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





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.


Contact: adam.behr@ed.ac.uk

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.

GET IN TOUCH AT: adam.behr@ed.ac.uk

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








Live Music 101 #4: Venue Typologies: An Overview – Emma Webster

Our research into live music has thrown up a number of venue typologies.  The next blog post in our Live Music 101 series aims to critically evaluate what is on offer, drawing on industrial, sociological, and architectural perspectives; the post includes previously unpublished work by Simon Frith.

Industrial perspective

To begin with a model from the live music industries, international concert tour manager and audio engineer Andy Reynolds (2008) classifies music venues into ten types, ranging from small-scale pubs to large-scale arenas, and by a number of factors including audience capacity, ratio of in-house to outside promotion, frequency of events, and show types:-

Click here to see Reynolds’ venue typology.

While Reynolds’ typology is a useful way of understanding the industrial – mostly commercial rock/pop – perspective on venue types, as with any typology, there are obvious omissions and grey areas.  For example, where would a venue such as the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall fit?  This is a venue of approx. 2,000 capacity, which stages classical and rock/pop type events, has fixed seating (some of which can be removed), is operated by Glasgow Life[1] – ostensibly part of Glasgow City Council – and therefore funded and operated differently to a ‘private’ venture such as the O2 Academy chain.  Similarly, would the SECC in Glasgow be classed as a shed, large hall, or arena?  The SECC was originally built as a large conference venue, with the later addition of the Clyde Auditorium as a designated concert space, but the large hall in the complex will continue to host live music events until the opening of The Hydro arena in 2013; in principle, it fulfils all three of Reynolds’ types, thereby again demonstrating the difficulties in typologising live music performance spaces.

Rather than examining venues in terms of size and scale, then, the next venue typology groups them ideologically.

Sociological perspective

Simon Frith (2008) has conceptualised that venues can be typologised ideologically, as follows:-

1) Music determined (music is the purpose of the build/rebuild)

Concert halls, music halls, dance halls, music venues (e.g. Academy/O2), clubs[2]

2) Music related, leisure determined, commercial

Pubs, bars, hotels, coffee bars, coffee houses, restaurants, brothels, strip clubs, casinos, cinemas, theatres, radio and TV studios, holiday camps, caravan sites, boats (cruises), trains, clubs of various sorts[3]

3) Music related, leisure determined, non-commercial

Civic halls, assembly rooms, spa centres, church halls, churches, village halls, community centres, youth clubs, schools, universities, colleges, arts schools, art centres, art galleries, museums, libraries, bandstands, parks, exhibition centres, convention centres

4) Useable spaces not designed or usually used for music

Fields (for festivals), barns, military bases, prisons, hospitals, retirement homes, homes, the streets, shops and shopping malls, sports grounds, stadia

Frith’s typology is obviously broader than Reynolds’ but less specific as to size and operation.  Again, the problems with typologies of this kind can be seen: would Reynolds’ ‘music bar or pub’ come under Frith’s ‘music determined’ or ‘music related’ categories, for instance?  From my own experience, the music venue part of a music pub is often separate from the main pub area (as with the now defunct Grapes in Sheffield, or even King Tut’s Wah Wah Bar in Glasgow, to an extent), and so one could almost say that within one building – and under one name – there exist two different types of venues (particularly if one takes into account that live music also takes place in King Tut’s’ bar area), although they may well be separated by an entrance fee.

Another important consideration, and one which both Frith and Reynolds neglect, is the architectural features of the venue, and how these impact on how the building is designed, used, and regulated.

Architectural perspective

Focusing on contemporary popular music performance venues, Robert Kronenburg (2011) offers a typology based on the architectural features of the venue in question, which I have further divided into permanent and mobile spaces for music performance.  I also believe that it is possible to widen the genre parameters that Kronenburg has set by applying the typology across all genres.

Permanent Structures

1) Adopted Spaces:

‘Bars and restaurants are the most common, though by no means the only, building type to be converted into a place where music performance is the primary function. Larger stages can be found in former churches, theatres, or cinemas’ (p. 140), although this category also includes busking.  This category dovetails with Frith’s ‘music related, leisure determined’ categories, but without the ideological division between non-commercial and commercial functions.

2) Adapted Spaces:

Such spaces are often – but not only – the result of expediency – ‘it being quicker (and often cheaper to convert an existing building to a performance space function than to build a new one from scratch’ (p. 141).  Other factors play a part, however, such as location and historical/architectural value.

3) Dedicated Spaces:

As Kronenburg points out, ‘Although adapted popular music performance spaces are most common, changing old buildings to a different function will always result in compromise.  Only building new has the potential to solve the design brief perfectly’ (p. 141).  Both categories 2) and 3) match Frith’s ‘music determined’ type but without the added (and important) nuances of Kronenburg’s architectural model.

Mobile Structures

4) Mobile Spaces:

‘Because of its capacity for temporary, low-impact installation, it is possible for portable buildings to be located on otherwise unbuildable sites.  These radical forms can be erected in city centre spaces alongside listed buildings where similar scale permanent buildings would never be allowed, in public parks where permanent structures could never be built, or large-scale areas of open farmland in sensitive locations’ (p. 142).

Dividing mobile spaces into two separate categories – private and public – is also worthwhile.  Everyday public spaces such as parks can be transformed by the introduction of a mobile stage (and then closed to members of the public who have no ticket) and harks back to the age of pleasure gardens in London in the 18th and 19th centuries, while concerts held in usually private spaces to the (paying) public allow audiences into spaces that would usually be out-of-bounds, thus further enhancing the uniqueness of the live music experience.

Towards a combined venue typology

In order to further understand venue types, I have combined Frith and Kronenburg’s venue typologies to give eight types, which, when used in conjunction with Reynolds’ typology, gives a fairly comprehensive of the types of venue available to promoters in the UK (and perhaps beyond):-


Music-determined dedicated spaces – e.g. the newly built Leeds Arena and The Hydro in Glasgow (both expected to open in 2013), and the Sage Gateshead (albeit more focused on classical and folk)

Music-determined adapted spaces – e.g. O2 Academy, Brixton (formerly a cinema and theatre) and Leadmill, Sheffield (formerly a flour mill)

Music related, leisure determined, non-commercial adopted spaces – e.g. Get it Loud in Libraries

Music related, leisure determined, commercial adopted spaces – e.g. Pizza Express, Dean Street, London

Non-music related non-commercial adopted spaces – e.g. House Concerts York

Non-music related commercial adopted spaces – e.g. Wembley Stadium


Private mobile spaces – e.g. Garsington Opera’s 600 seat pavilion, erected at the private estate of the Getty family at Wormsley Park.

Public mobile spaces – e.g. the Edinburgh Castle bleachers and stage that appear each summer in the Castle Esplanade, and festival sites such as Kelvingrove Park’s annual West End Festival.

If you have a typology of venues that you think would add to our understanding of these vital live music performance spaces, please share it, either via email or in the ‘Leave a Reply’ box below.



Frith, S. (2008) Notes of project meeting April 29 2008. Email to project team, 7 May.

Kronenburg, R. (2011) Typological trends in contemporary popular music performance venues. Arts Marketing: An International Journal, Vol. 1 Issue 2, pp.136 – 144.

Reynolds, A. (2008) The tour book: how to get your music on the road. Boston, Mass., Thomson Course Technology.


[1] Glasgow Life is the operating name of Culture and Sport Glasgow, which as of April 2007, is the organisation responsible for delivering cultural, leisure and outdoor recreation services in Glasgow.

[2] Clubs may be worth treating as separate, as only some are in music determined buildings; clubs cover such a range of venue types — night clubs, jazz clubs, working men’s clubs, works clubs, social clubs — only some of which in music determined buildings, that clubs might be worth treating as a separate category.

[3] See above.