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

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:


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.