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A perfect storm could become a perfect disaster

Music Managers Forum CEO Annabella Coldrick outlines why the economics of live music need to work for everyone in the value chain

09 Dec 2022

Following Brexit and a global pandemic, both of which continue to trigger negative ripples, we are now deep in a seismic and catastrophic cost-of-living crisis.

As recently highlighted by former PRS and Spotify economist Will Page, our entire business has been completely upended in less than three years. Before the world stopped in March 2020, live music represented a larger slice of the UK music business than recorded. In 2019, audiences spent £1.7bn [€1.9bn] on concert tickets and £1.4bn [€1.6bn] on recorded music – and that’s not including ancillary sales (eg merch) or the uncapped ticket resale market.

Research from our Managing Expectations report (2019) indicated that, for the vast majority of MMF members, live music represented their most significant source of revenue. For many managers – and for the artists they represent – live accounted for more than 4/5 of their income, much more than recorded or publishing royalties or ancillary income streams.

During lockdown, with live music shut down, that effectively meant an 80% pay cut for most artists and their managers – and, with the majority of our community being self-employed or running micro-businesses, little chance of accessing government support packages.

“Even with touring now resumed, we still face what appears to be a perfect storm of long-term and short-term challenges”

In 2021, UK live revenue had partially bounced back to £700m [€807m], but even with touring now resumed, we still face what appears to be a perfect storm of long-term and short-term challenges.

The most prominent of these are: dramatically rising costs worsened by supply chain shortfalls; an exodus of live industry talent; a saturated market of new and rescheduled events; cancellations; and reduced consumer incomes. While the few superstar acts and more established events may be able to adjust to inflationary pressures by increasing prices (the majority of festivals, for example, will feel unable to follow Glastonbury’s decision to dramatically increase entry costs), most artists are now faced with a dilemma, particularly if touring at mid-level or grassroots venues.

The costs of hiring a van, fuel, and accommodation have all spiralled upwards. The bureaucracy of performing outside of the UK has increased substantially. And yet, in most cases, artist guarantees and ticket prices have remained static or even reduced.

There’s also a psychological aspect at play here. The pandemic removed most artists and managers from the normal rhythm of their creative and commercial cycles. Aside from the economic pressures this unleashed, there were also the associated pressures of supporting their wider team. Even relatively small-scale artists are partly or wholly responsible for the livelihoods of others.

How we fix these challenges in environmentally friendly ways will require a coherent sector-wide strategy and, in some cases, a rethinking of existing industry practices.

“There is still the overriding need for a comprehensive cultural touring agreement and a government-backed music export strategy”

We urge the government to reduce VAT on ticket sales. Such a move would provide an immediate shot in the arm across the sector. Similarly, we continue to advocate for the goals of our Let The Music Move campaign. Despite some isolated country-specific breakthroughs that will improve post-Brexit European touring, there is still the overriding need for a comprehensive cultural touring agreement and a government-backed music export strategy.

Alleviating some of the supply side and infrastructural issues being borne by artists will require a more collaborative approach – whether that’s finding new ways to reduce transport costs (playing TETRIS in vans) or reducing the amount of gear being taken from show to show. I know some managers would love more venues to have reliable and consistent in-house backline, meaning that musicians could travel with just their core instruments and gear.

Other much-needed reforms will probably be more contentious and require some changes to certain trends and long-standing practices. Among MMF members, there is a growing disquiet around creeping increases on ticket fees, while the FAC’s 100% Venues campaign has highlighted excessive commission charges on merch sales at certain venues.

A longer-term fix to crew shortages would be trying to increase the supply of touring professionals post-Covid by the industry investing in high-quality training of new people.

The economics of live music need to work for everyone in the value chain – but if they stop working for talented people that bring in the audience, then a perfect storm could become a perfect disaster.

 


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