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Ten things learned from Venues Day 2016 – Emma Webster

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It was the third year of Venues Day on Tuesday 18th October 2016 and once again, Live Music Exchange’s Emma Webster was there to hear the latest developments in the grassroots venue sector.

  1. Language is important
    CEO of Music Venue Trust (MVT) Mark Davyd reported that the campaign to protect grassroots venues has made progress on the language used to describe the sector – ‘grassroots music venues’ rather than ‘toilet venues’ or ‘dive bars’ – even in Parliament. This reflects the MVT’s overarching campaign to get venues recognised as cultural spaces rather than as simply licensed premises that put on music. But Davyd argued that still not enough has changed – there are too many venues still closing and not enough new ones opening. Later, however, at the wrap up session, Davyd appeared quietly optimistic, stating that things are ‘starting to look better’. In the earlier session, he cited the success in getting the Agent of Change policy into London’s planning guidance, and changes to the National Planning Framework. One of the ways in which venues could help themselves, as Davyd suggested, is by restructuring their existing business models in order to take advantage of benefits unavailable to, say, sole traders. For example, it was suggested that if a venue is set up as a Community Interest Company then no VAT is payable on tickets.
  2. Music Venue Trust has launched new initiatives to help the sector
    Some of the initiatives announced by the Music Venue Trust at the start of the day included Emergency Response, a pool of experts on which venues can draw to get help with complaints and legal issues; the announcement of an open letter for PRS for Music asking to cancel the minimum fee; the launch of MVT-NI in Northern Ireland; the launch of Live Nation/Ticketweb’s MVT-endorsed ticketing platform, Backline (cf CMU); and the launch of the Sound & Vision campaign, which sets out to improve the sound and lighting capacity of at least 100 venues over the next five years and requires £4.8m to do so – Mark Davyd called on the Arts Council and other bodies in the music industry for a one-off payment to make this happen. MVT’s Bev Whitrick suggested that they are not sure they need a big national event in 2017 but there may well be networking events next year instead.
  3. The music industry is greedy but venues need to make money too
    As part of the opening panel, BBC Radio 6 Music DJ Steve Lamacq stated that ‘We are up against a very greedy music industry, but we are a terrifically important part of it’. Indeed, some of the discourse over the day seemed to suggest that venue workers were passionate people who never made any money. However, as one venue worker told me, the elephant in the room was that actually, he did want to make money and pay the bills, and that while the spirit of cooperation and discussion of the cultural value of venues was welcome, venue owners, while not necessarily greedy, weren’t necessarily just in it for the music.
  4. The grassroots venue sector still needs to raise more awareness about its plight
    Steve Lamacq also suggested that agents should be putting money into the sector to help get people in to venues, adding that the people in the room – the venues – ‘are amongst the last arbiters of taste I would trust’ because the venues are putting on bands that they love – albeit alongside tribute acts – before A&R and industry interest get involved. He highlighted how once the venues are gone, we won’t be able to get them back, citing the symbolic importance of a venue like the long-running 100 Club on Oxford Street and noting how venues are increasingly pushed out of city centres. Zachary Stephens of London’s Nambucca suggested that not enough people are attending gigs and called for a national campaign to raise awareness (although see Independent Venue Week).
  5. Audiences are dwindling but vital younger audiences are more difficult to attract than ever
    As with Venues Day 2015 there was some discussion around dwindling audience numbers, particularly the younger end of the market. The 2016 event featured a panel about under-18s and over-35s audiences, which included Guto Brychan of Cardiff’s Clwb Ifor’s suggestion that ‘If you wait until they’re 18, then you’ve lost them … Catch them when they’re 14, 15, 16 and you’ve got them for life’. What was apparent, however, was how difficult it is for venues to put on gigs for under-18s due to licensing conditions – one venue worker in the audience noted that council licensing usually defers to police licensing, who often take a stronger line – and fear about consequences should anything go awry at the gig. It could also be that the number of young artists is decreasing: in another panel, Lisa Musso from Burnley’s Sanctuary Rock Bar mentioned that there has been a decline in local bands over the eleven years she has been at the venue, meaning having to expand the venue’s offer to broaden the audience. Another discussion highlighted that agents may not want to work with younger, untried promoters. However, as Kilimanjaro CEO Stuart Galbraith claimed, local promoters often make the best promoters in the country because they really know the local scene, and it is argued here that younger promoters are more likely to draw a younger crowd of peers than older promoters. The student union circuit that produced the likes of Simon Moran and John Giddings and allowed them to learn the ropes with investment behind them has all but disappeared. However, it is suggested that as well as investment in venues for infrastructure, young promoters should be also be educated and encouraged to apply for funding. The PRS for Music Foundation is one place to start, as a flyer in the conference goody bag states that grants of up to £10K are available for venues, festivals and promoters.
  6. Help Musicians UK adds its voice
    A welcome new voice (and funder) is the charity Help Musicians UK (HMUK, formerly known as Musicians Benevolent Fund), which has launched a new five-year strategy in the run-up to its centenary, and has broadened its remit beyond helping what used to be mainly classical and jazz musicians, to include broader funding schemes and a new campaigning role. One of the new initiatives involved paying for five venues from Northern Ireland to attend Venues Day, also as part of an effort to develop the presence of MVT and HMUK in Northern Ireland.
  7. The 2016 Indie Promoter of the Year offers tips for success
    Luke Hinton from the Horn of Plenty in St Albans has seen his venue go from 4,500 gig-goers per year in c. 2008 to 11,000 in 2016 and won Indie Promoter of the Year at the Live Music Awards in 2016 for local impact. Some of the reasons he ascribes to this success include working with bands on their first show and their first tour; enthusing other staff and other local venues; working in collaboration with other venues to help the scene more generally, to the extent of promoting other venues’ shows (when they don’t clash with their own); and educating local bands through running panels at the venue featuring successful bands and backstage crew such as sound engineers.
  8. Tension between local and national promoters and why co-promotions aren’t necessarily the answer
    There was some tension between local and national promoters on the promoters and venues music industry panel, arising from when a local venue and/or promoter builds a relationship with an artist but then that artist switches to a national promoter once they reach a certain level. There was even a suggestion that that the local promoters should get some kind of financial compensation from the national promoters who take on artists developed by local promoters. However, as Stuart Galbraith explained, this is not a workable model. Increasing the number of co-promotions between national and local promoters was also suggested, but, as Galbraith said, ‘most of the time you’d rather not co-promote with us’, suggesting that 50% of Kilimanjaro’s shows at this level lose money, sometimes up to £3-4,000 a show, because the national promoters see working with up-and-coming bands as a long-term investment and are therefore prepared to lose money. For co-promotions, then, as he said, ‘If you want to co-promote, great, but you’ll lose more than you gain’. He added that he would never knowingly co-promote a show that he knew would lose money, but that some national promoters would, citing one who expected to lose on a third of all their shows every year.
  9. National advertising campaigns and the need for better communication between agents and promoters
    In the same session, one of the complaints from venues was about national advertising contributions, for which venues might pay £250-350 but often do not receive any proof as to whether and where the money has been spent, or that it is overly focused on the south of England. (However, in another panel, one of the agents explained that venues/promoters often don’t ask where the money is going.) Galbraith suggested that venues and local promoters should tell the agent that they can’t afford to contribute as the gig will still be put on the advert but there will be fewer adverts due to the lower income. This caused an audible gasp in the room, which Kate Hewett from Sheffield’s Harley articulated as venues not having realised that this was even an option, leading to a general plea for better communication between agents and promoters/venues.
  10. How to work better with agents
    In the agents and venues music industry session, the general complaint from venues appeared to be around loyalty in the business (between artists/agents and promoters/venues); communication – or lack thereof – between agents and venues; and about fees. Lisa Musso expressed annoyance when some agents say ‘make me an offer’ – effectively a closed bids system – as they have no figure from which to start. Steve Zapp from ITB agency explained that the system works in this way because some artists want to see a number of offers for each show and it sometimes comes down to the bottom line as to which promoter/venue is offering the highest amount. One suggestion was for venues to form cartels in order to approach agents with a ready-made tour for which the venues can then share cost of flights, etc. Another semi-joking suggestion by chair John Robb was for venues/promoters to approach artists directly, although Zapp said he would have to have a word with the artist if they did that … Agent Bex Majors from CAA suggested that there are lots of myths about what an agent’s role is, and it was interesting to note that her definition included looking after the promoters as well as the artists because they’ll always be new artists coming in but always much fewer promoters – ‘you can’t bite the hand that feeds’.
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2 thoughts on “Ten things learned from Venues Day 2016 – Emma Webster

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  1. Thanks Emma,
    (Even if my name was spelled wrong) :-;
    I should have clarified at the time that IVW is brilliant but I meant more specifically TV and radio advertising and other other media outlets. Using all our contacts and the good will that exists to get advertising space donated.

  2. Interesting … ‘ However, as Kilimanjaro CEO Stuart Galbraith claimed, local promoters often make the best promoters in the country because they really know the local scene, and it is argued here that younger promoters are more likely to draw a younger crowd of peers than older promoters.

    Ok- fair point but…
    ‘There was some tension between local and national promoters on the promoters and venues music industry panel, arising from when a local venue and/or promoter builds a relationship with an artist but then that artist switches to a national promoter once they reach a certain level. There was even a suggestion that that the local promoters should get some kind of financial compensation from the national promoters who take on artists developed by local promoters. However, as Stuart Galbraith explained, this is not a workable model. Increasing the number of co-promotions between national and local promoters was also suggested, but, as Galbraith said, ‘most of the time you’d rather not co-promote with us’, suggesting that 50% of Kilimanjaro’s shows at this level lose money, sometimes up to £3-4,000 a show, because the national promoters see working with up-and-coming bands as a long-term investment and are therefore prepared to lose money.

    So Stuarts admitting that the local promoter is better than him but doesnt want to co-promote with them …..but if the local promoter is actually better then why not let him/her either promote this show or at the very least ‘ co-promote it’ because changes are the national promoter would loose less money?.
    The bottom is line is the national promoters don’t want to promote at grass roots level because they ‘know’ they’ll loose money, whereas when the band reach a certain level then there’s a better chance they’ll make money. The first call on the show should to the promoter who has built up the band from zero. If he/she/they don’t want to risk their money then by all means offer it to a national promoter

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