It is a story that makes headlines regularly, music venues are disappearing. According to the first UK Live Music Censes in 2017, a third of small music venues outside of London are fighting to survive (1) while a 2015 report found that 35% of music venues had gone out of business since 2007 (2). Though it is hard to confirm the the accuracy of these stats due to the fact that it is hard to define what a music venue is, as many venues are also bars, pubs, clubs, theatres and community centres, if these stats are anywhere near accurate it is worrying for the music industry as a whole. The music industry relies on music venues at all levels to produce talent; small venues particularly act as a playground for young up and coming bands to develop. So what is causing the decline of music venues and what can we do about it?
The first key problem is quite simple on the surface: Money. Music venues face large overhead costs and increasing business rates. They often require a large amount of expensive equipment such as microphones, Speakers, Mixing Desks, Amplifiers and Drum Kits and addition to this they require a sound engineer to run it. All of this is needed just to ensure that a venue can put on shows. Many venues also pay for someone to help organise and run the shows for them which is another overhead. On top of this, various business rates are increasing with the north London venue the Lexington saying that their business rates had increased by 118% (10). When you take factors like these into account it becomes easy to see why 40% small venues in the UK Live Music Census said that increasing business rates were having an impact on their business in the last 12 months (1).
Then you have to remember that venues are often run as pubs or bars which is an industry facing its own set of problems. 4 in 5 people have had a pub close down within 5 miles of them and an average 18 pubs across the country are closing their doors each week (4). We are currently living in an age where people are buying less alcohol in pubs and clubs and are buying more to drink at home. Younger people are also drinking less than previous generations (5). These factors are likely resulting in many places loosing sorely needed income. Venue licences can also often result in venues having to close their doors just when their business is peaking. Andre Joyzi the ex manager of the Soho Rocks spoke of how the license prevented the bar from becoming a ‘profitable business’ in an article for louder sound (2).
Decreasing revenues and increasing costs are not the only thing causing problems for venues, the big headliner that we have all heard about is noise complaints. 27% of venues said that noise complaints had, had a negative effect on their business in the last 12 months. For a long while there was not much that venues could do to deal with complaints as legally residents had the upper-hand placing the onus on venues to fix the problem rather than the developer, homeowner or landlord. This in itself resulted in growing money issues for venues who then had to pay legal fees, sound proofing, fines and then had to comply with restrictions on when they could have live music resulting in decreased revenues due to lack of events for customers to go to. In the end many venues simply could not keep up with these costs and had to close their doors. Fortunately, this problem seems to have been fixed with the ‘Agent of Change’ Principle in the amendments to the National Planning & Policy Framework. However, considering this change only came in 2018 it is still to be seen how much a positive effect this will have on music venues.
The final problem is redevelopment. We live in a time where we are short of housing with the Charity Shelter claiming that 1.2 million homes need to be built and the Government funding the development 250,000 homes by 2022 (6). This unfortunately often results in music venues being pushed out the areas they once inhabited. 12 bar, a London music venue, is the perfect example of a venue that was pushed out of its area due to redevelopment (2). The bar was once one of the key small music venues in Soho at the heart of London’s music scene on Denmark Street. However, the development of the Crossrail in the area resulted in the venue having to close in 2015 (2).
So what can we do about these problems and ensure music venues survive on into the future. One of the key things a venue can do is to change their business structure and model. By changing from a private business to a community interest company, venues can become open to various forms of funding previously not available to them such grants from the arts council (2) (7). On top of this venues should look towards other ways to generate income. Most venues are way too reliant on a few income streams, these often being revenue made over the bar, ticket sales and payments made by promoters. This leaves venues vulnerable to changes in demand, particularly in a time where people are drinking less whilst out (5) (6). Many venues need to start looking to diversify their income by offering other products and services such as band rehearsals on off nights, coffee during the day, food, a small record shop, a film shooting location, live audio and video recording, there are loads of options on the tables for venues to diversify and to start thinking outside of the box. In Louder than Sounds Article, promoter of Leicester’s Firebug points out that ‘All of Leicester’s successful venues are ones that have diversified’ (2).
In my research what is scarily talked about is the role social media is both having on music venues and music nights in general as well as the role it can play in the future. In seoNo’s article ‘Is Social Media ‘Destroying’ Local Live Music?’ (8) John Simm, a drummer for Coroner for the Police pointed out that Promotion is one of the key aspects of a successful night. In a world where we are living more of our lives online, social media is a key aspect to this. Venues can use this as an opportunity to further their connections with their regular attendees and attract the attention of more people. Showing videos of live performances, interviews with Bands, behind the scenes and much more could be great tools in building that connection and getting more customers in the door (8).
The government can also enact changes in public policy that will be beneficial to the growth of music venues; this will allow communities to gain from the economic and cultural benefits that live music offers. The results from the 2017 Live Music Census suggests that 1 in 5 music venues are not open to under 18s (1). This is a problem for two reasons: Firstly, it fails to capture the interest of young music lover’s potential resulting in a lack of new ears in the next generation and secondly, it results in a whole section of society not paying to see live music which is revenue these venues desperately need. This challenge can be addressed through both businesses restructuring their business to allow younger music lovers to watch music in their venues and through changes in licensing laws so venues are allowed to let younger fans into their venues. This change could include allowing a special license for music venues allowing them to let those between 14 and 18 in their venues. Pubs are able to let families with young children into their pubs, so why not extend the same opportunities to music venues.
Fortunately, I can finish this blog on a high note. In 2018 the UK Parliament passed an amendment to the National Planning & Policy Framework including the Agent of Change Principle (9). This essentially ensures that new developers have to take into account the noise from other premises in the area and ensure that steps are taken to mitigate the impacts of the noise. This is a great step in the right direction and is great news for the live industry in the UK. Is it the cure to all the problems venues face? No, and there are still problems with Agent of Change, namely the fact that the current laws only apply to England as Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland are yet to ratify the amendment and the fact that we are yet to see how effective agent of change will be; none the less this is one sore that the venues will hopefully have worry little about into the future (9).
In short, live music venues are under threat and facing many challenges. The challenges it faces could be devastating for music in this country in the long term however, these are not unsolvable problems; there are solutions. If certain changes to our funding our laws can become key topics within our parliament and if venues can get creative and look to reinvented themselves, in the new musical landscape that we live in then live venues might not only survive but thrive.
1. Uk’s First Live Music Census Finds Small Venues Struggling
2. What’s Happening to all our music venues
3. Live Music Census
4.Pubs closing at rate of 18 a week as people stay at home
5. Pubs in danger: Six charts on how the British drink
6. England needs Millions of homes to solve housing crisis
7. Government Guide to Community Interest Companies
8. Is social media destroying live music
9. Uk Planning System finally recognises the Agent of change Principle So What Now?https://www.citymetric.com/business/uk-planning-system-finally-recognises-agent-change-principle-so-now-what-4301
10. Music industry hits out after grassroots venues are denied small business rates cut
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