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How is the industry grappling with artist boycotts?

The last couple of months have seen artist boycotts ripple through the showcase festival season, with hundreds of acts pulling out of SXSW in Austin, and others from new music showcase festival The Great Escape (TGE) due to their sponsors’ ties to Israel.

More than 100 speakers and acts pulled out of March’s SXSW in protest of the Texas event’s sponsorship by the US Army and its support for Israel during the Gaza war. A similar number of acts were reported to have dropped out of the UK’s TGE due to its sponsorship by Barclays and its ties to Israel.

Now, attention is turning to other events, with campaign group Bands Boycott Barclays listing Isle of Wight and Latitude festivals – both of which are presented by Barclaycard – and Download as their “next festival targets”.

Last week, Pillow Queens became the first act to boycott this year’s Latitude. Posting on social media, the Irish rock band said: “As a band, we believe that artistic spaces should be able to exist without being funded by morally corrupt investors.”

A handful of acts that boycotted TGE – Picture Parlour, King Alessi, Nieve Ella, Mui Zyu – are also billed to perform at Latitude Festival. IQ reached out to the acts but none have commented.

“The impacts are going to be different for each and every artist, depending on their circumstances”

Like other acts before them, Pillow Queens referenced a May 2024 report by Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) which details Barclay’s financial ties to companies producing weapons and military technology used in Israel’s attacks on Palestinians.

In response to the boycotts, Barclays have repeatedly pointed to their online Q&A which states: “We have been asked why we invest in nine defence companies supplying Israel, but this mistakes what we do. We trade in shares of listed companies in response to client instruction or demand and that may result in us holding shares. We are not making investments for Barclays and Barclays is not a ‘shareholder’ or ‘investor’ in that sense in relation to these companies.”

Annabella Coldrick, CEO of Music Managers Forum (MMF) says it is not straightforward for an artist to pull out of a festival. “The impacts are going to be different for each and every artist, depending on their circumstances, she says. “With SXSW, there may have been funding agreements and contractual obligations to consider. There’s also the cost of getting to Austin and visas, which for an upcoming act can be considerable.”

Northern Irish artist Conchúr White, who boycotted SXSW, revealed that he “accepted a significant amount of money from PRS [for Music]” to perform at the festival.

“The financial implications for me, however, pale in comparison to the tragedies occurring in Gaza,” he continued. “I don’t want to align myself with weapon manufacturers.”
White added he will “try to be more mindful moving forward”.

“We would caution against people pressuring and making assumptions about the views of others”

Belfast band Kneecap also canceled their sets at SXSW “in solidarity with the people of Palestine” even though pulling out “would have a significant financial impact on the band”. But they said it wasn’t comparable to the “unimaginable suffering” in Gaza.

While there are a number of possible ramifications for bands boycotting festivals, artists choosing to stay on festival bills are also facing difficulties.

“There’s a lot of pressure coming from social media,” says Coldrick. “Plus you’ve got fans who may have paid to see you. Not every artist is political or feels confident enough or informed enough to express an opinion about what might be a complex global issue. Alternatively, artists may decide to play and use their platform to express their views in other ways.”

David Martin, CEO at Featured Artists Coalition (FAC), seconds that point, adding: “Music is an artistic expression, a vehicle through which to challenge political, social and financial structures. We support each artist’s freedom to take decisions about using their platform. It is up to individual artists to decide how they choose to demonstrate their views. The circumstances of such decisions will vary from artist to artist and show to show, and only those involved will be in a position to judge the best course of action. We would caution against people pressuring and making assumptions about the views of others.”

Pressure has also been directed towards the festivals to cut ties with sponsors linked to Israel. Massive Attack, Idles and Eno were among dozens of artists who were not booked to play at TGE but signed an open letter launched in April calling for it to drop Barclays as a partner.

The letter said the artists were “drawing inspiration” from Artists Against Apartheid. “A Barclays boycott was a key part of ending apartheid in South Africa, after thousands of people closed their accounts with Barclays to pressure them to withdraw investments from South Africa,” it reads.

“We are now looking closely at a festival’s sponsors in advance of confirming any appearance”

It’s yet to be seen how upcoming Barclays-sponsored festivals, which include the UK’s Camp Bestival and Summertime Ball, will respond to – or be impacted by – artists’ political interest in the Gaza-Israel war. Isle of Wight Festival declined to comment for this IQ story and Latitude Festival did not respond.

Denmark’s ENGAGE Festival is a recent example of an event that has dropped its sponsor amid controversy. The Copenhagen festival, organised by the Veterans Foundation, has asked its defence industry partners to withdraw as a sponsor following criticism and confusion from some.

“Some cannot distinguish between Danish veterans and current international conflicts,” a spokesperson for the festival said. “The Veterans Foundation does not support war and will never take a stance on international conflicts that does not align with the Danish government. We do not collaborate with organisations or companies that oppose this.”

Pressure on festivals to remove controversial sponsors is not limited to music; Hay literary festival last week dropped its principal sponsor – investment firm Baillie Gifford – after boycotts from speakers and performers over the firm’s links to Israel and fossil fuel companies.

Whether festivals change tact with sponsorships or not, one agent suggested to IQ that the recent furore may prompt more caution with booking.

“We support our artists in whatever choice they make,” they told IQ. “But we are now looking closely at a festival’s sponsors in advance of confirming any appearance.”

MMF’s Coldrick says such vigilance is business as usual in the record industry: “Clearly, if any artist is passionate about a particular cause or issue and that might have implications on the shows they play, then they need to make this known to their manager and agent. Those kinds of conversations are quite standard when it comes to sync or brand deals. Going forward, maybe they need to be standard in live music too.”


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CMS calls for ticket levy for grassroots venues

The Culture, Media and Sport (CMS) Committee has backed calls for a new arena and stadium ticket levy, plus tax relief, to safeguard UK’s grassroots music venues (GMVs).

The recommendations feature in a new report from the cross-party committee, which launched the inquiry at the Music Venue Trust’s (MVT) Venues Day in October 2023 and heard about the “cost of touring crisis” facing the sector, against a backdrop of small venues closing at a rate of two per week.

It says that a voluntary levy on arena and stadium concert tickets – as lobbied for by the MVT – would be the most feasible way to have an immediate impact on the business, creating a support fund for venues, artists and promoters, administered by a trust led by a sector umbrella body, and is appealing for the industry to ensure the levy cost is not passed on to music fans. In addition, it is calling for a temporary VAT cut based on venue capacity.

The conclusions have been warmly welcomed by bodies including the MVT, along with trade bodies LIVE (Live music Industry Venues & Entertainment), UK Music, the Music Managers Forum (MMF) and Featured Artists Coalition (FAC).

“These recommendations provide a clear pathway forward to a positive future for the UK’s grassroots music venues, a set of actions that are deliverable, affordable, and will genuinely have a positive impact on live music in communities right across the country,” says MVT CEO Mark Davyd. “We look forward to working with the music industry and with the government to deliver on these recommendations as swiftly as possible.”

Davyd owns Tunbridge Wells Forum in Kent, which recently pledged to become the first venue in the UK to introduce a grassroots ticket levy. Throughout this month, £1 from every ticket sold will be donated to the Music Venue Trust’s (MVT) Pipeline Fund at no additional expense to customers.

The MVT has described 2023 as the most challenging year for the sector since the trust was founded in 2014, as the number of GMVs falling from 960 to 835.

“It’s clear that the committee has recognised the many challenges faced by venues, promoters, events and artists at the grassroots level, and the steps required to address them”

“We would like to thank all the thousands of music fans that have supported our work across the last 10 years,” adds Davyd. “It has taken much longer than any of us would have liked to get the positive change we all wanted to see, but we could not have achieved this fantastic outcome without your continued support for your local live music venue.”

If there is no agreement by September, or if it fails to collect enough income to support the sector, the report says the government should step in an introduce a statutory levy.

“It’s clear that the committee has recognised the many challenges faced by venues, promoters, events and artists at the grassroots level, and the steps required to address them,” says LIVE CEO Jon Collins. “LIVE set out to the committee the actions we believe that the government needs to take to help unleash the economic potential of the sector, such as a reduction in the damaging and uncompetitive rate of VAT on tickets, as well as the actions that sit with us as an industry, notably the creation of a charitable arm, the LIVE Trust.

“We are pleased that the committee’s report addresses both of these matters positively and has entrusted our sector to implement the industry-led solution of a voluntary levy on arena and stadium tickets, gathering and distributing funding that will benefit the whole grassroots music ecosystem. We look forward to working with government on the review of VAT and regularly updating on our progress on the LIVE Trust.”

“Grassroots music venues are a crucial part of the music industry’s ecosystem and have been faced with a series of unprecedented threats for a number of years,” adds UK Music interim chief executive Tom Kiehl. “We welcome the House of Commons CMS Committee taking the opportunity to consider the challenges these venues and the artists that tour in them face.”

Artists and managers previously spoke out in favour of the MVT’s calls for a compulsory £1 levy on tickets sold for UK live music events above 5,000-cap during evidence sessions held in March.

“As the organisations representing artists and managers, we wholeheartedly endorse all the committee’s recommendations,” says a joint statement by FAC CEO David Martin and MMF chief executive Annabella Coldrick. “Most important is their recognition of the ‘cost of touring crisis’, and that the benefits of a ticket levy must flow down to artists, managers, and independent promoters – as well as to grassroots music venues. The entire ecosystem needs support. While we still believe this mechanism should be mandatory, the clock is now ticking to get a process in place before September 2024.”

“The ongoing wave of closures is not just a disaster for music, performers and supporters in local communities up and down the country, but also puts at risk the entire live music ecosystem”

Among the report’s other recommendations are for the government and Arts Council to make it easier for the live music sector to apply for public funding and for stakeholders across the industry to continue to support the FAC’s campaign to end punitive fees on artists’ merchandise.

“We are also delighted to see the committee endorse the 100% Venues campaign, and hope this will trigger action from the UK’s largest live music venues to overhaul outdated practices on merchandise commissions,” continue Martin and Coldrick. “The sale of T-shirts, vinyl and other physical products represent a crucial income stream for artists. It is only fair that they should retain the bulk of that revenue.”

In closing, the report also calls for a comprehensive fan-led review to be set be set up this summer to examine the long-term challenges to the wider live music ecosystem.

“We are grateful to the many dedicated local venues who gave up their time to take part in our inquiry,” says Dame Caroline Dinenage MP, chair of the CMS Committee. “They delivered the message loud and clear that grassroots music venues are in crisis. The ongoing wave of closures is not just a disaster for music, performers and supporters in local communities up and down the country, but also puts at risk the entire live music ecosystem.

“If the grassroots, where musicians, technicians, tour managers and promoters hone their craft, are allowed to wither and die, the UK’s position as a music powerhouse faces a bleak future. To stem the overwhelming ongoing tide of closures, we urgently need a levy on arena and stadium concert tickets to fund financial support for the sector, alongside a VAT cut to help get more shows into venues.

“While the current focus is on the many grassroots music venues falling silent, those working in the live music sector across the board are also under extraordinary strain. It is time that the government brought together everyone with a stake in the industry’s success, including music fans, to address the long-term challenges and ensure live music can thrive into the future.”


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#LetTheMusicMove: Groups oppose US visa changes

The Music Managers Forum (MMF) and Featured Artists Coalition (FAC) have stepped up their #LetTheMusicMove campaign in order to oppose changes to US visa applications.

The UK groups say the newly-proposed increases to filing fees attached to specific visa applications – including O and P artists visas – would result in potentially crippling costs for UK artists looking to tour North America.

#LetTheMusicMove was originally established in June 2021 to campaign for reductions in post-Brexit costs and red tape for UK artists and musicians when touring in Europe, but has extended its focus following the recent announcement by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Under the proposals, the cost of artists visas increase by more than 250%, which would make performing in the US unaffordable for many emerging and mid-level artists.

“These proposed increases to visa costs would be catastrophic for British artists, and make it unaffordable for many to tour the US,” says MMF chief Annabella Coldrick. “By reactivating and expanding our #LetTheMusicMove campaign we hope to convince the Department of Homeland Security to rethink their culturally destructive proposals.”

“By working strategically, there is still a chance of stopping these damaging changes”

The DHS and the US Citizenship and Immigration Services have opened a comment period until 6 March, allowing US citizens to send public feedback which will then be reviewed and further adjustments considered.

“#LetTheMusicMove provided artists with a unified campaign in which they could voice their concerns about the challenges of touring after Brexit,” says FAC CEO David Martin. “However, these new proposals around US touring visas are equally concerning and, should they be agreed, will only exacerbate the seismic challenges facing the UK’s artists today.

“For that reason, we are asking British artists to commit to three simple actions: to sign up to the campaign, to send us their views, and to submit feedback to the official consultation process. By working strategically, there is still a chance of stopping these damaging changes.”

More than 1,000 artists originally backed the #LetTheMusicMove campaign, including Little Mix, Orbital, Olly Murs, Sampha, Sleaford Mods, Alison Moyet, Nubian Twist, Bicep, AlunaGeorge, Niall Horan, Wolf Alice, Annie Lennox, Biffy Clyro, Idles, Poppy Ajudha, Radiohead, Anna Calvi, Skunk Anansie and Laura Marling.


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The Associates: Liveurope, MMF, MVT

Covid-19 has impacted every business sector around the world, but with live entertainment likely to be one of the last industries to return, given social distancing regulations, the associations that represent its millions of employees have never been more important.

As restrictions in many countries enter yet another month, for issue 91 IQ found out more about some of our association partners and discovered just what they are doing to help their members navigate and survive.

Following the last instalment with Impala, Intix and Live DMA, this time we check in with Liveurope, Music Managers Forum and Music Venue Trust.


Liveurope is a one-of-a-kind initiative that supports concert venues in their efforts to promote emerging European music.

Created in 2014, the platform counts 16 iconic European music venues, including Ancienne Belgique (Belgium), Sala Apolo (Spain), A38 (Hungary) and Village Underground (UK), as its members.

The mission of Liveurope is to support music venues that are committed to European diversity in order to create lasting effects in terms of cross-border circulation of European repertoire.

Thanks to funding provided by Creative Europe, Liveurope has already supported over 200 acts from 40 countries. This represents a 63% increase in the number of emerging European artists booked on average per venue since the launch of the platform.

The Liveurope platform was designed to provide financial support in order to encourage music venues to take risks by programming new acts from uncharted territories.

Though these concerts are currently suspended, the financial support the organisation provides to its member venues also acts as a safety net during the crisis.

While artists can no longer cross borders physically, Liveurope has joined forces with its member venues through a digital tour project, which is allowing participating venues to continue presenting new European acts to their audiences via social media.

As it depends on European funding programmes for culture, Liveurope has also been engaging in joint efforts with organisations from across music and cultural sectors to call for ambitious budgetary measures to help get through the crisis.

While artists can no longer cross borders, Liveurope has joined forces with member venues through a digital tour project

Music Managers Forum
The Music Managers Forum (MMF) is the world’s largest professional community of music managers.

Representing more than 850 members, it advocates for their interests; provides training and education; and operates a successful associate programme that fosters ties with a wide range of artist-focused music businesses and services.

Membership fees range from £60 (€67) per annum (plus VAT) for those under 30, to £120 (€135) per annum (plus VAT).

MMF’s campaigning initiatives include the long-running series of Dissecting The Digital Dollar publications that promote greater transparency around online streaming, and the FanFair Alliance, which has successfully reformed secondary ticketing in the UK.

The Forum’s groundbreaking Accelerator Programme for Music Managers, launched in partnership with YouTube Music, Arts Council England and the Scottish Music Industry Association, is helping a new generation of music entrepreneurs.

Since mid-March, the MMF has worked hard to assist members, providing dedicated information on financial support, and utilising evidence from an online questionnaire to lobby government for support packages – as well as working extensively through UK Music and the Creative Industries Federation.

MMF has strived to bring members together throughout the Covid-19 crisis – hosting daily Zoom calls to share information and experiences on everything from live-streaming to event rescheduling, and running weekly, themed management meet-ups (with up to 150 participants) with guests including Amazon Music, YouTube, Facebook and Songtrust.

Since mid-March MMF has been providing dedicated information on financial support, and utilising evidence to lobby government

Music Venue Trust
Music Venue Trust (MVT) is a registered charity created to protect, secure and improve grassroots music venues (GMVs) across the UK.

Founded in 2014, the trust also established the Music Venues Alliance (MVA) – a membership body on whose behalf MVT acts to fundraise, lobby, share good practice and ensure that these vital venues are represented as cultural, social and economic assets.

Membership of the MVA is free and has seen a significant boost in numbers during the pandemic. Six months ago, there were 580 members, but at press time the number had increased to more than 780.

It is inevitable that MVT will need to introduce a paid membership model to make the support it offers sustainable, but this is very hard to do in such a challenging time for the venues it protects.

MVT has been offering sector support for GMVs to try and sustain them through the impacts of the pandemic. This takes five forms:

1. Surveys
MVT gathered data between 9 March and 26 March (six different national data sets) from MVA members about the financial impacts of venue closure, to best inform governments about the support needed to ensure they are sustained through this crisis and able to reopen.

This data enables them to speak authoritatively and factually about the financial needs of GMVs.

2. Information sharing
● MVT continues to bring together and disseminate to MVA members the most current information about what they must do and what they can do to try and sustain their venue.
● MVT feeds into the international music industry picture and keeps track of trends.

3. Representation
● MVT makes sure that the needs of GMVs are raised as part of all music industry and cultural sector approaches for support from the governments of the UK.
● MVT sits on a range of working groups tackling venue reopening, including the UK Government Taskforce for reopening music.
● As the largest GMV membership body in Europe (Live DMA), MVT feeds into European information collecting and sharing.

4. Fundraising
● To support the entire sector, MVT launched the Grassroots Music Venue Crisis Fund, created to raise money from corporate giving and high-net-worth individuals.
● On 27 April, we launched the #saveourvenues campaign: both a central fundraising campaign and individual crowd-funding for member venues. In the first three weeks, £1.5million (€1.7m) was raised through donations. The campaign is ongoing.

5. Individual support for every MVA member
● Since the start of the crisis, MVT has grown its team, appointing regional and national co-ordinators to work with the core team and reach out to every venue across the UK. MVA co-ordinators work through all of the potential avenues of support for venues, offering advice on how best to secure every venue’s finances (and listening to their concerns).
● If these measures fail to secure the venue then they apply to the GMV Crisis Service for specialist expert advice and support.


View the full Associates list in the digital edition of IQ 91. To keep on top of the latest live music industry news, features and insights, subscribe to IQ now.

This article forms part of IQ’s Covid-19 resource centre – a knowledge hub of essential guidance and updating resources for uncertain times.

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MMF’s Accelerator programme to return in 2020

The Music Managers Forum (MMF) and YouTube Music have announced that the Accelerator Programme for Music Managers will return in 2020, following a successful inaugural year.

The initiative, lauded as the first-ever independent funding and professional development programme designed solely for music managers, aims to increase the number of sustainable full-time management businesses, offering a combination of financial and educational support.

The programme currently benefits 24 managers across England and Scotland, who have received year-long grants of up to £15,000 and more than 80 hours of manager-specific education courses, through backing from Arts Council England and the Scottish Music Industry Association.

Applications for those wishing to participate in the 2020 programme open on Tuesday 15 October.

“MMF are absolutely thrilled that YouTube Music recognise the importance of Accelerator and that the programme will return next year,” says MMF’s strategy and operations director Fiona McGugan.

“Accelerator has already offered a career-changing experience for 24 upcoming music managers”

“It has already offered a career-changing experience for 24 upcoming music managers, and we look forward to sharing some of the impact data and successes in time for the opening of 2020 applications.”

Roz Mansfield, YouTube Music artist partnerships managers, comments: “As well as supporting the next wave of British talent, we also want to support the people who work tirelessly behind the scenes to make the industry function, grow and succeed.

“We at YouTube Music are so proud to be a sponsor of MMF and their Accelerator Programme and look forward to seeing what these talented managers go on to do next.”

Accelerator business partners include Music Ally, CMU Insights, Harbottle & Lewis, Sheridans, Simkins, Simons Muirhead & Burton, Music Insurance Brokers and SRLV. MMF aims to confirm and expand partnerships for 2020 before the programme begins.

Full details on how to apply to the programme will become available here.

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