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MVT shares manifesto ahead of UK general election

The Music Venue Trust (MVT) has published a report entitled, ‘A Manifesto for Grassroots Music’ ahead of the UK General Election on 4 July.

The report, which can be found here, outlines the steps the charity says are required in order to stem the closures of grassroots music venues (GMVs) and bring stability to the sector.

Calling it “a once in a generation opportunity to save the UK’s grassroots music venues”, the report emphasises the need to implement the recent Culture Media & Sport Select Committee recommendations for the wider live music industry to invest in the future of grassroots music via a £1 contribution from every arena and stadium ticket sold for events over 5,000 capacity.

“The manifesto is being delivered to every prospective MP in the country with the request that they come out in support of it as part of their campaign to be elected,” says Sophie Brownlee, the MVT’s external affairs manager. “Music communities across the country will also be asking the candidates where they stand on the future of live music in our towns and cities. The time to act is now.”

“We have a chance to save UK grassroots music venues from the crisis they currently face and we should not let it slip”

The other key areas highlighted in the report are for a fan-led review to fully examine the long-term challenges to the live music ecosystem and the agent of change principle in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) to be put on a statutory footing at the earliest opportunity.

In addition, it is calling for a reduction in VAT on cultural ticketing in GMVs to 0% and reduce VAT on cultural ticketing in the live music industry to the European average (5-7%), as well as the creation of a specific business rates premises definition for GMVs and the removal of properties satisfying that definition from the requirement to pay business rates.

“In 2023, of the 366 small music venues Ed Sheeran played while learning his trade, at least 150 are now closed,” says MVT CEO Mark Davyd. “Another 72 grassroots music venues significantly reduced or ended their live music offer. 38% of GMVs in the UK made a loss in the last 12 months. The sector operated on a 0.5% profit margin overall while running live music events at a £115 million loss.

“All of this can be changed if the next government delivers the five simple steps we have set out in this report. We therefore call on all political representatives, from all parties, to seize the moment and drive forward this change. We have a chance to save UK grassroots music venues from the crisis they currently face and we should not let it slip.”

 


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MVT announces venue purchase, new hires

Music Venue Trust (MVT) has announced a second acquisition by Music Venue Properties (MVP) under its Own Our Venues scheme.

The Ferret in Preston, a 200-capacity venue which has hosted artists such as Ed Sheeran, IDLES, Alt-J, Royal Blood and many more, will now be placed into permanent protected status.

Following the purchase, The Ferret’s operators have signed a cultural lease with MVP, an “innovative agreement” specifically created by MVP to guarantee that, as long as The Ferret operates as a space for grassroots live music for their local community, they can enjoy the use of the building.

“This one was a very complicated and challenging process, but that’s good because it tested what we’re doing,” MVT chief Mark Davyd tells IQ.

“We had to make our way through a lot of legal complications and work out different bits of ownership law. But the important thing is, The Ferret is a highly valued and treasured space in this area. It has grown organically out of a music community here and has a fantastic team running it. It came under threat and not only has that threat gone, but the venue will be here forever.”

“The Own Our Venues programme is escalating”

The purchase of The Ferret follows the October 2023 acquisition of The Snug in Atherton, Greater Manchester.

A further seven venues across the country have been identified for purchase in this initial phase and Davyd reveals to IQ that MVT/MVP currently have offers on three of those venues.

“We would expect to announce at least two of those venues in no more than a month,” he adds. “The Own Our Venues programme is escalating and we’re still keen to get more people invested because it’s really transforming the future of these venues.”

Own Our Venues was originally launched as a Community Share Offer in 2022. To date, almost £2.6m has been raised from over 1,200 individual investors. Funding was matched with a £500k investment from Arts Council England, and the figure includes loans of £150k from Preston City Council and £500k from Arts & Culture Impact Fund.

According to MVT, 93% of GMVs are tenants with the typical operator only having 18 months left on their tenancy.

The issue of ownership underpins almost every other challenge that GMVs have faced during the last twenty years, says MVT, including gentrification, noise complaints, under-investment, poor economic models, and an inability to plan for the future.

In other MVT news, the organisation has appointed three key hires, with Sophie Brownlee joining as external affairs manager and Kimberley Goddard taking on the role of fundraising manager in a part-time capacity.

In addition, Sophie Asquith has been promoted to be the new venue support team manager, overseeing the work of the UK’s venue coordinators and heading up MVT’s Emergency Response Service.

 


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Music Venue Trust’s decade of defiance

Across the globe, in almost every town and city, hidden gems pulsate with the raw, unbridled energy of live music.

Often tucked away off the beaten track, these intimate spaces carry a profound significance that transcends mere bricks and mortar. They are sanctuaries where local music scenes breathe and evolve, providing a stage for emerging artists to share their stories – cultural beacons where community, authenticity, and resilience truly take precedence.

In an era of endless mass production, these venues stand as a testament to the enduring power of music and fans’ unwavering passion, where that intimate connection between artist and audience is not only appreciated but revered. They are the very lifeblood of musical culture. But such grassroots music venues are facing existential threats.

2023 was the toughest year yet for them, something that becomes crystal clear perusing news stories on the topic. “Brutal,” “A dire crisis,” and “Devasting” scream the headlines – and with, on average, more than one venue closing every week, the topic is now routinely reported on by the mainstream media.

In the UK, the perfect storm of Brexit, Covid, the cost-of-living crisis, inflation, and the knock-on effects of wars and global instability has pushed many venues to the brink; government intransigence and ignorance often impede even the most basic common-sense efforts to help.

“These are places that make people go out and that get people inspired”

Yet the fight for their survival is not without hope. Last year marked the tenth anniversary of the Music Venue Trust, a ground-breaking charity that does vital work developing solutions, lobbying for change, and ensuring the music industry, politicians, and the wider public remain cognisant of the seriousness of this issue. Their achievements over the last decade have been notable, with their work inspiring dozens of similar organisations and impassioned individuals the world over; progress, albeit slowly, is being made.

Reflecting on this milestone, though, and taking stock of where the fault lines lie in this battle, it remains clear that there is much to be done – and quickly – if catastrophe is to be avoided. “These are places that make people go out and that get people inspired,” MVT CEO Mark Davyd said on a trip to Parliament this time last year. “[But] we’re not near the edge, we’re over the edge, and we’re tumbling down. You need to throw a lifeline down.”

Rising up, back on the street
The Music Venue Trust was created to promote a simple yet clear idea. “Ownership of the physical buildings was the key issue,” Davyd tells IQ, “and the trust was created with that name specifically as a reference to the concept of a National Trust for Music Venues – a model of benevolent ownership that would support the sector against all the other challenges it faced.”

The idea came to Davyd after the financial crisis of the late 2000s, and specifically, the closure of London’s Astoria in 2009. “That was the moment I realised no one seemed to care about the live music ecosystem,” he says. “There was a definite feeling for a number of years that things were so bad that obviously somebody would step in and do something. But finally, in 2013, we realised nobody was going to – we would have to do it ourselves.”

“We are focused on advocating for cultural politices that can safeguard these spaces for continuous improvement”

And while that remains one of MVT’s goals – “It took us nine years to finally deliver that ownership model,” says Davyd; they purchased The Snug in Atherton in 2023 – a far greater scope of activities, services, and other problems have presented themselves over the years. In the same vein, differing legislative and economic realities in other territories, coupled with much later start dates, means that similar organisations in other parts of the world have often focused on more immediate practical measures.

Face to face, out in the heat
“We have secured direct support for programming and infrastructure in the venues,” says Carmen Zapata Corbalán, manager of Associació de Salas de Conciertos de Catalunya (the association of concert halls in Catalonia – ASACC), “and our ongoing efforts are focused on advocating for cultural policies that can safeguard these spaces for continuous improvement, even amidst changes in political leadership.”

Formed when it was realised that the live music sector required a spokesperson to advocate for smaller venues, ASACC has advocated for such spaces to be considered “cultural assets” alongside requests for the regulation of music venues to fall under the jurisdiction of the Departure of Culture, instead of its current position under the Department of Security and Police. To do so, they document the closure or cessation of concerts in venues – including a campaign called “The Last Concert?”, whereby the facades of venues were painted as obituaries – and lobby for new entertainment laws that acknowledge and support venues as cultural activities.

To date, their most notable achievement is ensuring that individuals under 18 years of age could attend concerts accompanied by parents or legal guardians, but, adds Corbalán, growth in the number of ASACC’s associated venues in recent years, from 39 to over 90, “is a clear indication of its utility and impact. This growth demonstrates that it has been successful in achieving its goal and has made a positive impact on the community it serves.”

“If people really fundamentally understood how access to live music makes us healthier, government may be more willing to wrap their heads around the kind of policymaking that’s required”

The Canadian Live Music Association (CLMA) is also currently celebrating its tenth anniversary. An organisation whose mission is to entrench live music’s economic, social, and cultural value in both the public and private sectors. “What we’re attempting to do is influence public policymaking,” says Erin Benjamin, president and CEO, “and the education of government, along with our storytelling, has been fundamental.”

The “story” is getting through, too. “Canada saw over $70m in designated money for live music in a historic budget during Covid – never had the words ‘live music venues’ appeared in a federal budget, ever,” she says. “That was monumental and something that we return to government to remind them of today.”

And the CLMA is keen to take a holistic view of such venues and the benefits they bring beyond money – much of their effort is directed towards their social and cultural impact, too. “If people really fundamentally understood how access to live music makes us healthier, mentally and physically, government and others may be more willing to wrap their heads around the kind of policymaking, economic or otherwise, that’s required to ensure the sustainability of these types of businesses,” says Benjamin.

In Austin, Texas, Rebecca Reynolds – president and founder of the Music Venue Alliance Austin (MVAA) – found “a patchwork of regulatory agencies and requirements that made it nearly impossible for venues to be in constant compliance.” Focused support was their answer; to start with, it was issues like sound complaints and parking, she says, whereas more recently, they’ve been “spending a lot of time on disaster relief, liquor taxes, and insurance.”

“These businesses are critical to culture and economy at the local level”

She notes that while property ownership for all venues would be ideal, “I am not sure that is everyone’s goal. We do need a regulatory environment that honours the fact that these are tax-paying businesses that do not benefit from philanthropic support but are critical to culture and economy at the local level and throughout the spectrum of the music industry.”

Directed conversations with lawmakers, building trust among the venue community, and working with those in position to implement the MVAA’s goals have paid dividends. “After lobbying our state legislature for three legislative sessions, we established a fund that will reimburse businesses up to $100k in alcohol taxes per year, to be put back into the production of live music in their spaces,” she says. “We also successfully lobbied the City of Austin to create a new fund, supported by hotel occupancy tax revenue, to provide grants for commercial music businesses.”

Reynold’s success in Texas directly influenced and inspired Chris Cobb, one of the founders of the Music Venue Alliance Nashville (MVAN). A volunteer-led organisation since its foundation in 2017, the MVAN has nonetheless proved influential thanks to what Cobb describes as “unbelievable grit and determination.” Again, legislative change around funding and tax are big goals – a venue grant fund and an alcohol tax refund are the current initiatives they are advocating for – and they scored some major successes in fundraising and preventing closures during Covid.

“Tax breaks,” says Cobb when asked about their main goals. “Taxes collected from independent venues make up an inconsequential percentage of total tax collected but are a significant cost to venues. Whether it be beer, liquor, or others, we must see a change in venue tax.”

“Now we are an organisation that promotes the interests of all cultural organisers, not just live music”

To this end, Cobb and MVAN are determined to “remind people – the right people – why venues are so important. But we have to be focused and more strategic, so we’ve just hired our first lobbyist, which is very exciting.” That cost is being split with the recently launched the Tennessee chapter of the National Independent Venue Association, and MVAN has also partnered with a local charitable organisation, their musicians’ union, the Musicians Association, and Belmont University on a music census to identify challenges and provide policy recommendations.

Norway’s Norske Kulturarrangører (NKA) has a little more history fighting for the arts – it started life back in 1982, working to promote the interest of volunteer-based rock clubs in Norway. “But now we are an organisation that promotes the interests of all cultural organisers, not just live music. So our approximately 500 members range from Live Nation, lots of rock and concert halls, and rock/blues clubs, whether public, volunteer, commercial, or global,” says Anders Tangan, the organisation’s senior advisor.

In Norway, gentrification is a major threat to grassroots venues, says Tangan, so much of NKA’s work revolves around protecting them from eviction. But the spectre of tax also looms large here. “In 2009, we managed to halt the proposal to put VAT on culture – we still have 0% VAT to this date, but the debate goes on,” says Tangan. “And in 2019, we managed to stop the taxation of volunteer work at venues and festivals.”

Overall, they’ve found that collaboration is key to achieving the required changes. “Historically, it’s been difficult coming together and speaking with one voice,” he says. “During Covid, this changed, and we could see that different organisations united, and real change was made. I think that will be important in the future – to unite and try to speak as one across the culture sector.”

“We are working to expand our reach and influence to ensure independent stages have a seat at the decision-making table”

Of course, new organisations and associations continue to pop up all over the world, united by the urgency of the fight and inspired by the precedent the Music Venue Trust has set. Australia’s Independent Live Venues Alliance (ILVA) is not even a year old yet but has already succeeded in getting grassroots venues “on the agenda,” as Jade Flavell, one of the founders, put it, and in “changing the language and thinking in media and political circles.”

Direct lobbying and coming to the table with practical and constructive ‘solutions’ that make it easy for those in power to say ‘yes,’ are one way that ILVA – the first organisation of its kind in Australia – plans to keep “chipping away” at the issue, says Flavell; ditto launching public awareness campaigns and calls to arms. And these are already bearing fruit; a few days after our initial interview, another Flavell, emails with news of a significant victory.

“The State Government of South Australia just announced a new programme to support small-medium dedicated live music venues with grants of up to $60,000 over 12 months towards costs associated with presenting original live music,” she writes. “ILVA worked closely on this programme with the minister for arts/small business Andrea Michaels – an engaged and sympathetic minister – and we were instrumental in securing this funding and ensuring it was targeted to dedicated original live music venues.”

Back in the US, the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) is a little older than ILVA – three years to be exact – and, according to executive director Stephen Parker, was formed with “an initial singular goal in mind – to convince Congress and local governments to invest in the recovery of independent venues, promoters, and festivals.”

“We need the whole industry to accept that it has a responsibility to make sure that aspiration and opportunity exists for new and emerging artists in every town and city”

Inspired by how Davyd and MVT had “leveraged the collective voice of grassroots venues to influence government,” their top priority is the “financial and operational sustainability of our members” and a foundation of advocacy. Having already secured what Parker calls “the largest arts investment in US history,” their approach is two-fold. “We are working to expand our reach and influence to ensure independent stages have a seat at the decision-making table, and we are building coalitions of music and event industry organisations that are active at the federal, state, and local levels,” he adds.

Rising up to the challenge of our rival
And the next goal in their sights? “The biggest thing that would have an immediate impact is comprehensive ticketing reform that finally regulates a secondary resale market that is predatory for fans, artists, and venues,” says Parker. “Fraud is rampant in the secondary resale market, and our industry deserves the consumer protections that other industries have enjoyed for decades.”

Ah, yes. Ticketing. It’s a common issue mentioned by most of the organisations IQ speaks to and is something of a personal bugbear for Mark Davyd. Determined to make the wider music industry take greater responsibility – morally and financially – for the plight of grassroots music venues, he thinks ticketing is one of the most effective, easiest ways of achieving this.

“We need the whole industry to accept that it has a responsibility to make sure that aspiration and opportunity exists for new and emerging artists in every town and city in the UK,” he says. “A simple £1 levied on each ticket at arena level, funnelled back into the grassroots, would ensure that venues across the country can continue to support the artists and crew that emerge from the grassroots sector.”

“It’s doable and it’s worthy”

He notes that football already has a version of this in place, as does the French music industry. Furthermore, he adds that the French are going even further; from May, a 1.75% tax on streaming services in the country will be paid into a central fund and then distributed to support French artists, venues, and promoters. “We should be doing that here,” he remarks pointedly.

With eight new arenas being built across the UK in the coming years, Davyd told Parliament last year, “The distribution of wealth in this industry has got to change and be sustainable for grassroots, or we are all heading down over the cliff. Not a single one of those should open unless it has a policy where every ticket sold is investing back into grassroots music venues and grassroots artists – say no to them unless there is a pipeline.”

Tax, in the form of VAT, is also an issue in the UK, he says. The current VAT rate of 20% applied to tickets is “crushing the economic viability of this sector” and, he notes, is the highest of any major music nation in Europe – second only to Lithuania in the amount charged for putting on new and emerging talent. “That is ridiculous,” he says.

Even if Parliament is dragging its feet, Davyd’s calls have not completely fallen on deaf ears; part of MVT’s success has been co-opting other businesses and organisations into their campaigns and persuading them to change their own modus operandi. Gigtix, who launched a safe ticket reseller website in 2020, adopted the £1 donation model from the beginning; the money goes directly to MVT. “Would £1 really hurt all these companies selling tickets so much?” says Stephen Lee, the company’s director.

“The majority of fans would happily pay more if it meant venues had better facilities and survived”

“It hasn’t hurt us – it’s doable and worthy.”

He also believes the general ticketing ecosystem could do with an overhaul and that venues themselves can adopt a new – and somewhat controversial for some – approach. “We believe they themselves must dynamically price their tickets to generate enough profits to survive,” he says. “It’s vital, and venues shouldn’t frown upon it – the majority of fans would happily pay more if it meant venues had better facilities and survived.”

Even Ticketmaster have joined the fight; while not going as far as adopting the mandatory £1 approach, they at least give fans the option of donating when they purchase. “This year, we’ve hit a major milestone in our collaboration by introducing the optional Music Venue Trust donation across our marketplace, giving the millions of fans who come to Ticketmaster the opportunity to help UK grassroots venues,” says Andrew Parsons, managing director of Ticketmaster UK. “It’s our way of doubling down on supporting the crucial work MVT does.”

Since 2016, Ticketmaster has been the main sponsor of Venues Day – an event established by MVT COO Beverley Whitrick for grassroots music venues in the UK. In 2021, they launched a booking fee rebate where venues receive a 50% rebate on all booking fees, and just last year, they launched an annual MVT charity upsell option across their site, with Ticketmaster matching all donations received.

Of course, some venues and entertainment groups are taking it upon themselves to implement change. Many feel it’s the least they can do. “It isn’t rocket science, and it isn’t a huge amount of effort,” says Lisa Mart, venue director at Swansea Arena, which is part of the Ambassador Theatre Group. “And it’s mutually beneficial.”

“Collaboration is key for there to be lasting change”

From October last year, the arena implemented a year-round charity upsell of a minimum of £1 on all music events announced and held at the venue, as well as announcing an annual fundraiser event – the Swansea Arena House Party – which will feature a creative industries fair and workshops; the aim is to raise £20,000 from that event alone, with all ticket proceeds going directly to MVT.

Working together with other venues and organisations and being acutely aware of how vital audience awareness is, also lends a practical edge to the arena’s efforts. “Collaboration is key for there to be lasting change,” says Mart. With lack of late-night transport in South Wales a problem, they lobbied the government for more investment; they also lobbied about the lack of available and affordable outdoor poster sites for smaller venues.

And they’re keen on even simpler solutions, like sharing facilities, equipment, parking spaces, and general knowledge or expertise. “We are all in a WhatsApp group, so they [other local grassroots venues] know they can jump in and ask for or offer help where needed,” says Mart, all part of a plan to “make the most of the people being brought into the city.”

It’s been an extremely challenging decade for everyone involved in the arts, particularly grassroots music venues – not just in the UK but worldwide. Speak to people involved in the fight and they’ll tell you how frustrating the pace of change is and how reluctant those with power or influence can sometimes be to make it. “The closer we get to real long-term sustainable solutions to the challenges faced by the grassroots music ecosystem, the more defensive the music industry becomes about taking the action that is so obviously needed,” says Davyd.

“Music Venue Trust’s dogged determination and passion as advocates for grassroots venues serve as an inspiration for all of us”

But across the last decade, real strides have been made, and those campaigning for change remain filled with hope and determination – not least when they gaze upon the tireless dedication of MVT and what they’ve been able to achieve. “I’d give us a ten out of ten for determination to get things done,” says Davyd, “and I’d rate us a five or a six for getting it done quickly, but that’s the reality of trying to nudge a giant oil tanker like the music industry towards a more ethical and considered position.”

Just a man and his will to survive
Serving as an inspiration to others, what Davyd and MVT have done is best summed up by Michael Bracy, founder of the Music Policy Forum. “So much of what makes them so effective is their authenticity,” he says. “The Music Venue Trust’s dogged determination and passion as advocates for grassroots venues serve as an inspiration for all of us, and what may not be as visible is their remarkable generosity as collaborators and their eagerness to learn from others. They know they don’t have all the answers but are constantly in dialogue with other advocates and stakeholders from across the globe.”

“Mark Davyd is not just a pioneer, and he’s not just a visionary – he has changed the world with his work,” adds Erin Benjamin. “And if it weren’t for him and the Music Venue Trust, we would not be having these conversations.”

“That vision of what this network could be is achievable and could be delivered within a decade… if everyone just got behind it and did what they should be doing to make it a reality”

It’s a sentiment echoed by everyone IQ speaks to, but keenly aware of the battles – and difficulties – that lie ahead, all are focussed on creating a better, more sustainable future for grassroots venues and ensuring they don’t just survive but thrive. Music as we know it may depend upon it.

“The dream is a network of energy self-sufficient venues, benevolently owned by a not-for-profit entity, operated by a not-for-profit organisation, operating without Business Rates or VAT on tickets, housing accommodation that artists can use for free, with a fleet of electric vehicles that artists can travel in, and plugging into an excellent backline to perform on stages with the best available sound and lighting,” says Davyd of the MVT’s plans for the next decade. “That vision of what this network could be is achievable and could be delivered within a decade… if everyone just got behind it and did what they should be doing to make it a reality.”

 


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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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‘Enough is enough’ on venue closures – MVT

The Music Venue Trust (MVT) says that “enough is enough” after revealing that 2023 was the worst year for UK venue closures since its launch a decade ago.

The organisation, which represents hundreds of grassroots music venues (GMVs), reveals that 125 GMVs (16%) closed last year – a rate of two per week – with 38% of venues reporting a loss in 2023, according to its newly published annual report.

The remaining 835 members of the Music Venue Alliance (MVA) staged over 187,000 events last year, with 1.7m individual artist performances attracting audience visits of over 23.5m. However, despite generating over £500m in revenues, GMVs made just £2.5m or 0.5% profit for the period.

“2023 was the worst year for venue closures since Music Venue Trust launched ten years ago,” says Beverley Whitrick, COO of Music Venue Trust. “We are still losing on average two venues a week and those that have survived are now consumed by threats to their continued existence that they have no chance of overcoming without immediate help. Without external support our entire sector would be bankrupt.

“We have been warning of these consequences for the last six years yet still the top end of the live music sector posts record profits while, with a few notable exceptions, turning a blind eye to those who discover, nurture and develop the artists that generate that revenue for them.”

“Enough is enough, this report speaks for itself and we will not allow this to continue”

The report, which can be accessed here, also details how the whole sector would have operated at a loss during the period without grants and donations totalling £3.1m from sources including MVT’s own Pipeline Investment Fund, as well as Arts Council England and other bodies.

In total, the amount that GMVs are subsidising live music rose from £79m in 2022 to £115m in 2023 – a 45% increase over the previous 12 months.

With high energy prices and rent increases averaging 37%, 164 member venues accessed the MVT Emergency Response Service which, for the first time since the organisation’s launch a decade ago, found that the primary cause of venue closure was a lack of financial viability.

“Enough is enough, this report speaks for itself and we will not allow this to continue,” adds MVT CEO Mark Davyd. “We must either find a way to act collectively to get these venues and the artists who rely on them the financial support they need to survive or we will seek legislation to compel it.”

The report notes a “distinct contrast” between the profit margins of venues based on their geographical locations, with those in bigger towns being more profitable. Venues in areas with populations under 200,000 reporting an average loss of -2.55%, compared to a 1.7% profit margin in more populated areas.

“We can no longer accept complacency from those in a position to help prevent the annihilation of our sector”

Additionally, venues with a total turnover of less than £500,000 were more likely to have a negative profit margin (averaging -0.5%) compared to those with turnovers exceeding £500,000 (averaging 3%),

Davyd repeats the MVT’s call for a compulsory £1 levy on tickets sold for UK live music events above 5,000 capacity.

“The idea that we, as an industry, cannot voluntarily create a levy to support our grassroots sector, unilaterally and without government intervention is absurd but we cannot escape the fact that we are simply not acting fast enough,” adds Davyd. “For that reason, Music Venue Trust is asking all of the main political parties for manifesto commitments ahead of the forthcoming General Election that state that there must be a contribution from the most successful parts of our industry into the grassroots research and development carried out on their behalf.

“It’s time to stop the excuses – we can no longer accept complacency from those in a position to help prevent the annihilation of our sector.”

 


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MVT lobbies for £1 ticket levy after Moles closure

The Music Venue Trust (MVT) is lobbying the government for a compulsory £1 levy on tickets sold for UK live music events above 5,000 capacity after grassroots venue Moles in Bath was forced to shut down with immediate effect.

Moles opened in 1978 and has hosted early gigs by acts such as Ed Sheeran, The Killers, Fatboy Slim, Oasis, Blur, Radiohead, The Smiths and Idles. But all future events have been cancelled at the storied 220-cap venue after its owners filed for insolvency, citing rising costs and the cost-of-living crisis.

“Making the decision to close Moles was horrendous, but the cost-of-living crisis has crippled us,” says co-owner Tom Maddicott. “Massively increased costs of stock, utilities and rent compounded by our customers also feeling the impact of the crisis has made it impossible to continue.

“It’s obviously an incredibly difficult decision to have to take, for our team, the staff, the local community, and the artists that over the years have created such an incredible history of music. But the reality is that live music at grassroots level is no longer economically viable and we will not be the only grassroots music venue forced to close.”

“Venues like these all over the country are going out of business, whilst helping nurture the artists that will go on to generate millions for the broader music industry”

According to the MVT, more than 120 grassroots venues (15%) have closed and a further 84 are currently in crisis, while at least seven new arenas are currently planned in cities across the UK.

“Today is a very sad day for our sector,” says Mark Davyd, CEO and founder of the MVT. “Grassroots Music Venues like Moles – one of the best loved and most efficiently run venues in the country for almost 45 years – have done everything they can to keep afloat, investing every penny they can into trying to fulfil their commitment to live music.

“Venues like these all over the country are going out of business, whilst helping nurture the artists that will go on to generate millions for the broader music industry. Put bluntly, they have been badly let down by those who profit from their efforts.”

The MVT has long campaigned for the wider live music industry to financially back the grassroots music sector, proposing that every ticket sold at an arena and stadium should make a £1 contribution into its Pipeline Investment Fund. But despite support from the likes of Enter Shikari, promoter Cuffe & Taylor, venues Piece Hall and Swansea Arena, and ticketing companies Ticketmaster, Skiddle and Good Show, Davyd says the business-at-large has been far too slow to react.

“There needs to be a major shake-up of the live industry with the big players supporting the grassroots where it all begins to secure that pipeline of talent”

“Unless it gets serious about its responsibilities to encourage, nurture and develop the grassroots live sector the music industry as a whole will face a catastrophic failure of artist development,” adds Davyd. “In France all major live music events are required to pay 3.5% of each ticket sale into a fund to support grassroots artists and venues.

“We have today written to the government and to opposition parties to insist that, in the event that the music industry will not act voluntarily, a compulsory levy on every ticket sold for every live music event above 5,000 capacity that takes place in the UK must be introduced by legislation to prevent the devastation of the sector.”

Maddicott adds to the calls for broader support, comparing the situation with other industries.

“There needs to be a major shake-up of the live industry with the big players supporting the grassroots where it all begins to secure that pipeline of talent,” he says. “Football gets it with the Premier League investing millions in the grassroots game each year to bring through new players. The music industry needs to do the same before the entire grassroots sector collapses.”

“It is inevitable that there will be more closures if urgent action is not taken”

Elsewhere in the UK, organisers of independent festival Nozstock The Hidden Valley have announced its 2024 edition, set for 18-21 July, will be its last.

“After the losses incurred over Covid, straight into a cost-of-living crisis, the financial risk is becoming too great,” says a statement from the festival, which has been running for 26 years.

Association of Independent Festivals CEO John Rostron says it is “inevitable” that more events will fold without swift intervention.

“It’s incredibly sad to see Nozstock The Hidden Valley forced to close its gates for good as a direct result of the financial strain faced by many following significant Covid losses and an ongoing cost-of-living crisis,” says Rostron. “After almost three decades of great events, Nozstock has become a key fixture on the UK’s independent festival calendar, and this should serve as yet another alarm bell warning of the perilous situation that many in this cultural sector are facing.

“Already, neither NASS Festival and Leopallooza will return in 2024; Bluedot is on a hiatus after a difficult 2023 edition, and the award-winning Field Maneuvers has announced its 2024 festival will be its last in its current form.

“The impact of Covid and high supply chain costs means the squeeze on festivals is increasing. It is inevitable that there will be more closures if urgent action is not taken. We again call on the government to review VAT on music festival ticket sales and lower the rate to 5% for an extended period to help support the recovery of the festival sector.”

 


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LIVE, MVT respond to chancellor’s Autumn Statement

UK live music organisations have welcomed the extension to business rates relief for grassroots venues announced by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt as  part of his Autumn Statement.

Relief was extended from 50% to 75% from 1 April this year, and Hunt confirmed today that the scheme would run for a further 12 months.

Jon Collins, CEO of trade body LIVE, the voice of the UK’s live music and entertainment business, has spoken out in favour of the move, saying it is both “pivotal” for the grassroots circuit and addresses a “core ask” of the recently published LIVE Music Manifesto 2023.

“LIVE welcomes the extension of the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure relief scheme for another year in today’s Autumn Statement,” he says. The UK’s live music industry is an engine of growth, generating £5.2 billion in 2022 and employing over 228,000 people last year, with a gig held every four minutes. However, grassroots venues have been operating on a knife edge so it’s crucial that government continues to support this critical part of our sector with the right reliefs and funding mechanisms.

“The government is committed to supporting growth and innovation across the creative industries. The extension of business rates relief will be pivotal for those grassroots venues that are responsible for so much of the R&D in the live music sector.”

The Music Venue Trust (MVT), which works on behalf of over 900 venues across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, also backed the development.

“It was essential to keep this relief in place and we are pleased that our presentations to Treasury were listened to and acknowledged by this outcome”

“The potential cancellation of this relief presented the possibility of an additional £15 million in pre-profit taxation falling onto a grassroots sector suffering a severe crisis; over 100 venues have already closed in the last 12 months,” says MVT CEO Mark Davyd. “It was essential to keep this relief in place and we are pleased that our presentations to Treasury were listened to and acknowledged by this outcome.

“We hope that this further extension into 2025 for this relief will provide the necessary window of opportunity for the government to complete the full review of Business Rates on Grassroots Music Venues, which it committed to in January 2019.”

Davyd notes that the Chancellor’s statement also included the announcement of a significant uplift to minimum wage.

“The grassroots sector is notoriously undervalued and underpaid, from the artists performing through all levels of roles and staffing, up to and including the venue operators themselves,” he says. “In 2022, the average grassroots music venue operator paid themselves £20,400 per annum, delivering 66 hours of work per week at a rate of £6.43 per hour. An uplift to fees and wages across the sector is long overdue.

“We look forward to working with the Chancellor, HM Treasury and DCMS to identify the necessary funding which can deliver this statutory increase to minimum wage and extend the scope and scale of it so that everyone in the grassroots sector can be adequately rewarded for their work.”

Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) CEO John Rostron adds: “We support measures announced in the chancellor’s Autumn Statement that will help businesses in the broader grassroots music sector, such as the freeze on business rates.

”But, as far as independent festivals are concerned, what is urgently needed is the lowering of VAT to 5% on ticket sales. We will continue conversations with the government towards that end.”

 


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Ticketmaster to launch upsell option for MVT

Ticketmaster is launching a charity upsell option for the UK’s Music Venue Trust (MVT) to coincide with its sponsorship of this month’s Venues Day.

The upsell, which will launch on Venues Day (17 October) and run for an entire month, means that anyone purchasing a ticket on Ticketmaster will be given the option to make a donation directly to MVT.

The initiative will run annually, with Ticketmaster pledging to match all donations received.

“This upsell provides a practical method for fans to support grassroots music venues, and we are incredibly grateful to the Ticketmaster team for putting it in place,” MVT CEO Mark Davyd tells IQ. “Ticketmaster matching all fan donations is a powerful message for the whole industry about the support our sector needs and the will of the music community to provide it.”

The move follows Ticketmaster’s booking fee rebate launched in 2021, where venues receive a 50% rebate on all booking fees. The ticketing company has been headline sponsor of Venues Day since 2016.

“Ticketmaster has been a long-term and committed partner of MVT, and their core support has been vital in developing us as the authentic voice of grassroots venues, artists and fans,” says Davyd.

The music charity’s annual Venues Day event will take place at The Fireworks Factory in London next Tuesday 17 October. Hundreds of delegates from across the UK’s grassroots music venue (GMV) sector, representing venues throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, have already booked their places at the event.

“We need a radical intervention by everyone: the government, the music industry, artists and fans, to stop these closures”

This year’s theme, ‘Behind the Scenes’, covers workshops, discussions, presentations and networking to offer practical support to the people running venues and connect them with services that can help them.

“This year’s Venues Day is bigger than ever, with more venues attending, more delegates, more partners, and more on offer,” says Davyd. “Our goal is to match the size of the event with the size of ambitions for what is delivered on the day, and what we can bring to the sector.”

Last week saw the UK organisation announce the first acquisition under its Own Our Venues scheme. The Snug (cap. 100) in Atherton, Greater Manchester, became the first GMV to be bought by Music Venue Properties (MVP), the independent Charitable Community Benefit Society (CCBS) created by the MVT.

Own Our Venues was launched as a crowdfunded project in June 2022 as the first step in a long-term campaign to take control of the freeholds of music venue premises and bring them under a protected status of benevolent ownership.

“We believe that live music fans understand exactly how vital these venues are to the future of our whole music ecosystem and how much financial difficulty they are currently facing,” adds Davyd.

“127 grassroots music venues have closed in the last 12 months – more than one is permanently closing every week. We need a radical intervention by everyone: the government, the music industry, artists and fans, to stop these closures and turn this around.”

 


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MVT’s Own Our Venues scheme makes first purchase

Music Venue Trust (MVT) chief Mark Davyd has hailed a “huge moment for grassroots music venues” after the UK organisation announced the first acquisition under its Own Our Venues scheme.

The Snug (cap. 100) in Atherton, Greater Manchester, has become the first GMV to be bought by Music Venue Properties (MVP), the independent Charitable Community Benefit Society (CCBS) created by the MVT (unlike a charity, CCBS can raise money via community shares).

MVP has secured the freehold of the building occupied by The Snug and has placed it into permanent protected status. It has also committed to removing The Snug from the pressures of the commercial lease market by offering a rent reduction and a contribution towards building repairs and insurance.

“I can’t say this often enough – there are solutions to this,” Davyd tells IQ. “A total of 127 [grassroots venues] have closed or stopped putting on live music in the last 12 months. This one will never stop putting on live music.”

Own Our Venues was launched as a crowdfunded project in June 2022 as the first step in a long-term campaign to take control of the freeholds of music venue premises and bring them under a protected status of benevolent ownership. The project was made possible by more than 1,200 individual investors including £500,000 investment from both Arts Council England and Arts & Culture Finance.

“This is not complicated stuff,” adds Davyd. “With a pound on a ticket at [an arena show], you can buy one every five shows. The audiences are telling us they want us to do this. The communities around the country are telling us they want to do this. We’ve gone off and done it.”

“We’ve got another two that are already in the final stages of being completed and we’re hoping to announce those in the next quarter”

The venue’s current operators have signed a ‘cultural lease’, which is an innovative agreement specifically created by MVP to guarantee that, as long as The Snug operates as a space for grassroots live music for their local community, they can enjoy the use of the building.

The official launch event and unveiling of a commemorative plaque was held today (4 October) at The Snug, attended by many of those who helped bring the initiative to fruition.

“Lots of people in music industry told me this wouldn’t work. Well, it has worked,” adds Davyd. “So I’m super-proud that our team has made it happen. I’m super-proud of the community in Atherton. I’m super-proud of the music community across the country that’s invested in this. It’s a huge moment for us and it’s a huge move for grassroots music venues. But we’ve got to do a lot more of it.”

In addition to The Snug, MVP has also identified another eight venues – five in England, one in Scotland and two in Wales – for a pilot project that will allow the scheme to establish proof of concept.

“We’ve got another two that are already in the final stages of being completed and we’re hoping to announce those in the next quarter, and then we’ve got six more that we’re looking at in this round,” says Davyd. “But I want to make it clear that the fund is reopened. Right now, the people who’ve already invested can put more money in and if you haven’t invested yet, we’ve bought a music venue. – come with us and you can own them with us.”

PHOTO (L-R): Claire Mera-Nelson, John Whittingdale MP, Jennifer King, Mark Davyd Rachael Flaszczak, Jamie Lawson

 


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MVT survey reveals 4k grassroots job losses in UK

UK grassroots venues are closing at a rate of more than one a week, resulting in 4,000 job losses across the sector over the past year, according to the Music Venue Trust’s (MVT) latest annual survey.

The charity reports that 78 premises have permanently closed over the last 12 months, with dozens more premises also no longer operating as a grassroots music venue.

Further knock-on effects from the 15.7% decline in live music spaces have included the loss of 14,250 events, 193,230 performance opportunities, £9 million (€10.35m) of musician income and £59m of economic activity.

In response to the alarming findings, the MVT, which represents almost 900 UK grassroots music venues (GMVs), is calling on the UK government to extend business rate relief for its members.

“The current business rates system is anachronistic, inconsistent, and outdated and fails to meet the principles of good tax design,” says MVT CEO Mark Davyd. “The UK government is currently conducting a consultation on wider reforms but the solutions they have so far proposed are in no way radical enough to redress fundamental inequalities that will lead to many more venue closures.”

“The government could throw a vital lifeline to GMVs already holding onto survival by their fingertips”

Sunak created a 50% rate relief specific to GMVs in January 2020 following lobbying from the MVT and others. It was subsequently zero rated for the entire retail, hospitality, and leisure sector as a result of the pandemic, with further concessions extended across these sectors in 2021, 2022 and 2023.

While the sector currently enjoys a 75% business rate relief as a result, it was recently announced that this is to end in April 2024, which the MVT calculates would impose an additional £15m of costs on the circuit.

“We are already losing GMVs at a catastrophic rate, which has had a knock-on effect of 4,000 jobs losses, the removal of 14,250 live music events and 193,230 performance opportunities for musicians, £9m of musician income and £59m of economic activity,” adds Davyd. “By extending business rates relief past next April the government could throw a vital lifeline to GMVs already holding onto survival by their fingertips.”

The main causes put forward for the permanent closures include the economic and logistical impacts of the pandemic; debt and bankruptcy resulting from energy prices, business rates, supply costs, or rent; financially unviable trading conditions; noise abatement orders and unachievable licence renewal terms.

 


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