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UK lawmakers call for more investment in young talent

DCMS's live music report, published today, urges wide-ranging investing in emerging artists, as well as support for venues and an end to 'discrimination' against grime

By Jon Chapple on 18 Mar 2019

Adele, Wembley 2017

image © Shani Thorpe

An influential British parliamentary committee has urged the music industry to devote more of its resources to developing emerging talent, warning of the threat posed to the UK’s talent pipeline from chronic under-investment.

In its live music report, which summarises the findings of a live music inquiry first announced in January 2018, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee – best known for its fight against unlawful ticket resale – calls for the industry to do more to support up-and-coming artists, whose ability to create music is “essential for the long-term health of the industry”.

“Structural problems within the music industry limit artists’ ability to earn a sustainable income, and that in turn risks excluding sections of society from a career in music,” reads the report, released today (19 March), which contains evidence from CAA, the AIF, StubHub, Viagogo, Ticketmaster, DHP Family, the BPI, Music Venue Trust (MVT) and some 60 others.

“The industry needs to ensure a greater proportion of its revenues [are] channelled into supporting artists at the early stages of their careers.”

In a section quoting Gomez’s Tom Gray, who told the committee, “There is now a lot more money in the business than there ever was, but somehow that is not finding its way back down to the bottom,” the report also recommends the British government join forces with umbrella organisation UK Music to establish a taskforce that would explore how the industry could be encouraged to act.

“Structural problems within the music industry limit artists’ ability to earn a sustainable income”

“We recommend that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and UK Music convene a taskforce this year comprised of [sic] musicians’ representatives and corporate stakeholders,” it reads, “to explore how the industry may be supported and incentivised to invest more effectively in supporting grassroots talent.”

In addition to the lack of support for emerging talent, the DCMS inquiry identified the following as problem areas where action is needed “to safeguard the future of the UK’s live music industry”:

  • Discrimination against urban music
  • Business rates hurting grassroots venues
  • Viagogo still causing “distress” to fans

On urban music, the report uncovered evidence of “persisting prejudice against urban music and grime artists”, with the Roundhouse’s Jane Beese telling the committee that – despite positive changes, such as abolition in 2017 of London’s hated Form 696 – a climate of “institutionalised racism” persists in councils’ attitudes towards grime.

“The issues are still there,” said DJ Target, while ShaoDow revealed a venue cancelled on him after learning he was a hip-hop artist, saying: “We cannot do that here – we will lose our licence.”

“The UK government has failed to act promptly to stem the tide of the closures”

“We welcome the abolition of the Metropolitan Police’s form 696 following concerns that it unfairly targeted certain artists and audiences, but it is concerning to hear that prejudices against urban acts persist,” said the DCMS in its response. “The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Home Office should work together to develop guidance for licensing authorities, police forces and music venues on how to collaborate on managing risks to ensure that urban music acts are not unfairly targeted.”

The reluctance of venues to take a chance on urban music is exacerbated by the fact many of them are struggling to survive, with the report describing how “unsubsidised small- and medium-scale venues face particular problems attributed to rising rents and business rates and stagnating incomes”.

The UK government, found the committee, has “failed to act promptly to stem the tide of the closures happening on a scale unprecedented in other cultural sectors, a development that presents a significant and urgent challenge to the music industry. Evidence suggests that the UK’s position at the forefront of the music industry could be at risk because the next generation of musicians will be denied spaces to hone their live craft.”

The report also recommended extending relief on business rates (the tax levied on all non-residential property in the UK) to music venues – a proposal supported by UK Music and MVT, along with a growing stable of MPs from both main political parties.

“The UK’s position could be at risk because the next generation of musicians will be denied spaces to hone their live craft”

A third of venues that responded to the recent UK Live Music Census reported having been negatively affected by increases in business rates, which came into force on 1 April 2017. In London, research commissioned by the Greater London Authority showed that 21 grassroots venues face closure as a result of the revaluation, with a further 18 expected to experience significant financial challenges. These 39 venues generate up to £21.5 million for London’s economy.

“The government should immediately review the impact of recent business rates changes on the live music sector and introduce new or extend existing relief schemes, such as those for pubs or small retail properties, to lessen the burden of business rates on music venues in order to protect grassroots venues and independent festivals,” says the committee. “Further support should be given by the government by extending tax relief, already given for orchestra performances, to other forms of music production.”

Support for grassroots venues, and the live industry more widely, should come from local ‘Music Boards’, states the report. These boards would comprise representatives from the music industry, policymakers and other relevant stakeholders “to advocate for the live music sector and promote its interests in planning and policy decisions”.

The committee’s recommendations also include a request that Arts Council England (ACE), which has received criticism for allocating just 0.06% of its total funding to popular music venues, “redress the balance” in the way it funds popular (as opposed to classical) music.

“Further support should be given by the government by extending tax relief, already given for orchestra performances”

According to the report, “the difference between public support for live music in the UK and other European countries is stark. In some mainland European countries ‘venues receive subsidies that average 42% of operating costs, or as high as 70% in France.’ The German government recently invested €8.2 million to upgrade equipment in grassroots music venues and in the Netherlands, 51 grassroots venues receive government funding.”

This means, cautioned ShaoDow and 100 Club’s Jeff Horton, that artists might prioritise playing the continent’s better-equipped venues, especially after Brexit.

Addressing ACE’s lack of support for contemporary music venues, the report says: “It is unsurprising that the live music sector has a history of under-engagement with government and funding bodies, given the staffing constraints many venues face and the low rates of support for grassroots venues in Arts Council England’s flagship funding programme. Nonetheless, we recognise that the current imbalance in funding is not sustainable and welcome ACE’s commitment to engage with music venues and learn from its experiences with other sectors.

“We ask that in its next ten-year strategy, the Arts Council makes explicit how it plans to redress the balance in funding for grassroots venues and contemporary music, with a view to securing the infrastructure and leadership that will enable them to maximise business opportunities.”

On ticketing, meanwhile, the committee took the “highly unusual step” of advising the British public not to use Viagogo, which it says is still not in compliance with a court order served last November.

“We ask that in its next ten-year strategy, Arts Council makes explicit how it plans to redress the balance in funding”

“The UK is witnessing a boom in live music, with increasing numbers attending concerts and festivals, giving a boost for the economy, [and] home-grown talent like Ed Sheeran taking that success across the world,” says Damian Collins MP, chair of the DCMS Committee.

“Yet for all its vibrancy, away from the headline acts the music industry is also facing stark challenges. Bad experiences with ticket resale platforms are damaging trust in the industry, smaller music venues are closing at an unprecedented rate and the future of the talent pipeline is at risk.

“We’re calling on the government to review the effectiveness of the law intended to prevent consumers being ripped off when buying tickets for live concerts. The government shouldn’t rely on the work of voluntary groups to take on the giants in the ticket resale market, but make sure there is effective action to end exploitation, and greater transparency and redress for ticket-buyers when things go wrong.

“When it comes to live performance, it’s shocking to hear that grime artists are continuing to face prejudice, which risks hampering the success of one of our most successful musical exports.

“Urgent action is needed if the live music industry is to continue to make a significant contribution to both the economy and cultural life of the country. We also look to the music industry to make sure that enough of the big money generated at the top finds its way down to grassroots level to support emerging talent. It happens with sport, why not music?”

“Away from the headline acts the music industry is also facing stark challenges”

Welcoming the findings, UK Music CEO Michael Dugher says: “This is a landmark report into live music by Damian Collins and members of the DCMS select committee. They have really listened to the live music industry, which contributes around £1bn a year to the UK economy, and their report is a real wake-up call for everyone who wants to safeguard live music.”

Dugher says the organisation “particularly welcome[s] the recommendation that a new taskforce is needed to help and support emerging talent. We urgently need help to nurture the music industry’s talent pipeline if we are to continue producing world-leading superstars like Adele [pictured] and Ed Sheeran.

“With the decline of music in education in particular, there is a real danger that having the chance of a successful career in music means that you have to have access to the ‘bank of mum and dad’.  We are, in effect drawing water from a well that’s getting smaller and smaller.”

Adam Webb, from anti-touting campaign group FanFair Alliance, comments: “FanFair Alliance welcomes all aspects of the Committee’s wide-reaching report, and especially their condemnation of Viagogo.

“What we now need is action. If a restaurant poses a risk to public health, we expect inspectors to close it immediately on grounds of consumer protection. Unfortunately, such powers of enforcement are seemingly absent when it comes to online ticket touting. So despite the huge consumer harm caused by Viagogo’s practices, and despite the best efforts of the Competition and Markets Authority and other regulators, the site has continued to operate in clear disregard of the law. This needs to change.

“This report is a real wake-up call for everyone who wants to safeguard live music”

“Viagogo is already facing legal proceedings for contempt of court. While that case is pending, there is surely a compelling argument for the website to be temporarily blocked and for platforms like Google to cut off its advertising.”

Promoter and venue owner DHP Family, which gave evidence to the inquiry, also welcomed the findings. A statement from the company – whose London venue the Garage is threatened with closure – says: “We welcome the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee report into live music; the conclusions echo what we have been witnessing and experiencing in small live music venues across the country, with London venues facing the greatest risks from rising costs.

“The UK has been developing new talent that has conquered the world since the 60s, but we put at risk our ability to find and develop future talent if we don’t find ways to keep our music venues open. The current situation is perilous: just today there are press reports that the Social in Soho is facing closure – just one in a long line of seminal music venues fighting for its future. We face landlords who are pricing live music venues out of London, massive rises in business rates and, at times, unhelpful licensing authorities – all backed up by the conclusions in the report.

“We urge government and local authorities to do something to protect the future of live music.”

 

For a full list of industry reactions to the report, click here.

 


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