburgh are paid at least£2.9 million per year at the sub-set of venues visited on Census night.
  • Assuming minimum wage, we estimate that venue and production staff are paid at least£2.6 million per year at the sub-set of venues visited on Census night.
  • 44% of musicians reported that their gigs had been affected by noise restrictions (NB: These may have included noise restrictions imposed by venues).
  • The Census indicates that there is a high level of self-policing is taking place amongst Edinburgh venue operators with regard to noise issues.
  • Moreover, the city licensing regime’s ‘inaudibility clause’ frequently cropped up in the qualitative comments of the surveys, suggesting that it has a ‘chilling effect’ on venues’ preparedness to put on live music and the kind of music they will provide.

Work on the Edinburgh study was part of a much longer, and ongoing, conversation. It was initially inspired by work carried out in Melbourne and we’re grateful to Dobe Newton and the Melbourne team for sharing their observations.

The members of the Edinburgh Council ‘Music is Audible’ working group, the Music Venue Trust and the wider community of musicians in the city also provided vital insights. There is still a great deal of scope for improving the situation in Edinburgh – as elsewhere – but the kind of dialogue that has taken place over the last year is an important step in the right direction.

The Live Music Exchange team will be pursuing further research in this area so watch this space for more updates and get in touch to keep the dialogue going.

[Click here to read or download a full copy of our report]

[1] Agent of Change says that the person or business responsible for the change is responsible for managing the impact of the change. This means that an apartment block to be built near an established live music venue would have to pay for soundproofing, while a live music venue opening in a residential area would be responsible for the costs.

Definition taken from:


The Edinburgh Live Music Census





Today’s post contains information about an important new research project in Edinburgh being run by the Live Music Exchange team. There are opportunities for live music practitioners and audiences across Edinburgh to get involved. Read on to find out more and do get in touch if you’re interested.


In the first weekend of June of this year, the Live Music Exchange will be conducting one of the first exercises of its kind – a live music census.

We’ll be surveying Edinburgh, to gather as much information as we can about the current state of play with live music venues in the city. The project, a pilot for what we hope will be a larger roll-out of the exercise, aligns with the current climate and needs of venues in Edinburgh and beyond.

Background to the census:

It’s not news to live music practitioners in Britain that, despite the growth of the sector in the past decade, the benefits are being felt unevenly.

Although there are a rich variety of different sizes and types of spaces across the musical ecology, barely a week goes by without a venue coming under threat of closure. The problems are particularly acute for smaller, independent venues.

The inherent precariousness of running a music venue – a difficult enterprise at the best of times – is exacerbated by external pressures from things like residential development and the ever-shifting nature of local politics.

But the issue is being paid more attention than ever before. The formation of the Music Venue Trust has provided for the first time a collective voice for operators who have long been subject to a geographic spread and different local conditions.

There is some common ground across the country. Not least, the Music Venue Trust and Musicians’ Union are supporting a campaign for the introduction of the ‘Agent of Change’ principle to protect established venues from complaints arising from new buildings in the area.

But the challenges and opportunities also vary from area to area. Any locality has a characteristic live music ‘ecology’ – a mix of venues of different capacities, demographic variations and the distinctive features of its local government and infrastructure.

One notable aspect of Edinburgh, of course, is the huge surge in cultural activity that takes place over the festival. But this has also led to questions about an imbalance between the summer surfeit and the city’s year round provision. It seems to struggle to maintain independent music venues, and closures over the last few years have seen mounting concerns.

Dedicated music venues and pubs alike have also mobilised in opposition to a clause in the local licensing policy stipulating that amplified music be ‘inaudible’ in neighbouring residential properties – a sledgehammer to crack a nut, say venues, that is not in operation anywhere else. The council, for its part, has undertaken to pay closer attention to the needs of venues across the city, setting up working groups to examine the inaudibility clause and its music strategy more widely.

The census:

These initiatives, local and national, require evidence to get a sense of the state of play and to illustrate the full range of musical activity. Taking inspiration from a live music census conducted in Victoria, Australia in 2012, and which helped to drive the introduction of the Agent of Change principle there, the University of Edinburgh’s music department will be gathering information about the situation in Edinburgh.

We’ll be sending surveys out to every business that we can identify that hosts live music of any kind (from cafes, through pubs to concert halls).

From this we’ll get a sense of how often they put on live music, what kind of music they feature, their capacities, their staffing levels and how planning and licensing issues affect their work.

This will cover the city and provide an illustration of the city’s full capacity for live music provision, the challenges it faces and the potential for better supporting it.

We’ll also be placing surveys at gigs taking place on the first weekend of June to collect information from audience members and musicians. We’re recruiting volunteers and the team will visit as many gigs on that weekend as we can to speak to musicians, audiences and venue staff.

We’ll collate and analyse the information and place it into the context of wider research on live music in a report for the city council and for all the participants. This pilot study will provide a snapshot of Edinburgh’s live music activity as well up-to-date information about the full extent of the city’s musical life with indications about how Edinburgh and other cities can form a productive relationship between venues and their surroundings.

We’ll be sharing our information and co-operating with the city’s music scene and there are plenty of opportunities for people to get involved.


There are details at the census website for anybody interested in taking part in the survey.

This is a chance for Edinburgh’s music scene to pull together to illustrate its value to the city.

If you’re hosting live music of any kind in Edinburgh over the weekend of 5th/6th June – whether you’re a dedicated music venue, a pub, a café or any other kind of space – please get in touch and let us know.

Likewise, if you’re going to a gig of any kind, or playing at one, on that weekend, please contact the census team and we’ll give you the tools you need to contribute to the project.


This is one step on the wider journey towards fostering a healthy and supportive nationwide environment for live music.








Ten Things Learned at Venues Day 2014 – Emma Webster

Venues Days on 9th December 2014 was the first of its kind in the UK, gathering together around 120 independent music venue representatives from England, Scotland, and Wales, and around 300 delegates in total to London’s Southbank Centre. It is apparent that small venues are struggling for a variety of reasons, and, as the author of this article points out, ‘It’s time to have a real, honest conversation about how bad things are right now’. However, the organiser of the event – Music Venue Trust’s Mark Davyd – told us that the day was not meant to be a wake, and in general there was a very positive collaborative feeling to the day, albeit tempered by the many stories of venues struggling against noise abatement orders and licensing reviews. As ever, Live Music Exchange was there to observe, so here follow the ten things we learned over the course of the day.

  1. A show of hands in the room indicated that there was general consensus that there should be some sort of national union for (small) venues – an association of independent venues, if you like, perhaps along the lines of the Association of Independent Music (AIM) or the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF). As one speaker pointed out, ‘Everyone else in this sector has an organisation that stands up for it – where’s ours?’ It was suggested that such a body could assist with sourcing reliable lawyers, planning consultants, and insurers; could organise mediation sessions between venues and enforcement officers; and would provide a useful network for venues around the country, particularly for venues in trouble. While one delegate asked for a show of hands to vote to see whether Music Venue Trust (MVT) should be the body to take on setting up such an association, it was felt that people hadn’t yet had time to consider the options. As Mark Davyd pointed out, MVT needs to be asked – ‘you collectively need to give permission to someone to set up the group’ – but also that MVT might not be the right body. It does need somebody to take the idea forward, however, and to build on the momentum of Venues Day, so watch this space. Matt Booth from Sidmouth’s Drill Hall highlighted the Live-DMA European venue network as both a model and as a pre-existing network to which UK venues could perhaps become members. Live-DMA was established in May 2012 to represent small and medium sized popular music venues and festivals; it started in France and has spread from Scandinavia to Spain. Live DMA is now an umbrella association made up of ten national networks of venues and festivals, and now represents 1,300 venues and festivals in Europe. Other interesting ideas from the day as to how to assist the small venue sector can be found in this article.
  2. The most surprising (and perhaps welcome) part of the day came when Mike Weatherley, Tory MP for Hove and Portslade (until he steps down at next year’s general election) and founder of the Rock The House competition, told the 300 or so delegates that the government might be interested both in tax breaks (akin to those given in 2014 for theatre production) and in directly subsidising live music venues. For the Musicians’ Union, Horace Trubridge suggested that the private sector (record labels, publishers and festival promoters) should invest in grassroots venues. Trubridge also suggested that venues take a cue from orchestras and carry out more outreach work; to this end, he encouraged venues to establish links with schools to get children into the venues to learn about sound and lighting at an early age. (The idea is also politically motivated: Trubridge feels that children’s parents might be more amenable to music venues if their children are enthusiastic users of them.) Ben Lane from the Arts Council encouraged venue owners to get in contact to see how Arts Council England can help them. While it was unclear what form this might take, Lane was keen for venues to contact him to start a conversation about what kind of financial help might be available. While he admitted that the Arts Council was ‘not the answer to all your prayers’, he said that ACE can help venues to take risks. (A show of hands indicated that the majority of venues in the room had not applied for Arts Council funding before – another delegate pointed out that small venues are necessarily entrepreneurial and may be nervous about funding because it can mean lots of forms, reports and paperwork.)
  3. One delegate asked for live music venues to be recognised as cultural centres rather than as simply businesses. A show of hands revealed that pretty much all of the venues represented in the room subsidise their live music offering with club nights and, as one delegate pointed out, the danger here is that councils will overlook the cultural aspect of venues in favour of their commercial nature if they are perceived as nightclubs.
  4. Another issue under discussion was whether we need an Agent of Change principle – this places the onus on the party who has disrupted the status quo (by moving in next door, for example, or putting on live music); the idea was first mooted in Australia as the ‘right of first occupant’. A useful model as to how the Agent of Change principle could work in practice is contained within the City of Sydney’s Live Music and Live Performance Action Plan, which contains a whole raft of recommendations as to how local authorities can support live music. For example, other recommendations include: designated live music and performance areas such as Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley; education and induction programmes for council staff about cultural policies and support for live music; mediation processes for residents, businesses and venues; and the commissioning of data on the sector, similar to the state of Victoria’s live music census (also see Martin Cloonan’s article for a comparative analysis of popular music policy in Scotland and Australia).
  5. One panel at Venues Day was dedicated to talking about noise. According to the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, officials apparently received 10,500 complaints against pubs and clubs in 2012/13, 25% of which were actionable and 253 of which led to noise abatement orders. At Venues Day 2014, Lisa Lavia of the Noise Abatement Society raised some delegates’ hackles when she described noise as ‘a hygiene issue’ but later explained that she meant that it could be solved in a similar way to a health & safety issue. (Although as acoustic consultant Andrew Jarvis pointed out, ‘there’s no such thing as sound proof’ as sound will always pass through walls.) Dom Frazer of Guildford’s Boileroom was also keen to point out the subjectivity of noise and questioned how council enforcement officers are being trained as to what is acceptable. Another delegate posited that back street pubs should be busy and therefore noisy (‘quiet community pubs are closed community pubs’) and that noise in the street should be accepted rather than trying to be squashed.
  6. Another of the factors behind venues’ decline is that tour support for touring artists has hugely decreased over the past decade and hence tours are not subsidised by record labels in the same way, but no new investment has come into the sector (apart from via national promoters such as Live Nation, more of which later). Another factor is that while 15-20 UK date tours used to be common, 6-8 date tours are now more common. Agents are now often asked to schedule tours across the whole of Europe in just three weeks, meaning that many venues lose out. When asked why artists couldn’t play two shows if there’s an audience for it, or play five weeks if demand is there, The Agency’s Geoff Meall explained that artists should ‘leave business on the table’, i.e. leave demand in the market and sell venues out rather than playing to emptier rooms.
  7. Musician Jehnny Beth of Savages noted that musicians she has spoken to outside the UK have been telling fellow musicians not to tour the UK as ‘it’s so bad’. In a panel about what makes good venues great, she went on to list such qualities from a musician’s point of view, citing London’s now defunct Luminaire as an example of a really great venue: good customer service; promoters arriving on time and knowing what’s happening; a good PA; clean microphones and cables; help with loading in and out; a sound engineer present before and during the gig; a safe place to store backline; a secure backstage area which is warm, has mirrors, and a place to sit down, away from the soundcheck; sympathetic positioning of branding/sponsorship within the venue – she doesn’t want to play in front of a huge Red Bull sign, for example; signs asking the audience to respect the music and for bar staff to be quiet as well, particularly for quiet acoustic music; and treating all artists the same way – support artists as well as headliners. Her final point was that if you treat artists well, artists will put on a better show.
  8. The elephant in the room across the entire day was that nobody mentioned the influence of national promoters and venue operators such as Live Nation or the Academy Music Group’s network of O2-branded academy venues. Either there has been no impact (unlikely) or perhaps because nobody wants to rock the boat and upset booking agents or other industry figures. The lack of discussion about national promoters and venue operators is in marked contrast to the AIF’s Festival Congress in Cardiff in October 2014 at which James Scarlett of AIF member festival 2000Trees vented his spleen about the tactics of festival promoters such as Live Nation and Festival Republic, in particular around exclusivity deals.
  9. One delegate brought up the issue of sexism within the sector, explaining that as a female musician she gets treated very different to her male counterparts, particularly by sound engineers. In general, a quick analysis of the gender balance at Venues Day 2014 from the delegate list showed that approx. 35% of the listed delegates were female, which is gratifyingly high compared to other similar events (25% at the Live UK Summit in 2008, for example), especially combined with strong female representation at the event both on stage and behind-the-scenes.
  10. The day ended with a scenic two-hour boat trip up to Chelsea and down to Tower Bridge, helped along by a free bar, which was all subsidised by agencies including Coda, X-Ray and ITB. However, as one delegate who refused to get on the boat said to me, ‘But if only all that money could have gone into helping struggling venues …’.

The majority of people in the room raised their hands when asked whether they wanted a Venues Day 2015 so Live Music Exchange will be there next year, hopefully to welcome in the new Association of Independent Venues.

Ten Things Learned at the Festival Congress 2014 – Emma Webster

The inaugural Festival Congress took place in Cardiff in October 2014, organised by the Association of Independent Festivals. A number of festival promoters and festival suppliers gathered for a conference and awards dinner. Live Music Exchange was there in the shape of Emma Webster, who wrote and presented a report based on six years’ worth of AIF audience survey data within a wider contextual framework.

As with previous industry conferences – namely the Live Music Summit in 2012 and Festival Awards Conference in 2012 – Live Music Exchange likes to share what we’ve heard or overheard, and so the following contains our ‘Ten Things Learned at the Festival Congress 2014’:-

  1. There was concern from some quarters about the competition between the smaller independent festivals and their larger cousins, particularly Live Nation-owned festivals such as Reading and Leeds. Indeed, 2000trees director, James Scarlett, accused the bigger festivals, such as Live Nation’s Reading, of ‘suffocating’ and trying to ‘squash’ smaller festivals by forcing artists into exclusivity deals which do not allow artists to play any other festivals, which was felt to be not necessarily good for the artist’s career as it limits their audience. Catfish and the Bottlemen were suggested as an example of an artist who was allowed to play a wide number of festivals by their booking agent and hence played to a wide audience. To counter this practice, Rob da Bank suggested that there should be a cap at either £5K fee or 5000 capacity festival, below which exclusivity deals should not be allowed. In addition, AIF members are also encouraged not to use exclusivity deals themselves in order to encourage best practice among the bigger festivals and artists’ agents. It was also interesting to note that AIF acts partly as a ‘gossip shop’ according to founder Rob da Bank, useful for finding out how much other promoters pay for their artists
  2. Yourope, the European festival association, has produced a set of Standard Terms (The Yourope Standard Terms) for festivals booking artists and performers for live performances in 2014. The aim is to protect promoters from signing contracts which force them to provide services/riders which the promoter does not see until after the contract has been signed, but the Terms also include standardised clauses around issues such as weather, security, and backline provision.
  3. The total spend by AIF member festival-goers for the past five years (2010 to 2014) is estimated to be approximately £1.01 billion. The estimated total spend in the local area by AIF member festival-goers over the past five years is £77.1 million.
  4. 79 new drugs came onto the market in 2013 – this is up from 49 in 2011. Safe & Sound’s Katy Macleod explained that while so-called NPSs (New Psychoactive Substances) are prevalent at festivals, they are not as prevalent as so-called ‘traditional’ drugs, of which alcohol is the biggest ‘problem’ drug, followed by ecstasy and MDMA.
  5. A group of festival promoters have started an initiative called ‘The Show Must Go On’ to coordinate the festival industry’s response to climate change/crisis. The first initiative will be to encourage audience members to offset carbon via donation at the point at which they purchase tickets. In a slightly different vein, we also heard about The Festival Woods, which is a wild forest regeneration initiative from A Greener Festival and charity Trees for Life, which has so far has planted 1056 trees.
  6. 50% of Glastonbury’s waste is recycled at the festival’s onsite facility and is sorted by hand. The sheer volume of waste means that the festival’s waste service is at capacity and cannot go any higher and so the festival is looking at ways of reducing waste, including using stainless steel water bottles and reusable cups for alcohol from the bars. Shambala already charges for its reusable cups which means that if people don’t bring them back to the bar, they have to pay a levy to get a new one. Shambala’s Chris Johnson explained how his festival uses simple psychology to encourage people not to drop litter, which is that if your festival site is clean, people don’t drop litter; Shambala therefore employs more litter pickers throughout the day (rather than only in the morning or afternoon) to keep the site clean.
  7. Surplus food distribution charity FareShare collected six tonnes of food from just three festivals in 2013, including Bestival, and distributed it to vulnerable people to prevent it going to waste. Another charity collected 30 tonnes of food waste at Denmark’s Roskilde and Glastonbury is estimated to produce 50-60 tonnes of food waste each year, from both traders and festival-goers.
  8. Standon Calling is the first festival to go entirely cash-free, using RFID technology to enable festival-goers to leave their cash at home. The technology is not entirely risk-free, however – traders were left unpaid by the trading arm of a different festival, Galtres Festival, which used a cashless payment system and then went bust.
  9. Research by James Cobb into fatigue in live production shows that 75% of those working on-site regularly get 6 or less hours’ sleep while 18% are regularly getting 4 or less hours’ sleep. 63% admitted to at least one ‘near-miss’ in the past year, and 11% suffered at least one injury which required time off work – this is compared to 1% in the construction sector. While there are laws in the UK to prevent this kind of thing happening, it was felt that these are ignored in order to save money, but it was argued that ‘we can’t keep working people to death in this industry’.
  10. There was debate over whether festivals should provide internet access for its festival-goers if mobile signal was poor. On the one hand, internet access was seen by some as vital for staying in touch with friends and for social media – those working behind the scenes also require good internet access as the backstage areas are often full of tour managers working on their artist’s next shows. On the other hand, festivals are seen by some as places to switch off and get away from technology and the ‘real world’. One point raised by a number of people were the long queues for people accessing recharging points – some even mentioned that the most aggressive behaviour across the entire festival site could be found at these charging points.