Live Music

House of Commons Live Music Report 2019: What you need to know

House of Commons Live Music in the UK Report

The House of Commons Live Music in the UK Report 2019

The House of Commons has this week published the results of their enquiry into Live Music in the UK.

The report is 57 pages long and is a very detailed read. You can read it in full here. However, if you don’t have the time or inclination to read the whole report, we’ve summarised the key points below. It makes for interesting reading, and despite the report itself is quite London focused in places, it does take into consideration the challenges faced in cities like Glasgow and Cardiff also. However, it does not go into the subject of rural live music, like we have in an area like Dumfries and Galloway. It does, however, mention smaller festivals of which we have several across the region

So who wrote it?

The House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee is made up of 11 MPs and has called upon a fairly lengthy list of people involved in the music industry to provide evidence and representation. 80 pieces of evidence were submitted from all over the UK, and they also took verbal evidence from artists, promoters, venue operators and industry bodies. They also visited a few places such as the Royal Albert Hall, the Royal Opera House, and the Sunderland Empire theatre. All of these people have had their say on the live music industry and their views helped form the report.
So basically, it’s not just been a group of MPs sitting in a room coming up with a report. It’s actually been formed through credible and informed sources.
 
So, what were the main findings?
 

The live music industry makes the UK a fair bit of money

The report clearly understands how important live music is to the UK economy. In 2017, it states that 29.1 million people attended concerts and festivals in the UK which was a 17% increase on the previous year. It’s seen as a key driver for tourism to the UK. The live music industry generated £1 billion Gross Value Added, which is basically a fancy term for the amount of goods and services produced in an economy minus the cost of the inputs and raw materials that go into producing those services. So, if we didn’t have a live music industry, we would have £1 billion less in the UK..
They state that a 5,000 capacity festival can generate around £800k in net gain for the local area. A 110,000 capacity festival can generate £18 million for the local area. Pretty impressive figures, we’re sure you’ll agree. Interestingly, The Music Venue Trust told the committee that “for every £10 spent on a ticket in a grassroots music venue, £17 is spent elsewhere in the night-time economy”.
People are also spending more on live music than they are on recorded music – 49% of a professional musician’s income is from live music, and only 3% comes from recording. No major surprise there. The industry also employs more than 28,000 people which includes sound engineers, promoters, stage crew and touring crew, amongst others.
 
Small Town Sounds says: The report shows that there are concerns about whether the industry can survive in the future, and there’s a feeling that the benefits are unevenly distributed both around the country and for those that work in it. Here in Dumfries & Galloway, we can see that happening – especially as live music venues are often running at a loss. Funding is often given to those in the cities, with rural areas such as Dumfries and Galloway missing out (or unaware that they would be eligible to apply). And there are a great many people working in the live music industry locally for low wages or no wages at all.
 

They’re not at all happy about ticket touting

The committee believes that ticket touting is one of the biggest concerns for consumers and there is a need to sort out the issue of platforms selling tickets at vastly inflated prices to music fans. Gig and festival tickets are different to most other products as you can’t return them to the place you bought them from (they call this the primary market) for a refund if your circumstances change. Instead, you have to sell them on to another music fan potentially via a ticket resale platform (they call this the secondary market). There are also various types of technological wizardry that big organisations use to buy up loads of tickets in the primary market with the sole intention to sell on in the secondary market for a huge profit. Folk are, quite rightly, raging about this. The report specifically mentions concerns around resale platform, viagogo. To make things worse, viagogo refused to ‘engage meaningfully with Parliament’. In fact, the MPs are advising ticket buyers ‘not to buy or sell tickets’ through viagogo.

All Ages Electric Fields

Small Town Sounds says: Of the 80 pieces of written evidence they received from those representing the music industry, nearly two thirds of that related to ticket abuse. This is clearly an important issue for music fans and musicians alike, and they want to see the Government put some measures into place to stop it. Many acts have already been refusing entry to gigs when tickets have been wrongly resold. This puts off buyers from paying huge prices in the first place, which then means the ticket touts and resellers will be out of pocket because they won’t sell. Here in Dumfries & Galloway, we often head to social media (particularly Facebook) to sell our tickets to friends of friends, or on sales and want groups. But often this is unsuccessful and we’re left with tickets we paid a lot of money for, but still unable to attend the gig.
But things are a-changing. Ticketmaster has closed down its two secondary sales websites, Seatwave and GET ME IN! and have launched a new platform which will show primary ticket sales and also secondary ticket sales all on the one page. Vitally, the secondary ticket prices are capped at whatever the buyer paid for them in the first place. However, sites that sell secondary tickets at inflated prices still exist elsewhere, and event Ticketmaster admits that they remain ‘a very real threat’. It’s great to hear in the report that the Competition and Markets Authority and the Advertising Standards Authority have investigated and forced these secondary ticket sites to improve their ways. They found that many of the main sites were not in line with consumer law – they weren’t telling people that they could be turned away at a venue, or what seat they would get, or who was selling the ticket. That’s all been sorted and these sites now have to show that information.
In terms of viagogo, the Competitions and Markets Authority took them to court and ordered them to sort themselves out. It doesn’t really seem like they did, which is why MPs are recommending people don’t buy from them. Bad for viagogo, but good for us as ticket buyers.

They’re really worried about the future of live music in the UK, particularly grassroots music and music venues

This is a pretty wide issue, which covers things like cutting music education in schools (which will lead to a lower number of musicians in the future), and the closure of music venues due to licencing issues (although unfortunately the number they quote refers only to London – a net loss of 35% of its grassroots venues between 2007 and 2016 – rather than UK wide). It also relates to venues not being fit for purpose – and by that they mean because of their size (either too small or too big, there’s not much in between), and not being fit for purpose. They’re also concerned because the venues aren’t making enough money from live music, so they’re investing less in facilities and staffing.
House of Commons Live Music in the UK report 2019Music venues that have managed to stay open are also being hit by expensive business rates and rising costs. According to the report, nearly one third of venues told the 2018 UK Live Music Census that they have been negatively affected by parking or loading issues in the past year. The power to make changes to these kinds of issues lie with the local authority (so, Dumfries & Galloway Council for us). The report specifically highlights “the important role that music venues play in towns, so that local councils ensure that they too give more precedence to measures to help them”. This does not seem to be something we see happening across the region, with many seeing the local authority as more of a blockage rather than a help.
Ultimately, music venues are making less money, and this is seen as a big threat to “the development of the next generation of talent and fans”.

The evidence provided in the report states that there is concern about there being a lack of places for bands to start up and practice. They cited this particularly useful comment by Noel Gallagher to The Daily Record in 2016:
 
“It was easy to start a band when I was young because there was rehearsal rooms and grotty clubs to play in. Musical equipment was cheap and accessible as not many people bought it. Now, you have to be middle class to be in a band. Where are you going to rehearse? The rehearsal rooms are being turned into flats. Where are you going to play? There’s only two places to play these days, really small clubs or massive arenas, there’s nothing in the middle.”
 
They also found that grime artists were experiencing prejudices, with their gigs being cancelled due to issues with venue licences due to the type of music performed. They believe that urban music acts are being unfairly targeted. They’re not happy about this because they see grime to be one of the ‘UK’s most exciting musical exports’.
 
Small Town Sounds says: This is a particularly tough read, because there are so many reasons that the live music industry could fail spectacularly if something isn’t done soon. The long and the short of it is that musicians (and support provided by sound engineer, promoters and others) work hard to put on great gigs, but they don’t get paid much (if anything at all) because the venue doesn’t make much (if anything at all). If venues aren’t making a profit then they can’t invest in upgrading facilities, and so the circle continues. And you can see why the venues aren’t making much money when they’re being slapped in the face by business rates and blockages from the local authority.
We’ve spoken to a few venues who have talked of their struggle to make money from live music. Often they don’t even make enough money from the bar to cover staff costs. This tends to be why there are still certain pubs who operate a ‘buskers bucket’ agreement rather than a flat fee payment to the band. Ultimately though, even if they didn’t have a gig on, they’d still be open as a pub so they aren’t incurring a significant increase in their costs. The bands, however, are frustrated – they see the pubs benefitting from their music fans coming to see them whilst they themselves aren’t being paid a flat fee and are instead receiving the change that’s chucked into the bucket.

VanIves

VanIves performing at The Stove (Photo credit: Ruari Barber-Fleming)

Arts venues such as The Stove Network in Dumfries, CatStrand in New Galloway, and even the likes of village halls are held in high regard as music venues locally, but their costs are entirely different to that of pubs as they either do not operate as full time music venues, or receive income through other sources such as their cafes, arts activities or public funds.
So, how is this problem solved? An interesting example was provided within the report of property developers in the United States being incentivised to build cultural hubs including music venues in their developments. It would be interesting if something like that could be trialled here in the UK. These types of proposed cultural hubs promote a feeling of community, which could not only encourage more grassroots music, but also tackle feelings of loneliness and isolation which has become a serious public health concern in recent years.
Essentially, it’s a return to the days of when pubs where common in small towns and villages. More than 25% of pubs have closed since 2001, with those in towns and villages outside major cities being the most likely to close. 
The cost of alcohol has risen, and people are more likely to drink in their home, buying from supermarkets and off-licenses instead. People are trying to be healthier and many have cut down their drinking considerably. This has led to the pubs losing considerable income. Rising business rates have also been a fatal problem for some. Rarely, live music can solely fully sustain them. MPs are saying that venues need to diversify to survive – so they need to have a multi-use building that could be a range of things including a pub, live music venue, a café, and an arts centre, for example. Some venues such as the 100 Club in London have also entered into sponsorship deals with brands such as Converse and Fred Perry, but this may not be a realistic option for most venues.
The report also highlights the reluctance of venues to stage gigs for under 18s because they rely so much on alcohol sales as income, but also due to licensing and security costs. This can have a knock on effect for grassroots music as younger musicians are unable to perform in the same venues as their older counterparts. It seems a bit crazy that a 15 year old who has been playing for 3 years at home/school cannot always get a gig in the same venue as a group of 20 year olds who only started playing a couple of months ago. Luckily, in Dumfries & Galloway we have a number of venues who will welcome under 18s in to perform.
Poor quality facilities is also mentioned within the report. This includes the lack of disabled access in music venues, lack of secure parking, a lack of changing facilities particularly for female musicians, and out of date sound equipment. These can all impact on both the experience of the musicians and the music fans, making both less likely to use the venue. Unfortunately, we’ve seen several venues locally that are affected by these points.

There’s been some progress made though, and legislation has helped to an extent. Licences have been changed by The Live Music Act 2012, and now venues with a maximum capacity of 500 can host live music between 8am and 11pm without having to get a licence. However, there are arguments that this should be extended to beyond 11pm, and for venues with a larger capacity. Our guess is that this will take a fairly long while though (as changes to legislation often does), so definitely not something to get excited about in the short term.

There’s also a bit of a drama going on around funding available for grassroots and contemporary music making. Traditionally, they don’t tend to receive any, or very little. The report explains that UK Music “analysed the Arts Council’s National Portfolio Fund for 2018-2022 and concluded that pop music gets just 8% of the cash from the council’s main fund for music. Opera gets almost eight times as much, enjoying 62%.” The picture is slightly more positive in Scotland, but we’re sure some would argue a lot more could be done.
 
What we found extremely interesting was the difference between public funding for the UK and other European countries, which was also explained within the report. It states that in some mainland European countries, venues receive subsidies that average 42% of operating costs, or as high as 70% in France. The German Government invested 8.2 million Euros to upgrade equipment in grassroots music venues. In the Netherlands, 51 grassroots venues receive Government funding. We’re not seeing anything like that happening here in the UK.
 

Musicians aren’t making enough money and the benefits of being involved in the industry are being spread ‘unevenly’

They found that musicians are generally not able to make a living from live music and often have to take on other jobs as their main income. The Musician’s Union told the committee that their members make around £20,000 a year from music. The report also recognises that those working within the live music industry are not well paid for their efforts. The committee received evidence from the operator of the Fulford Arms which is a 150-capacity independent venue in York. They said:

“Across the country there are people who support live music and believe that it has a great cultural importance. Although some artists are involved to become rich and famous, many aren’t and just want to perform. More importantly there is a community of promoters, engineers and venue owners who are often not financially rewarded for the work they do and are just trying to make events and art happen. In other areas such as theatre, opera and film this is recognised and supported through government and arts council and industry recognition and funding, but this is rarely the case with live music – I love the scene that I work in and have sacrificed a lot to help 800 artists just last year perform but it is often too much and we need support.”

Sound Desk

They’re also not very happy about the competition in the music industry, and what they refer to as ‘vertical integration’ in the live music market, where single organisations are operating festivals, venues, ticketing websites, events promotion and artist management. They say that this puts smaller companies and promoters at a disadvantage. Basically, it’s about ‘being in with the right folk’, rather than about the quality of the musical offering.

Brexit comes up here too, since we’re still not too sure how it will impact musicians touring or working in the Europe once the UK leaves the EU. It would seem that the Government has not given due consideration to the needs of the creative industries when they have been putting together their post-Brexit immigration policy. Awkward.

They’re also concerned about the change in listening habits and the financial impact this has had – people are moving away from purchasing hard copy CDs and now favour streaming instead. MPs want to create a taskforce to figure out how musicians can be paid more fairly, especially by the likes of YouTube and Spotify who offer pretty low payments for any music streaming.
 
Small Town Sounds says: We know of only a couple of musicians in the region who earn their living fully from being a full time musician. Most musicians also work full time or part-time. When you’re in a band and everyone is working full time, often with different shifts, this can make for a bit of a logistical nightmare for gigs and for rehearsals. But unfortunately this seems to be the harsh reality, since performances don’t bring in enough money for them to pay their bills (in fact, most gigs break even, or can even run at a loss).
Those working to support the local music industry also find that it doesn’t pay enough to live. Sound engineers/recording studios may be able to make that their full time job, but they often supplement their income working for musicians outside of the region, both nationally and internationally. Gig promoters often do it as a hobby which sometimes comes with a small, one-off financial incentive if the gig sells particularly well. Organisations like Dumfries Music Conference are fully funded by grants, but have to apply for funding each year and are often unsure whether it will be approved, meaning they can’t plan their activities too far in advance. In the case of Small Town Sounds, we provide free promotion of the Dumfries & Galloway music scene and have ran at a financial loss since we started.
 

So what will this all mean in the future?

Well, the report is only an advisory report with recommendations. However, it does provide a pretty comprensive analysis of the issues that the music industry is currently facing, which are affecting its long term future. It clearly shows how important it is to the economy and this is something that the Government will be very interested in. The report has led to MPs making a series of suggestions to the Government and have asked for it to play a ‘greater role in supporting and incentivising the industry’. This could mean that grassroots music development may receive more grants to help them do what they do. However, the focus needs to be on financial grants to allow musicians, freelancers or organisations to become self-sustaining and not reliant on Government funding.
They also want a review of the Live Music Act 2012 to find any areas where they could scale back regulations to the benefit of music venues.
They recommend that ‘Music Boards’ are set up, made up of representatives from the music industry, policy makers and other relevant stakeholders who can represent the live music sector when planning and policy decisions are being made. This would seem like they are recommending a type of industry board which is actually quite a common thing to have in other industries, but seems to be lacking for the music industry.
They’ve asked the Competition and Markets Authority to look at whether competition in the market is working for both consumers and those working in the industry. This would show whether any one organisation had too much influence over the industry. They have the authority to enforce legislation to protect the consumer, so if one organisation is found to be in breach of their regulations they could make life pretty hard for them indeed.
 
Ultimately though, this is the start of what could be a long road to improve the industry. When Government and legislation are involved, things take ages. But this report certainly seems like the first step in improving the live music industry and ensuring its longer term survival.
 
Written by Melissa Gunn.

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