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Unlocking the power of independent venues

Independent Venue Week founder Sybil Bell looks back on ten years of the initiative, and explains where it goes from here

10 Nov 2023

Earlier this year, we marked ten years of Independent Venue Week [IVW], celebrating the passion and importance of these vital music spaces in the best way possible – by encouraging audiences to get out of the house, to buy a ticket, and enjoy one of over a thousand IVW shows taking place all over the country that week.

As IVW’s founder, it’s been incredible to watch the concept blossom, and, along the way, we’ve enjoyed some fantastic support – not least from some of the UK’s most important and influential artists, who have an innate understanding of why these venues are so important.

In 2023, our ambassadors were Radiohead’s Philip Selway, beabadoobee, Young Fathers, and Adwaith. They joined the likes of Suede, The Pretenders, The Murder Capital, Sprints, You Me At Six, Grove, Editors, Anna Meredith, Life, Amber Arcades, The Slow Readers Club, Pip Blom, The Bug Club, and many, many others in playing at least one dedicated show specifically for IVW during the week at an independent venue.

That commitment has been matched by the unwavering backing of partners such as Arts Council England, the Welsh Government, Arts Council Wales, and Creative Scotland, as well as incredible support on air from BBC Radio 6 Music and BBC Music Introducing. The importance of that dedicated BBC coverage cannot be overstated, with a week of programming dedicated to venues, upcoming artists, and everything good about independent music culture.

As highlighted by our recently published Impact Report, this cumulative support and industry buy-in has helped sell more than 1m tickets – and at a time of year when business is traditionally sluggish. This has opened new opportunities for artists, audiences, and crew and allowed us to develop Independent Venue Community (IVC) – an entirely new organisation that supports greater innovation by independent venues to explore the day-time use of their spaces with various underserved community groups.

“Even though IVW punches well above its weight, it is vital we can make the most effective and efficient use of our resources”

It’s been an incredible ride. But it also raises a question: Where do we go from here? Clearly, the world feels incredibly uncertain right now. Economic conditions are tough and almost everyone is feeling the pinch – particularly those in the hospitality sector.

Against that context, and in the process of compiling our Impact Report, we took a deep breath and went on our annual wrap-up tour to speak directly with our venue and promoter community.

It’s been both fascinating and heart-warming to hear what IVW means to these unsung individuals. However, it was also clear that a small number of venues had signed up in the past without really embracing all that IVW has to offer. Even though IVW punches well above its weight, it is vital we can make the most effective and efficient use of our resources.

To address this and to ensure that independent venues remain invested, we asked them how they’d feel about making a small financial contribution to take part in future IVW’s.

The response from those that came along to our get-togethers was overwhelmingly positive. Consequently, and based on those discussions, we’re now asking for a capacity-based contribution – based on 50p per person, and capped at no more than £120 for any venue.

“We are a positive celebration for a community previously taken for granted”

We believe this spend represents good value for money. It’s less than some venues will pay on social media marketing for a week, and at least this is money that will remain in the UK’s independent music community. Not in the coffers of a faceless tech brand.

More meaningfully, it helps us employ our network of 14 IVW area reps all around the country who provide venues with support and help us reach as many communities as possible. It also supports our marketing and PR, free merch for the venues and staff, and it helps us to pay venues, artists, and photographers.

Any money we receive also goes towards delivering Independent Venue Community, our community-building programme that seeks to attract a more diverse audience and workforce.

Ultimately, it allows IVW to remain authentic and true to our values. We have never endorsed free shows, we always ensure people get paid, and we want the community we work with – venues who are genuinely supporting the UK’s musical culture – to succeed. We already have 126 venues registered to participate (more coming onstream each day) and venues have until 14 November to sign up.

Our goal for Independent Venue Week has been clear and simple from the start: we are a positive celebration for a community previously taken for granted. For most of us in the industry, independent venues have given us some of the most memorable nights of our lives. By supporting IVW, we can help ensure they can continue to do the same in the future.

The Impact Report is available for download at independentvenueweek.com.

Sybil Bell is founder of Independent Venue Week


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