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Grace Jones - George Tavern
Grace Jones in a ‘Save the George Tavern’ campaign t-shirtvia

New data confirms that UK music venues are under threat, surprising no one

The first ever live music census shows that property developers and licensing laws are strangling Britain’s venues

It’s not exactly news, in 2018, that UK music venues are under threat. It feels like every other week a beloved space shuts its doors for good, but so far it’s been hard to qualitatively prove just how bad the situation is. However a new survey, the UK’s first ever live music census, has confirmed with hard data what we knew anecdotally to be true – that Britain’s venues are finding it increasingly hard to operate against a “perfect storm” of rising business rates, private property developments, strict licensing laws, and noise restrictions.

“Valuing live music: The UK Live Music Census 2017” was led by researchers from the universities of Edinburgh and Newcastle in the UK and Turku in Finland. While much of the media coverage surrounding the closure of clubs has focused on London in recent years, the census explores the more underreported issues facing venues outside the capital. They surveyed hundreds of venues, promoters, and music fans, and profiled individual musicians and venue workers to get a snapshot of the UK live music landscape today, focusing on the “social, cultural, and economic value” of live venues to find “what challenges the sector is facing and inform policy to help live music flourish”. Their findings were not good.

Of the nearly 200 small music venues the researchers spoke to (‘small’ being defined as having a capacity of up to 350 people), 33% reported that increases in business rates had an “extreme, strong, or moderate” impact on their existence in the past 12 months. One medium-sized venue (between 351 and 650 capacity) in the south west of England reported their rateable value – a figure that determines the business rates they pay each year – went from £17,500 to £72,000.

29% of small venues, and 27% of all venues, reported problems from property development around their business, which can lead to noise complaints from nearby residents. The researchers recommend that the government develops a legally binding ‘agent of change’ principle, which means that developers should be responsible for soundproofing new properties rather than existing venues.

The report also highlighted how hard it was for musicians to make a living in the UK. 66% of respondents said they’ve worked unpaid for “exposure” that they felt had no positive effect on their career. 68% of musicians said that stagnating pay made it difficult to earn a workable income, with the figure rising to 80% for those identifying as professional musicians.

This is all despite findings showing that 78% of music fans have visited a small music venue during the past 12 months, festival attendance is growing, and that venues contribute tens of millions to local economies. They also found that roughly half of surveyed promoters do charity work or have links with educational communities. “We recommend that local authorities recognise small and medium music venues as key sites of artist and audience development and as cultural and community assets; for example by naming such venues directly in policies,” the report states.

The report also addressed accessibility in venues. 86% of promoters said they had not received disability awareness training, despite 90% saying that accessibility was an “essential or desirable” factor when booking shows. They also acknowledged the low proportion of BAME respondents and plan to address that in future surveys, as well as broadening their reach to smaller urban and rural populations as well as cities.

Recommendations from the census include reforms to the secondary ticketing market, as well as funding for new artists, venue infrastructure, tour, and rehearsal spaces. They also encourage the government to promote music education in schools and encouraging live music attendance.

Read the full report here.