Author(s): Emma Webster, Matt Brennan, Adam Behr and Martin Cloonan with Jake Ansell
Organisation: University of Edinburgh / Live Music Exchange
The UK’s first ever national live music census took place in 2017. For 24 hours from noon on Thursday 9th March, volunteers in cities across the country went out and about to live music events, from pub gigs to massed choirs to arena concerts. Live music censuses took place in our three primary snapshot cities of Glasgow, Newcastle-Gateshead and Oxford while affiliate censuses also ran in Brighton, Leeds and Southampton on 9-10 March and in Liverpool on 1-2 June, the affiliates led by members of UK Music’s Music Academic Partnership (MAP). The intention of the census project was to help measure live music’s social, cultural and economic value, discover what challenges the sector is facing and inform policy to help live music flourish.
Recent years appear to have been extremely challenging for live music venues, particularly those at the smaller end of the spectrum. There have been numerous media reports of British music venues closing because of property development and gentrification of once lively musical neighbourhoods. This is due not only to the conversion or even demolition of some venues, but also development around venues and the ensuing noise complaints from venues’ new residential neighbours. At the time of writing, a number of venues have voiced concerns about threats to their future. These include Glasgow’s King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, Bristol’s Thekla, and London’s Café Oto, the latter an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation.
The UK Live Music Census provides further evidence that smaller venues are facing a ‘perfect storm’ of issues at present which is affecting their long-term viability and sustainability. Some of these are internal – for example, equipment or building repairs. Many are external, such as increased business rates, strict licensing laws and the aforementioned nearby property development.
The report and executive summary sets out the main findings of the census. The report draws on survey data, both quantitative and qualitative, to bridge the current knowledge gap about the specific relationship between the value of live music on the one hand and the current challenges facing the UK’s live music sector on the other. It also draws on eighteen semi-structured profile interviews with individual musicians and venue workers in order to provide illustrative examples of some of these challenges. Workers from small music venues and (music) bars/pubs form the majority of the interviewees – and, indeed, a key focus of the report – as this currently appears to be the area of the sector facing the most pressing challenges. We hope that by focusing on this vital but often hidden sphere of activity and value, the live music ecology of the UK as a whole will benefit.
All reports licensed on a Non-commercial Creative Commons (CC-NY) basis.
Disclaimer: We should note that although the Musicians’ Union, Music Venue Trust, UK Music and various other stakeholder groups have contributed to this project in important ways, the opinions expressed and conclusions drawn are our own.