Music Australia News

London learns lessons to rescue live music venues

From The Music Venue Trust
Chris Bowen
| October 25, 2016

Two years ago it became clear London’s live music venues were in crisis. Well over a third of small to medium venues had closed or were facing closure. It was a problem that initially escaped notice, particularly as large stadium shows and British music generally appeared to be thriving. Driven by a multiplicity of factors, there was a real risk London could lose all its grass roots venues.

One of the responses to this crisis was formation of campaigning organisation Music Venue Trust founded and led by a live music venue owner Mark Davyd.  The Trust has pursued several remarkable strategies including a Rescue Plan for grass roots venues prepared for London’s Mayor by a Task Force led by Davyd, endorsement by Sir Paul McCartney, and a recent fundraising concert Fightback which packed London’s Roundhouse with acts including Everything Everything, Ed Harcourt, and Public Service Broadcasting.

Another strategy was the establishment of Venues Day to provide venues with a platform for professional exchange and learning. Fast forward to October this year and Venues Day has just held it third edition at the Roundhouse. This sold out event was attended by venue representatives from across the UK, providing a platform for networking and exchange, as well as constructive action.

TicketWeb unveiled a new ticketing platform ‘backline’ designed to empower indie venues and promoters, Music Venue Trust launched the Sound And Vision campaign, and Help Musicians UK announced the opening of an outpost in Northern Ireland.

An informative music policy blog, Live Music Exchange, has posted ten lessons from this year’s event which are well worth a read. We particularly like:

  • Using the right language to value small venues culturally and politically is vital, so they are “recognised as cultural spaces rather than as simply licensed premises that put on music”
  • Maintaining live music audiences is a challenge to which the whole industry must contribute, with calls for agents and promoters to do more because of the importance of small venues
  • Attracting young people to live music, and making it easy to do so, is more critical than ever, particularly with the collapse of the student union circuit, with one delegate stating “Catch them when they’re 14, 15, 16 and you’ve got them for life”.

From Music Venue Trust Mark Davyd’s viewpoint this indefatigable campaigning is beginning to deliver results, with some encouraging planning and regulatory reforms including a commitment by new London Mayor Sadiq Khan to appoint a ‘Night Czar’ and introduce the agent of change principle (where developers must take into account existing usage such as live music venues). However, as Davyd told BBC’s newsbeat “We’re still not seeing investment coming into the sector.”

The role of local grass root venues cannot be underestimated. In addition to being a vital a proving ground for emerging artists, they provide an essential part of the boarder music ecology. As UK Music’s Jo Dipple observes “You cannot have a bigger night time economy without a strong cultural base to underpin it. Grassroots Music Venues create that cultural base in our towns and cities.”

Read Emma Webster’s ten lessons from Venues Day in full here.

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