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4,000+ socially distanced gigs to be held in UK in May/June

A new survey has revealed the full extent to which grassroots music venues in England plan to reopen their doors from 17 May.

The survey, commissioned by Music Venue Trust (MVT) among the nearly 1,000 members of its Music Venues Alliance (MVA), reveals that 2,534 socially distanced shows are already on sale in 266 venues from 17 May 17 to 21 June, with more than 4,000 shows across over 400 venues predicted to take place across the period.

17 May begins the penultimate stage in the UK government’s roadmap to ease Covid-19 lockdown restrictions in England before a planned return to full-capacity social activity on 21 June.

By the end of September, the survey indicates that over 17,000 full-capacity shows are confirmed to take place, with nearly 30,000 shows likely to take place in front of a combined audience of nearly seven million.

With support artists factored in, it is estimated that there will be 91,500 individual live performances during the period, offering over 300,000 work opportunities for musicians as they finally get the chance to return to paid employment.

“The grassroots sector is stepping up and putting its own time and money into answering the demand for live music”

Beverley Whitrick, strategic director of MVT, says: “It’s incredible to see the enthusiasm for getting live music back into our towns and cities being shown by venues, artists and crew. These socially distanced shows aren’t being delivered for financial return – in fact precisely the opposite. The grassroots sector is stepping up and putting its own time and money into answering the demand for live music in our communities.”

According to MVT, the grassroots music venue sector turned over £360 million in 2019–20 (prior to the pandemic), delivering over 200,000 events and more than half a million performances to 33m ticket holders. The sector provides full time employment for 10,000 people, with approximately 150,000 musicians, crew, sound engineers, lighting engineers, security personnel, bar staff and other casual employees working in grassroots live music.

“As we emerge from the darkness of the last year and move towards our plan to revive live it is incredibly exciting and heartening to see the positivity with which UK grassroots music venues are approaching re-opening their doors,” says MVT CEO Mark Dayvd.

“The fact that musicians can get back to work, music fans can start to enjoy a live music experience again and all the associated staff in the music venue ecosystem can go back to earning a living again is amazing news. There are still challenges to overcome – and, of course, the whole of this programme relies on the government sticking to its roadmap to allow us to reopen every venue safely. Audience safety continues to be grassroots music venues’ main priority, but this is hopefully the start of our much-anticipated road back to normality.”

 


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£100k for young female promoters with MVT’s FB: GP

Music Venue Trust (MVT) and media platform MusicPlanet Live have announced Fightback: Grassroots Promoter (FB: GP), a £100,000 funding scheme aimed at young women interested in making a career in live music.

FB: GP will make £100,000 in subsidy guarantees available to underwrite 100 Fightback-branded fundraising shows at grassroots music venues (GMVs) organised by young female concert promoters. The scheme, open to women under 25, will enable participants to take their first steps promoting shows without the financial risk.

“Under 25s who want to promote a show are often put off by the risk or the lack of information about who to speak to, how to get the best deal or what connections they need,” says MVT. “At the same time, grassroots music venues are crying out for new young promoters with fresh ideas. Add into that mix a lack of diversity in the music industry and it adds up to a series of barriers to young women taking up promoting and adding their unique voice and ideas to the grassroots scene.

“We are going to start the process of identifying the next wave of fantastic new independent promoters”

“MVT and MPL want to change all that with a specific initiative aimed at enabling 100 young female promoters to put on a show at their local Music Venues Alliance member grassroots music venue. FB: GP offers a no-risk financial entry point for young women to take their first step in promoting or develop their promoting skills.”

MVT will supply a toolkit and contacts that young women need to put on their show, alongside access to music industry experts for mentorship.

Beverley Whitrick of MVT says: “We want to make a big change to the independent promoter scene in the UK, enabling 100 young women to take a chance on promoting a show they believe in. With their support, we are not only going to raise money for Music Venue Trust, we are going to start the process of identifying the next wave of fantastic new independent promoters and tackle head-on diversity in this sector.

“There aren’t enough female promoters working in grassroots music venues, and we’re going to change that.

 


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MVT welcomes financial backing from Sony Music UK

Recorded music business giant Sony Music UK has become the first major industry player to commit to financially supporting Music Venue Trust (MVT) and its mission protect, preserve and improve Britain’s grassroots music venues.

The announcement, which comes after MVT’s recent Venues Day 2017 event in London, attended by more than 500 delegates, will be welcome news for the organisation following the controversial rejection of its request for funding by Arts Council England.

UK industry lambasts Arts Council over venue funding

Jason Iley, chairman and CEO of Sony Music UK, says: “Sony is committed to supporting and developing artists from grassroots to festival headliners. We recognise the vital role that grassroots music venues play in that journey, providing an essential platform for artists to be able to take their first steps and develop their audiences.

“These venues are the heart of our music communities, and we support the work of Music Venue Trust to protect, secure and improve them.”

MVT says it hopes the commitment from Sony – and the involvement of eight of the UK’s top booking agencies in the Sandbox at Venues Day – will encourage further financial support from key players in the British music industry.

“Post-Venues Day, MVT will be focusing on strengthening music industry relationships and working with our network of venues, the Music Venues Alliance, to fundraise to take forward priorities identified at the event,” comments Venues Day producer Bev Whitrick.

 


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UK industry lambasts Arts Council over venue funding

Arts Council England (ACE) has insisted there is no culture of elitism at the organisation, telling IQ it is ready to work with more of the country’s embattled small venues – despite allocating just 0.06% of its total funding to popular music venues in its latest round of grants.

The announcement of ACE’s latest funding priorities come at a critical time for the UK’s small venues. Despite some signs of improvement in the health of the sector over the past 18 months, especially in London, many independent venues are still struggling to survive, and UK Music’s most recent Wish You Were Here report showed a 13% drop in direct spending at music venues with a capacity of under 1,500 in 2016.

In spite of these challenges, ACE has chosen not to fund a single new music venue over the next four years – a decision ATC Live MD Alex Bruford says will only perpetuate the poor quality of UK venues relative to continental Europe.

“As an agent booking artists into venues across the UK and Europe, the difference in funding and support for contemporary music has always been stark,” he explains. “Musicians expect to go into venues in countries like the Netherlands or Denmark and find vibrant, well-supported establishments, with the latest production equipment and artist facilities – as well as a primary focus on creating an excellent experience for the audience and making the venue an important pillar of the local community.

“The lack of contemporary music funding in the UK has never been more apparent than it is now. So many of the venues just cannot afford to provide the experience, equipment or hospitality they would like to, or have just gone altogether…”

“These venues are an integral part of towns’ and cities’ identities, and it’s almost criminal to not help them survive”

Of the £1.6 billion in public money that makes up ACE’s ‘National Portfolio’ of funding for 2018–2022, announced earlier this summer, around 13% – £368 million over four years – is allocated to the music industry.

There remains, however, a vast discrepancy between the amount of money given to ‘high’ culture and contemporary music, with roughly 85% of that £368m allotted for the former sector – 62% for opera and 23% for classical music – and just 7% for the latter. (The remaining 8% is split between ‘mixed’ musical programming, world music, jazz, folk music, brass bands and several other music-industry nonprofits.)

Of the £28m set aside for contemporary music by ACE in 2018–22, £5m is being put towards music education, with a further £2.5m given to festivals and promoters and £1.5m to recording studios. The only two venues with contemporary music as their main programming being funded by ACE are Band on the Wall (340-cap.) in Manchester and Café Oto (200-cap.) in London, both of which also received National Portfolio funding in 2015–18. (London’s Roundhouse received £3.8m, but is defined as ‘combined arts’.)

Almost unbelievably, half the entire 2018–22 contemporary music budget – £14m, or £9,622 per day – has been awarded to one venue: Sage Gateshead, a mixed contemporary/classical music venue and centre for music education in the north-east of England, operated by the charity North Music Trust.

This, says an ACE spokesperson, is testament to Sage Gateshead’s status as “one of the leading music venues in the country”, renowned for “the range and quality of its programme, which includes jazz, classical and world music”.

The organisation adds that it receives “relatively few requests for direct support” for music venues, but always welcomes “applications from venues looking to develop their artistic output, develop new audiences or to build touring networks for diverse and/or emerging artists”.

“This is about the fabric of our society and the opportunities we want future generations to have”

While ACE may not receive much in the way of correspondence from individual venues, it did, however, receive three separate requests for funding from Music Venue Trust (MVT), whose Music Venues Alliance association represents grassroots music venues (GMVs) across the UK.

Beverley Whitrick, the charity’s strategic director, says ACE encouraged MVT to submit an application to its Strategic Touring fund, which was turned down. She says she “wasn’t that surprised” when the request was denied, as “arts funding is hugely competitive”. “Local authorities used to have money to invest in arts,” she explains. “Now they can barely cover statutory funding.”

MVT was then encouraged to apply for a Small Capital Grant, then for National Portfolio funding as a sector support organisation (SSO), both of which were also ultimately unsuccessful.

MVT’s unsuccessful applications were the culmination of three years of discussions with ACE – three years, Whitrick says, the charity could have put to better use “courting other [potential] funders”.

Whitrick admits that it’s “impossible to support everything”, but says she feels led on by ACE: “If you actively solicit applications, there’s a real tension there,” she continues. “We are an SSO – it’s defined as an organisation whose role is to support a particular sector of the arts – but by not getting the funding it means we’re not recognised as such. It means ACE says we’re less deserving of that funding that other organisations who do other roles…”

Arts Council England’s inaction on the plight of grassroots music venues contrasts with the message from its deputy chief executive of places and engagement, Laura Dyer, at MVT’s Venues Day 2016, when she called venues “an important part” of making the ACE’s vision of “great art and culture for everyone” a reality. “Let’s keep talking and working together; we won’t always agree, but I honestly believe we are making progress,” she told delegates.

“ACE is not funding anyone in the grassroots music venue sector to do any of the work they have already accepted is needed to safeguard it”

There were similar sentiments from ACE’s area director for London, Joyce Wilson, at Venues Day in 2015. She admitted only a “relatively small” number of music venues attracted funding, but suggested the fault lie with the venues: “Not many of you do apply to the Arts Council,” she said. “It’s really hard to support you if you don’t come and talk to us.”

Sam Tucker of independent promoter/agency CloseUp Promotions is critical of “Joyce Wilson’s lazy excuses” and says the decision to “not fairly divide the funding between various genres, venues and promoters” has the potential to be “catastrophic in the long term”.

“Small venues are becoming less and less common,” he explains. “Often these venues are an integral part of towns’ and cities’ identities, and it’s almost criminal to not help them survive in increasingly difficult and uncertain financial times.”

Commenting on MVT’s latest bids for funding, an ACE spokesperson denied the council had solicited the applications – and suggested their lack of success stemmed from an insufficiently strong case. “We’ve had a positive conversations with Music Venue Trust over the years, and they have received funding for the first Venues Day, Music Venues Alliance, the Music Venues Alliance regional meetings and as part of the Catalyst: Evolve fund in July 2016,” the spokesperson says.

“We don’t solicit applications. However, we do try to be supportive when applications are being made, but we are not able to fund applications that aren’t strong.”

For Whitrick, this explanation doesn’t hold water when “funding that should have gone to our sector continues to go to opera, classical music, ballet… I don’t want want to see anyone de-funded – but I’d like a share of it for us.”

“I don’t want want to see anyone de-funded – but I’d like a share of it for us”

ACE’s National Council, which has final sign-off on any funding decisions, has only one member who has ever worked in the (popular) music industry (Universal Music UK’s David Joseph). ACE declined to comment on the make-up of the National Council or any potential review of its membership.

Kilimanjaro Live CEO Stuart Galbraith says, “looking at the facts”, it’s evident that there is a disconnect between the music industry and ACE. He calls for “much more dialogue between the venues and the Arts Council”.

The next window for SSO funding is 2022. “I can’t even imagine how many venues will close in the next four years,” continues Whitrick. “The 100 Club [in London] almost closed [in June] until we interceded with Westminster Council. Last time it was saved by Paul McCartney and Converse, this time it was Fred Perry and us; who will it be next time?

“‘This is not a priority’: that’s the phrase that needs challenging. When is it it a priority?”

Whitrick says ACE has not set out to deliberately cripple small venues, “but they are not funding anyone in the grassroots music venue sector to do any of the work they have already accepted is needed to safeguard it.”

“We need young people to want to go to venues, work in venues, and perform music in venues,” adds Bruford. “Music is an important creative outlet for so many young people. It’s positive use of their time and energy and really aids development.

“Yes, without the venues we won’t create the superstars of the future – but it is about so much more than just that. It is about the fabric of our society and the opportunities we want future generations to have.”

 


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MVT goes int’l with Music Venues Alliance Austin

The UK’s Music Venue Trust (MVT) has announced the launch of Music Venues Alliance Austin, the first international chapter of its Music Venues Alliance association.

The new organisation, headed up by Rebecca Reynolds, aims to “quickly pick up the challenge of protecting, securing and improving” the Texas city’s grassroots venues.

Despite its oft-quoted status as the ‘live music capital of the world’, Austin lost more than 1,200 music-industry jobs and wiped off over US$100 million from value of its live music sector from 2010 to 2014.

Reynolds says: “Here in Austin, we have been following the work of Music Venue Trust and the Music Venues Alliance in the UK with huge interest. The problems they are describing resonated very clearly with us here.

“Although we have our own unique drivers for what threatens the future of Austin music venues, the core challenges are the same”

“Although we have our own unique drivers for what threatens the future of Austin music venues, the core challenges are the same: gentrification; rising rents; a lack of cultural acknowledgement and respect for the work they are doing; and a music industry that needs to start backing these spaces if they are to continue to develop new and emerging talent. We found the work of MVT inspiring, and the progress they have made in such a short time [is] amazing.”

Austin venues interested in joining the alliance are invited to contact Reynolds at rebecca@musicvenuetrust.com.

“We’d love to hear from more cities and countries around the world,” adds MVT CEO Mark Davyd. “Ultimately, we’d like to see the work of these venues respected globally by the music industry, government and the cultural sector. Joining together, we believe we can make that happen.”

 


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