Live Music Exchange Blog

Considering the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s Live Music Report – Martin Cloonan and Adam Behr


On March 19th, after a lengthy inquiry, the UK Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee produced its report on live music, drawing on numerous evidence submissions, including from the Live Music Exchange. Having followed the proceedings, this post sees LMX’s Martin Cloonan and Adam Behr assess the contents of the report, beyond the headlines.

With the UK Parliament approaching meltdown over Brexit, it is easy to forget that “normal” politics goes on and that other policies are being pursued and debated. Of particular interest to Live Music Exchange readers will be the recent report by the House of Commons’ Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee on Live Music:

Published on 19 March 2019, the report is produced by politicians from three political parties (Conservative, Labour, SNP) and the result of an inquiry into ‘Live Music’ launched in January 2018 and which received written evidence from over 80 individuals and organisations (including the Live Music Exchange), and oral evidence from 18 people (including representatives of key organisations, some of which had also submitted in writing).

Indeed, such was the demand to contribute to the inquiry, that the portal stayed open for five months beyond the initial deadline for written submissions. The importance of live music underpinned the launch of the inquiry in the first place. The scale of its importance to people was evident in the response.

The report itself drew prominent coverage for its suggestions that the public should not use the secondary ticketing site viagogo until it complies with relevant consumer law, and that local authority and licensing policies, even after the repeal of the Metropolitan Police’s notorious form 696, were having an inordinate negative effect on grime artists, a welcome acknowledgement of deep seated problems. But it is perhaps the Committee’s less headline-grabbing recommendations which may be more important in the longer term.

Beyond the headlines

The report is primarily focussed on the lower or “grassroots” end of the industry, described here as ‘unsubsidised, small and medium-scale venues that predominantly host contemporary music’ (p. 4). It comprises of four sections – ‘The live music success story’, ‘Problems in the ticketing market’, ‘Challenges facing music venues’ and ‘Threats to the talent pipeline’. In each area evidence is considered, analysis undertaken and recommendations made. As is usual for such Committee reports, the evidence is supplied by external individuals and organisations and not the result of primary research. However, in this report the Committee was also building on its own previous work, especially that on both ticketing and the potential impact of Brexit on the creative industries, both issues which it returned to here.

The report begins with the customary good news stories ­– drawing in this instance on UK Music’s work – about how the industry is worth around £1 billion a year, attracts 29.1 million people and employs 28,000 (p.4). The chapter on ‘The live music success story’ highlights the economic, cultural and social benefits of live music, notes regional disparities in provision, low earnings at the bottom end, concentration in ownership of festivals and problems faced by grime. Refreshingly, the Committee explicitly acknowledged that ‘passion, rather than profit, motivates many working in live music’ (p. 9). It recommended that regional Music Boards be established to promote live music, something which could have long term benefits, although – as ever – much will depend on their geographical, social and economic remits.

The report also hinted that all might not be well as far as ownership of live music events is concerned, with the Association of Independent Festivals’ suggestion that Live Nation’s dominance had the potential to harm the festival sector being highlighted. Here the Committee recommended that the Competition and Markets Authority undertake a market study of competition with ‘the music industry’ (p.10). Again, this is something which might have long term repercussions. With regard to grime, the Committee suggested that levels of government work together to develop guidance for local authorities and police forms ‘to ensure that urban music acts are not unfairly targeted’ (p. 11).

All this serves to remind us that a live music ecology depends on the work of a number of agencies whose primary focus is not music (Behr et al 2015). Calling such people together in the name of music remains a key priority.

Pressure on touts

The second chapter returns to the issue of ticketing and the problems caused by touting. Here a ‘complex and fragmented ticketing market’ (p. 12) which confuses customers is reported. Ed Sheeran’s promoter Stuart Galbraith highlighted the opportunity cost of significant price mark-ups on the secondary market, making the argument in his evidence that a person paying a large amount for a touted ticket was using money that might otherwise be used for numerous smaller shows, thus benefitting touts rather than grassroots venues.

The Committee did not see a problem with reselling – or touting – as such but ‘the perceived exploitation of the market through inflated prices and profiteering’ (p. 13). While advancements in terms of information given to consumers and actions taken by promoters to limit resale were noted, continuing problems including lack of compliance with consumer law and regulation were also cited. Here the focus was on viagogo, which has been reluctant to comply with new consumer regulations or to explain itself to the Committee. For the Committee to respond – as it did – by recommending a boycott of that firm is another radical step. However, generally the Committee continued an approach which we have identified elsewhere of treating tickets primarily as economic, rather than cultural, artefacts (Behr and Cloonan 2017). Hence the problem is identified here as being mass touting rather than touting in and of itself.

The Committee also called on google to ensure that consumer law is complied with, but not for an extension of that law which might forbid or cap reselling, although an interesting side-effect of this kind of parliamentary activity is that pressure may still drive change. Ticketmaster’s decision last year to close its European re-sale sites Seatwave and GetMeIn, replacing them with a ‘fan exchange’ facility that caps resale prices at 15% above the ticket’s face value was obviously a market decision, not an explicitly political one, but in effect recreated elements of Sharon Hodgson MP’s Bill of 2010 – 12 that proposed a 10% cap, although wasn’t passed. So the broader political climate pertains.

Interventions to protect the live music ecology

The chapter on ‘Challenges facing music venues’ refers to ‘the music industry “ecosystem”’ (p. 23) and evidence provided by grassroots venues also suggested a live music ecology, something which the Live Music Exchange has been at the forefront of theorising. The Committee suggests that, overall, ‘[t]he Government has not acted promptly enough to stem the tide of these closures’ (p. 24), although it is perhaps less clear about what prompt, specific actions should have been taken. It suggests that venues faced ‘a “perfect storm” of challenges including rising rents and business rates, pressure from property development and stagnating incomes’ (ibid.), a phrase and explanation which it borrows from the Census. The Committee calls for a review of business rates and a more robust implementation of the Agent of Change principle. It then goes on to recommend:

that in the next legislative session the Government appoints a statutory consultative body to promote the protection of music venues, provide advice to local authorities on relevant planning applications and monitor how “agent of change” is applied in practice around the country (p. 27).

It is this which is perhaps the Committee’s most radical proposal. If properly implemented it has the potential to shift power relations in the property market away from developers and towards venues. This is direct market intervention, and suggests that the public’s right to access culture in the form of live music takes precedence over the right to make money.

If such a body were established, it would face numerous challenges – such as defining a venue and the application of protection across different kinds of venue. (For example, many pubs are potential venues, with numerous closing weekly, or double as venues to varying degrees). It would presumably also face dealing with appeals from developers and accounting for the differences caused by political devolution (which features in relation to the proposal about music boards but not in the section regarding regional disparities in relation to ‘agent of change’). As ever regarding statutory matters, the details will be crucial.

Nevertheless, the establishment of such a body could have a much greater impact in the longer term than the machinations of a single company like viagogo and (necessary) attempts to mitigate prejudice against grime. It would ideally call on multiple perspectives ­– and include academic a range of academic expertise – but if it got this right, then this would be a very welcome development.

The Committee also recommended a review of the effects of the 2012 Live Music Act potentially easing licensing restrictions in ways long called for by campaigners. It also asked that ‘the Government to extend the creative industries tax relief to support other forms of music production, in addition to that already given for orchestral performances’ (p. 30). This is another interesting idea, the full implications of which might require careful working through.

In addition, the Arts Council of England was invited to include funding for grassroots venues in its next ten-year strategy. It was noted, too, that many countries in northern Europe have publicly subsidised venues which effectively constitute a well maintained touring circuit for international tours. There was an implicit message here. However, the Committee stopped short of recommending that such a system be introduced in the UK, something which might – especially alongside an Arts Council commitment – help to alleviate the unevenness in provision which it described elsewhere.

The final chapter deals with ‘Threats to the talent pipeline’ via an examination of music education, the impact of the English Baccalaureate, music education hubs, sustainable incomes streams and the impact of Brexit. Noel Gallagher is quoted as saying: ‘Now you have to be middle class to be in a band’ (p. 35) and this is used as a means via which to call for more equal access to careers in music, although how this would be put in to effect is not made explicit.

On education the Committee makes a call to involve all representatives, from all genres, in helping to the reform the (English) national curriculum and a call to open music education in schools to being about the music industries in addition to instrumental tuition. Here DJ Target suggested to the inquiry that ‘in 2018 there are probably 50 times the number of jobs (in music) than there were in the 1980s or 1990s’ (p. 35), a claim that feels intuitively plausible but which, in fact, is difficult to evidence given the multiple changes to the music industries contexts and definitions over the last three decades, especially since DJ Target’s broader point about the new kinds of work that are becoming available warrants unpacking.

There is, likewise, a call for arts to be added to the English Baccalaureate and for the work of Music Education Hubs to be evaluated with examples of good practice being rolled out. The Committee further called for ‘the music industry’ to ‘ensure (that) a greater proportion of its revenues is channelled into supporting artists at the early stages of their careers’ (p. 40). Again there is room for more detail here, but the means is deemed to be via government convening a taskforce of musicians’ representatives and industry people ‘to explore how the industry may be supported and incentivised to invest more effectively in supporting grassroots talent’ (p. 40).

On Brexit, the Committee also expressed support for the idea of a EU-wide touring visa, which it called upon the government to pursue. Perhaps more controversially the Committee flew in the face of government policies which link potential migrants’ immigration status to their salary level, noting how little musicians generally earn, often well below the £30,000 per annum required for skilled workers to get a level 2 visa. So the Committee repeated an earlier demand that the Government ‘develop an immigration policy that recognises the broader contributions individuals make beyond their salary level’ (p. 43). This was again a relatively radical proposal which recognises that immigration policy has to go beyond the economic and to include broader, cultural contributions.

Overall, then, the report verges on the radical in several places. Notwithstanding the current make-up of the government, and the committee having a Conservative chair, the report contains a clearly interventionist thread. While this is primarily at the level of regulation, it also hints at the possibility of public intervention in other areas. Its recognition that many European venues benefit from public investment in ways which have hitherto been side-lined in the UK does hint at the potential for a more long-term approach. Thus while viagogo and grime grabbed the initial attention, the longer term impact will be important.

In the current political climate, calls for the establishment of regional Music Boards, a statutory consulting body, investigating patterns of major festival ownership and an immigration policy that maximises the potential for artists’ movement are a potential counter-measures to the more pinched thinking evident elsewhere. They are clearly calls for intervention in a context of market and/or regulatory failure and we welcome them.

Importantly, in an age where expertise is routinely derided (thank you Michael) the fact that academic research is drawn on throughout the report runs counter to the trend that has contributed to the current parlous state of our polity at large. Much of what is recommended by the Committee pays more than lip-service to longstanding campaigns and to those with a direct stake in a healthy musical ecology. Alongside these, then, we were pleased to see our own research heeded and vindicated in this report. We will be watching future developments keenly. And hoping.


Behr A., Brennan, M., Cloonan, M., Frith, S. and Webster, E. (2016) ‘Live Concert Performance: An Ecological Approach’. Rock Music Studies 2016, 3(1), 5-23.

Behr, A. and Cloonan, M. (2018) ‘Going spare? Concert tickets, touting and cultural value’, International Journal of Cultural Policy. E-pub before print.




















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