Live Music Exchange Blog

The Musicians’ Union encourages Fair Play from venues – Kelly Wood


In this week’s blog post Kelly Wood, Live Music Official at the Musicians’ Union, outlines the background to the Fair Play Guide, along with it’s reception, and looks to the future at plans to expand the Fair Play initiative and offer venues the opportunity to get involved.

Back in 2012, after being inundated with complaints about pay to play gigs, promoters that don’t promote, bad ticket deals and exploitative showcase opportunities, the MU launched the Fair Play Guide. 

The aim of the guide was to provide some fairly straight forward advice for artists to use when booking shows with promoters. Up until this point, new and emerging artists would often feel exploited by deals that involved them promoting their shows and tirelessly selling tickets to their fans whilst promoters seemingly did little in the way of promotion yet walked away with all of the ticket revenue. 

However, on the flipside we heard from well-intended promoters who were struggling to populate their shows as bands that they’d booked had exaggerated about their pulling power and would do nothing to promote gigs to their fanbase. The bands would turn up on the night of a gig and expect to play to a ready-made audience. In this situation, everybody lost out: bands on a bill would play only to one another and promoters and venues would struggle to cover their overheads.  

The MU therefore felt that it was important to work upon the relationship between the artist and promoter and to demonstrate how a well-negotiated and co-promoted show could result in both parties enjoying a successful gig. We took on board all of the frustrations from artists and promoters and looked at how we could find mutually acceptable and fair ways of working. Due to the amount of variables involved in gigging – venue capacity, size of band, ticket price, line-up etc – we avoided setting rates of payment, and instead focussed on an approach that informed artists how to recognise and negotiate a good deal, and when to simply say ‘no’ and walk away.

For clarity, we also defined what we felt represented an unfair or bad deal:

An arrangement whereby artists agree to play a part in the promotion or financing of a gig, but aren’t proportionately rewarded for their efforts.

Two years down the line, the Fair Play Guide has been well received by artists, promoters and venue owners and has become a kind of standard industry response to pay to play issues. Job done. 

Our attention has now been turned to the plight of the small live music venue. Some of the UK’s most revered and successful music venues are currently embroiled in expensive legal battles due to noise abatement notices and licence reviews, most commonly emanating from a single complaint from a local resident. More often than not these complainants move near to the existing music venue and subsequently decide that they don’t like the noise, the environment or the cultural attractions that presumably made the area attractive to the residential accommodation market in the first place. For some venues, the crippling legal fees can immediately bring about their closure. 

There’s no doubt that venues need our support, both in times of trouble and also on a day-to-day basis, which is why the MU is expanding the Fair Play initiative to offer venues the opportunity to get involved. In order to publicly identify and promote venues that treat artists well, the MU is offering ‘Fair Play Venue’ status. In order to qualify, a venue needs to operate according to the Fair Play Guide i.e., it can’t operate any pay to play or unfair ticketing deals. Enlisted venues are given stickers to display on windows/walls which let both artists and audiences know that they’re considered to be a fair venue. Furthermore, all venues will be entered into a database which will be used to advise MU members asking for recommended venues that they can approach for gigs. 

By championing the work that venues do, we hope to encourage more frequent gig-going amongst music fans and also to raise awareness of the role that these venues play in launching the careers of established and high-profile artists. 

The Fair Play Venue initiative will be officially launched later in the year. If you would like to nominate a venue, please contact Kelly Wood:

Click here to read or download a copy of the Fair Play Guide

Please note that this is a forum for discussion, dialogue, and debate, and posts and comments on this blog represent only the author, not Live Music Exchange as a whole, or any other hosting or associated institutions.


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