Live Music Exchange Blog

Introducing the UK Live Music Census – Matt Brennan, Adam Behr, Martin Cloonan, Emma Webster


In this week’s blog post, Matt Brennan introduces a new research project which launched in September: a UK-wide live music census funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

By Matt Brennan and the UK Live Music team (Adam Behr, Martin Cloonan, and Emma Webster)

Live music is popular across the UK, and has become increasingly important to the music industries, yet recent years have been difficult for venues. These challenges are felt particularly keenly by the smaller venues, clubs and pubs which provide for local musicians and audiences, and which serve as the training ground for future headline acts. There have been numerous media reports of British music venues closing as a result of property development and gentrification of once lively musical neighbourhoods. This is due not only to developers buying and converting former venues into flats, but also development around venues and the increasingly rigid noise regulations enforced by local authorities.

In a bid to make the case for live music, there have been numerous reports assessing its value produced by industry organisations, policy bodies and the third sector. Nevertheless, there is still a knowledge gap about the specific relationship between the value of live music on the one hand and current challenges facing venues across the UK on the other.

Accounts of live music activity vary according to where they have been produced and according to which type of policy, industry or academic research has provided them. For instance, reports by The Scottish Household Survey, City of Edinburgh Council, Department of Media Culture and Sport, as well as those that industry bodies have commissioned, use both different definitions and parameters for what counts as live music activity. They often conflate live music with other performance activities (like theatre) or musical sources of revenue (like recording or publishing). This variation can make it difficult to make meaningful comparisons across cities, and between different types of music. It also means that the full range of settings in which live music takes place is not always properly captured by work which has a specific industry or policy focus.

Our UK Live Music Census, which will take place in 2017, aims to address these issues directly. The project will be a collaboration between music industry organisations, policy bodies and academics. Working with key personnel in the live music sector, and building on the project team’s pilot study of a census of live music in Edinburgh, we will provide the first account of live music in the UK that covers the full range of venues and that includes all types of musical activity – from amateur to top-flight professional. We aim to address the following research questions:

1) What is the state of live music – economically, socially, and culturally – in cities across the UK?

2) How might the data from a live music census be used by policymakers in business and government (locally, nationally and internationally) to ensure a thriving music ecology from amateur through to professional and industrial levels?

3) What are the ongoing challenges that artists, entrepreneurs, venues and policymakers face in creating a rich and diverse live music culture?

4) What tools can academics develop to mobilise industry and citizen interest in British musical culture in order to create a more detailed and dynamic account of the nation’s musical life?

In conjunction with industry personnel and policymakers, our team will develop a toolkit for conducting a snapshot census of live music in three cities (Glasgow, Newcastle and Oxford) and share it with other institutions so that they can conduct parallel snapshots across the country. With project partners UK Music, the Musicians’ Union and the Music Venue Trust, we will also survey musicians, venues and audience members nationwide to provide the most comprehensive dataset yet of live music in the country.

Our prior research shows that different local government responses to cultural activity and venue licensing can have a profound effect on live music provision, but also that it is difficult for policymakers to make informed decisions given the variety of different definitions and parameters used in the available evidence.

By bringing together industry bodies, policymakers and academics to formulate the questions and promote the surveys, this project aims to assist researchers, policymakers and industry alike, providing consensus on an academically rigorous methodology and subsequent dataset for assessing the scope and value of live music in the UK. This will be a step forward for all concerned in working to safeguard and develop the cultural and economic wellbeing of this most valuable component of local character in cities and localities across the country.

Since the project began in September, we have conducted a literature review of previous music censuses (e.g. Adelaide, Austin, Bristol, Edinburgh and Melbourne) to learn from them as we develop the methodology for the UK Live Music Census in 2017. We have also held a focus group to discuss the aims and methods of the census with our project partners UK Music, the Music Venue Trust, the Musicians’ Union, as well as a range of other stakeholders including representatives from the Greater London Authority, Attitude Is Everything, Julie’s Bicycle, Help Musicians UK, Making Music,  PRS for Music and the PRS for Music Foundation.

If you are interested in participating in the UK Live Music Census project, or are simply interested in learning more, please visit the project website or e-mail us at: uklivemusiccensus [at] gmail [dot] com



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