Live Music Exchange Blog

The Edinburgh Live Music Census






Today’s post contains information about an important new research project in Edinburgh being run by the Live Music Exchange team. There are opportunities for live music practitioners and audiences across Edinburgh to get involved. Read on to find out more and do get in touch if you’re interested.


In the first weekend of June of this year, the Live Music Exchange will be conducting one of the first exercises of its kind – a live music census.

We’ll be surveying Edinburgh, to gather as much information as we can about the current state of play with live music venues in the city. The project, a pilot for what we hope will be a larger roll-out of the exercise, aligns with the current climate and needs of venues in Edinburgh and beyond.

Background to the census:

It’s not news to live music practitioners in Britain that, despite the growth of the sector in the past decade, the benefits are being felt unevenly.

Although there are a rich variety of different sizes and types of spaces across the musical ecology, barely a week goes by without a venue coming under threat of closure. The problems are particularly acute for smaller, independent venues.

The inherent precariousness of running a music venue – a difficult enterprise at the best of times – is exacerbated by external pressures from things like residential development and the ever-shifting nature of local politics.

But the issue is being paid more attention than ever before. The formation of the Music Venue Trust has provided for the first time a collective voice for operators who have long been subject to a geographic spread and different local conditions.

There is some common ground across the country. Not least, the Music Venue Trust and Musicians’ Union are supporting a campaign for the introduction of the ‘Agent of Change’ principle to protect established venues from complaints arising from new buildings in the area.

But the challenges and opportunities also vary from area to area. Any locality has a characteristic live music ‘ecology’ – a mix of venues of different capacities, demographic variations and the distinctive features of its local government and infrastructure.

One notable aspect of Edinburgh, of course, is the huge surge in cultural activity that takes place over the festival. But this has also led to questions about an imbalance between the summer surfeit and the city’s year round provision. It seems to struggle to maintain independent music venues, and closures over the last few years have seen mounting concerns.

Dedicated music venues and pubs alike have also mobilised in opposition to a clause in the local licensing policy stipulating that amplified music be ‘inaudible’ in neighbouring residential properties – a sledgehammer to crack a nut, say venues, that is not in operation anywhere else. The council, for its part, has undertaken to pay closer attention to the needs of venues across the city, setting up working groups to examine the inaudibility clause and its music strategy more widely.

The census:

These initiatives, local and national, require evidence to get a sense of the state of play and to illustrate the full range of musical activity. Taking inspiration from a live music census conducted in Victoria, Australia in 2012, and which helped to drive the introduction of the Agent of Change principle there, the University of Edinburgh’s music department will be gathering information about the situation in Edinburgh.

We’ll be sending surveys out to every business that we can identify that hosts live music of any kind (from cafes, through pubs to concert halls).

From this we’ll get a sense of how often they put on live music, what kind of music they feature, their capacities, their staffing levels and how planning and licensing issues affect their work.

This will cover the city and provide an illustration of the city’s full capacity for live music provision, the challenges it faces and the potential for better supporting it.

We’ll also be placing surveys at gigs taking place on the first weekend of June to collect information from audience members and musicians. We’re recruiting volunteers and the team will visit as many gigs on that weekend as we can to speak to musicians, audiences and venue staff.

We’ll collate and analyse the information and place it into the context of wider research on live music in a report for the city council and for all the participants. This pilot study will provide a snapshot of Edinburgh’s live music activity as well up-to-date information about the full extent of the city’s musical life with indications about how Edinburgh and other cities can form a productive relationship between venues and their surroundings.

We’ll be sharing our information and co-operating with the city’s music scene and there are plenty of opportunities for people to get involved.


There are details at the census website for anybody interested in taking part in the survey.

This is a chance for Edinburgh’s music scene to pull together to illustrate its value to the city.

If you’re hosting live music of any kind in Edinburgh over the weekend of 5th/6th June – whether you’re a dedicated music venue, a pub, a café or any other kind of space – please get in touch and let us know.

Likewise, if you’re going to a gig of any kind, or playing at one, on that weekend, please contact the census team and we’ll give you the tools you need to contribute to the project.


This is one step on the wider journey towards fostering a healthy and supportive nationwide environment for live music.








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