With Glastonbury having a fallow year, next month the BBC is organising instead its Biggest Weekend, bringing together the biggest names in music for a series of live concerts in every corner of the UK. This promises to be yet another fantastic showcase of live music here in Britain.
Our reputation as a live music powerhouse – from our vibrant small venues through to our world-class theatres, arenas, stadiums and festivals – is reinforced by the economic data. According to UK Music’s 2017 Measuring Music report, live music contributes over £1 billion to the British economy.
Aside from the economic contribution live music makes, we know that it brings enjoyment to millions of people. That’s why at UK Music we’ve been so vocal in supporting venues on issues like agent of change. And that’s why we are equally passionate about the work of Attitude is Everything, who have campaigned so tirelessly over the past 18 years to ensure live music events are as accessible as possible to deaf and disabled audiences.
As Suzanne Bull MBE, Attitude is Everything’s fantastic CEO, so aptly puts it, music should be “without barriers”. It should be all-inclusive. Everyone should have the same experience as everyone else. Hear, hear.
In 2017, UK Music’s Live Music Group formally endorsed Attitude is Everything’s Charter of Best Practice as the industry standard for live music accessibility.
More than 130 venues and festivals, are now signatories to this fantastic initiative – from Glastonbury, Latitude and the O2, through to the likes of Manchester’s Band on the Wall and the Albany in Deptford. They are part of a process that encourages constant improvement in the services offered to disabled customers.
There are cultural, moral and legal imperatives for these actions, as well as significant commercial persuasions. The smartest minds in our live business have long realised that by welcoming disabled customers and encouraging their participation, it allows them to tap into a spectacularly large audience demographic.
Those who have embraced these improvements are rewarded with repeat business. Notably, every venue that signs up to the charter sees – without fail – a dramatic increase in ticket sales to disabled fans.
A snapshot of this demand is provided in Attitude is Everything’s State of Access Report, where a survey of 349 disabled fans reveals the respondents attended an average of 9 gigs each per year, and collectively spent £250,000 on tickets and at-venue purchases such as merchandise, food and drinks.
When you consider millions of deaf and disabled people attend live music events in the UK, then the penny starts to drop – it is really important to provide this audience with the customer service that they, along with their friends and family, demand.
The smartest minds in our live business have long realised that by welcoming disabled customers, it allows them to tap into a spectacularly large audience demographic
Which is why ensuring accessible booking is such an important issue. You can make a venue or festival as accessible as you like – but if buying a ticket becomes an insurmountable barrier to disabled customers, then event organisers will risk falling short at the first hurdle.
I am delighted to say that there is a hell of a lot of innovative work going on in this area, and music businesses – big and small – are making significant headway. Despite some ongoing challenges, it was notable from Attitude is Everything’s research that a large number of respondents thought that access booking has improved.
The message I’m hearing from Suzanne is that what we need is more comprehensive action – we need standardisation of processes, and we need to move faster.
That’s why UK Music is proud to support publication of the State of Access Report and help facilitate the Ticketing Without Barriers Coalition, a coming together of the UK’s biggest ticket companies, promoters and venues in an bid to address five key issues – from establishing a universal proof-of-disability system and proving accurate online information, to delivering the choice and flexibility when booking tickets that non-disabled fans enjoy as a matter of course.
By combining the knowledge and experience of this group with the drive and zeal of Suzanne and her team, I am sure we will make great progress.
Having brought this 35-strong coalition together, there are plans to host a first meeting at UK Music and for a progress report at the Ticketing Professionals Conference in March 2019. So, the clock is ticking.
It’s crucial that this is much more than a talking shop and becomes pivotal in pushing ahead with a shared plan to usher in real change.
So, I urge everyone across the industry to join UK Music and Attitude is Everything in seeking to provide deaf and disabled people the best possible access booking experience.
Britain is the best place in the world for live music – but no one should ever be denied the right to experience a live music event. We should not rest until we can ensure equal access for everyone.
Attitude is Everything’s State of Access Report 2018 was published today and can be downloaded for free here. Michael Dugher is chief executive of UK Music.