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Artists and managers back calls for UK ticket levy

Artists and managers have backed the Music Venue Trust’s (MVT) calls for a compulsory £1 levy on tickets sold for UK live music events above 5,000-cap.

Music Managers Forum vice-chair Kwame Kwaten and Featured Artists Coalition (FAC) CEO David Martin both expressed their support for the proposal during evidence sessions held in parliament today by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee to explore the ongoing crisis in the grassroots music sector.

Back in January, the MVT revealed in its annual report that 2023 was the worst year for UK venue closures since its launch a decade ago, with 125 venues closing their doors – a rate of two per week – and 38% of members reporting a loss.

“The first impact we need to recognise is that is 125 communities that have lost access to live music on their doorstep, and the impact on those communities… is very traumatic,” said Davyd. “In terms of the short term economic impact, those 125 venues will have provided 16% of all the performance opportunities in the UK. About 4,000 jobs have come under threat or have been lost.

“Our proposal in the UK is £1 per ticket for arena and stadium shows that would create a sustainable fund that could be administered by ourselves, by other people concerned for promoters, for artists, and create a fund where everybody can go so they can take risks with their programming and really give artists the first step on the ladder they need.”

A proposed levy could take three forms. A statutory levy imposed by government, an industry-mandated levy on all qualifying shows (which LIVE CEO Jon Collins pointed out might fall afoul of competition law) or a voluntary levy adopted by different artists, venues or promoters.

Industry umbrella trade body LIVE is in the process of establishing a LIVE Trust as a mechanism to distribute funds to the grassroots sector, and while the concept has been lobbied for – and brought to the attention of government – by Music Venue Trust, today’s hearing saw promoters, artists and managers also stake a claim to any potential funds filtering back to the grassroots sector.

“All of my members will tell you one of their biggest concerns, frankly, is the artists cannot afford to tour,” Davyd said. “It’s not just the venues aren’t there to play in, it’s also the venues are standing empty when they could be putting on bands, because bands cannot afford to put on the show.”

“You don’t get to Ed Sheeran playing two shows last year at The O2, unless he played The Bedford in Balham”

Ferocious Management MD Kwame hailed the ticket levy proposal as a “great initiative”.

“We do support that,” he said. “This whole thing about supporting the level of one person in a show up to 1,000 is absolutely crucial, because you don’t get to Ed Sheeran playing two shows last year at The O2, unless he played The Bedford in Balham, unless he played the Queen of Hoxton with iluvlive promoting. Unless artists and managers are supported from zero to 1,000-people venues, you won’t reach that level.”

Martin said he was open-minded about the idea, which he described as a “relatively complex topic”.

“It would need to be on top of the ticket fee,” he argued. “It can’t be a downward pressure on artists or a voluntary thing, where you have some artists – potentially British artists – saying, ‘Yes, we’re very happy with the levy.’ And then you’ve got foreign artists coming to the UK saying, ‘We’re not prepared to do this.’ It creates an uneven playing field.

“With the right will, government could really help the industry coalesce about how a levy would be collected and distributed.”

But while the FAC was in favour of government intervention in a levy, John Drury, National Arenas Association chair and VP and general manager of OVO Arena Wembley, was less enthusiastic.

“The reality of £1 a ticket for us – given many of our venues are managed on behalf of private landlords, city councils charitable trusts – would be something like a 20% cut in our EBITDA, so it’s not a few grains of sand, it is quite significant,” he pointed out. “Or angle is more that this is a problem for the industry as a whole and it goes right through the live level to artists, managers, agents, promoters, venues and anybody else associated with that system. We’re all very interdependent.”

“The reality of £1 a ticket for us… would be something like a 20% cut in our EBITDA, so it’s not a few grains of sand, it’s quite significant”

Kilimanjaro Live boss and Concert Promoters Association vice chair Stuart Galbraith also spoke in favour of a voluntary levy and cited Enter Shikari’s efforts to donate £1 from their 2024 UK tour to grassroots music venues via the MVT’s Pipeline Investment Fund.

“I think it’s realistic to expect that within the larger music industry, any sort of charge is not going to be absorbed by the industry it will get passed on to the customer,” he said. “If you place it outside the ticket, and if the charitable trust had charitable status, there would be no VAT deduction, there would be no PRS deduction, there would be no venue share and 100% of that money would reach the actual targets.”

The hearings were marked by clear divisions across the various sectors of the business, although all participants agreed that UK government should reduce VAT on concert tickets to something in line with many other European markets, such as the 5.5% rate paid in France. An idea which committee MPs said HM Treasury was highly unlikely to adopt.

On a proposed VAT cut, the position of industry umbrella trade body LIVE was at odds with its members: A blanket 5% VAT rate on tickets has been a principle manifesto point of LIVE for several years, while Drury told MPs that arenas “didn’t need” the rate cut, and Galbraith said a reduction should only be in venues up to 1,000-capacity. Davyd, meanwhile, said that a VAT cut for small venues “still wouldn’t make grassroots venues sustainable”.

“The single biggest change the committee could recommend to make grassroots venues and the ecosystem viable would be that of VAT”

“The VAT cut during a pandemic literally made the difference between us being able to promote shows or not promote shows,” said Galbraith. “The 20% tax burden versus 5% literally meant that we could do 100 more shows that year as we came out of pandemic and we now look at those shows, and they are just not viable. They never reach past the spreadsheet.”

Anna Moulson of the Association of Independent Promoters (AIP) agreed: “Five percent [VAT rate] over lockdown was so welcome with our members because it meant that we could break even which meant we could cover costs and actually make money, which is very surprising on the grassroots level. Some of our members are now turning down grassroots shows in order that they can be below the threshold of having to be VAT registered, so that means less artists will be taken on by promoters and developed by them.”

“We are overrun with people who’ve had a hit on TikTok, desperately now trying to build the grassroots audience that gives them a sustainable career”

In response to a comment that some artists were breaking online and performing at arenas without having toured through grassroots venues, Davyd said there had been a “remarkable turnaround” over the past two to three years.

“We are overrun with people who’ve had a hit on TikTok, desperately now trying to build the grassroots audience that gives them a sustainable career,” he said. “It’s a big thing in our sector for people to now be going out on tour, having jumped forward and then realised, ‘Wait a minute, I don’t have the deep connection with my fans that I get from being in a room with 250 other people.'”

Other topics discussed during the hearing included PRS fees in small venues, with both Moulson and Davyd arguing that much of the fees collected go into a “black box” of unattributed income which is then passed to artists with the most airplay annually. “It’s a reverse Robin Hood effect where income from small venues is going back to the biggest artists”, said Davyd.

PRS for Music’s Gavin Larkins also outlined that a Tariff LP review was due to begin after the summer with a target date of being concluded by Q2 2025.

While there was consensus that the UK grassroots scene was in dire need of intervention, the precise mechanism for that support remains a divisive topic. With artists and managers also now backing the call for a levy, the findings of today’s hearings – due to be published in April – will likely see a strong recommendation for more support for the grassroots sector from the larger venues and operators in the UK. The recommendation is even more likely given that it would reduce or remove the need for the UK Government to act itself in supporting the grassroots sector.


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MMF appoints new five-person board for 2021

The UK’s Music Managers Forum (MMF) has appointed its board for 2021, with members reelecting the association’s vice-chair, Kwame Kwaten (Ferocious Talent), and electing four new members.

As part of its annual general meeting yesterday (1 July), the MMF welcomed Adenike Durosaro (Big Drum Entertainment), Ross Patel (Whole Entertainment Group), Sandy Dworniak (This Much Talent/Twisted Talent) and Karl Nielson (William Orbit, Maeve) as board members, with Adam Tudhope (Everybody’s Management), Lisa Ward (Red Light Management), Ric Salmon (ATC Management) and Rachael Bee (ILuvLive).

At the AGM, MMF CEO Annabella Coldrick revealed that the association has increased its membership from 700 in 2019 to more than 1,200 today. She puts the the dramatic increase to successes in outreach, training and campaigning, including new initiatives such as Unite (the MMF’s forum to discuss race, anti-racism and injustice, run in collaboration with The Zoo XYZ), emergency funding programme ReBuild, which has provided nearly £500,000 of support to managers’ businesses to survive the pandemic, and the continued development of Accelerator, the grants and education programme for music managers.

The MMF’s membership, she said, is now 38% female or non-binary/gender non-confirming and 29 black, Asian or minority-ethnic.

Seven new associate partnerships were also announced at the AGM: livestreaming platform Moment House, funding platform beatBread, NFT marketplaces Bondly and Serenade, revenue share platform Shout4, advertising platform Feed and royalty firm CWorks. These companies join the MMF’s 44 existing associate members, including Amazon Music, YouTube Music, Spotify, TikTok and Songtrust.

Coldrick also gave an update on the MMF’s advocacy work, including #LetTheMusicMove, the campaign to end post-Brexit restrictions around European touring which now has the backing of more than 1,000 artists.

“It’s been a ludicrously tough 12 months and throughout the MMF has rallied to support the management community with initiatives like ReBuild, Unite and Accelerator, extensive virtual learning sessions and tireless campaigning and advocacy work. I’ve no doubt it’s why we’ve seen such a huge and rapid increase in our membership,” she says. “Music management can be an isolating and highly pressurised way of making a living, and I’m proud of the way the MMF continues to be an organisation where knowledge is shared and everyone is welcome.”

“As board members, the contribution made by Adam Tudhope, Lisa Ward, Ric Salmon and Rachael Bee has been immense, and I’d like to thank them sincerely for their generosity and input over many years of service,” comments MMF chair Craig.

“Alongside my redoubtable vice-chair, Kwame Kwaten, I would also like to welcome our four new board members Nike, Ross, Sandy and Karl. Their expertise and experience will be vital as we strive to ensure the MMF makes ongoing progress to represent all in our community.”


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Paul Craig elected MMF chair

Following the UK managers’ association’s AGM last week, the Music Managers Forum (MMF) has announced Paul Craig of Nostromo Management as its new chair.

Craig currently manages Biffy Clyro, and has previously worked with and managed acts including INXS, Kaiser Chiefs, Franz Ferdinand, Birdy, Bullet for My Valentine and the Overtones. He replaces Diane Wagg (Deluxxe Management), who steps down after four years at the helm, including three as co-chair with Stephen Budd.

Wagg will remain a board member for another year, before becoming an MMF custodian. Kwame Kwaten (Ferocious Talent) has been elected vice-chair.

“Working in tandem with our chief executive, Annabella Coldrick, Diane Wagg has been fundamental in transforming who the MMF represents and what it stands for,” comments Craig. “As well as overseeing industry changing initiatives such as Dissecting the Digital Dollar and the FanFair Alliance campaign, which have helped foster a new era of transparency and trust, there has also been a sea change in the make-up of our membership and our board.

“There has been a sea change in the make-up of our membership and our board”

“The increase in membership, especially among younger and female managers is testimony to Diane’s impact, her leadership and her innate sense of inclusiveness. Our last year working together has been hugely enjoyable.”

Under Wagg’s tenure, the MMF’s membership has grown by 35%, with the organisation now representing more than 500 UK-based managers, of whom a third are female and 20% from a BAME (black, Asian and minority-ethnic) background.

Adds Coldrick: “Diane has been a real rock of support for me personally. She ensured a welcome introduction, not only to MMF members but throughout the wider industry. I’ll always be in debt to her generosity and expertise, and for the positive stamp she has made on the MMF, ensuring we represent a greater diversity of managers, and a greater number of managers overall.

“I know that Paul and Kwame are huge advocates of her achievements, and I look forward to working with both of them.”


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