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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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Taxi app pledges £1 from every ride to save GMVs

Taxi app FREENOW is donating £1 from every ride to help save UK grassroots music venues.

With the Ride For Music initiative, FREENOW is guaranteeing a minimum commitment of £200,000 to the cause.

The scheme comes after Music Venue Trust (MVT) published a report stating that the UK is set to lose 10% of its grassroots music venues in 2023 due to issues such as the cost of living crisis.

All funds raised through Ride For Music will go to the Pipeline Investment Fund (PIF) – a grant-giving fund established by MVT with the support of the Music Venues Alliance.

PIF allows small-scale grant applications (up to £5,000) from UK-based Grassroots Music Venues to support three areas of work: improving venue viability, improvements to infrastructure and ownership investment.

“FREENOW have made it simple for you to be part of the solution, and help the whole music and nighttime economy”

The Ride For Music initiative has already garnered support from the likes of Ed Sheeran, Steve Lamacq, Ticketmaster and Academy Music Group (AMG).

“People can make a genuine difference to Music Venue Trust’s ability to prevent venue closures, support artists, crew and staff,” says Mark Davyd, founder and CEO of MVT. “FREENOW have made it simple for you to be part of the solution, and help the whole music and nighttime economy.”

This is the second year that FREENOW has joined efforts with Music Venue Trust. In 2022, the company underwrote the costs of 120 shows by independent artists in 60 venues across the UK, supporting venues and artists.

A similar initiative for grassroots venues was announced by Enter Shikari earlier this year when the band announced that they would be donating £1 from every ticket sold to their upcoming UK and Ireland arena tour to benefit the MVT.

Additionally, last week, Ticketmaster announced details of a new MVT charity upsell option that enables fans to make direct contributions to MVT when purchasing tickets for upcoming concerts.

 


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Inside the changing face of live music sponsorship

The pandemic has changed the game for live music sponsorship, according to prominent figures across the business.

With question marks arising over whether brand tie-ins have lost its allure or remain a premier choice for brand leaders, most signs appear to point towards the latter.

Bijal Parmar, head of consumer marketing for Virgin Media O2, indicated much of the appeal for sponsors was derived from music’s “immense power” of connectivity.

“It’s a common culture and a universal language that during the pandemic – and even post-pandemic – has been able to unite people,” she said. “It’s something that has kept people connected, so we’re able to use it to articulate our brand strategy and provide an experience for our customers… So it’s a memory that we’re creating, not just an event.”

Dukagjin ‘Dugi’ Lipa, founder of Republika Communications Agency and co-organiser of Kosovo’s Sunny Hill Festival, with his daughter, Dua Lipa, discussed the evolving relationship.

“Rather than just being that transactional stance between the artist and the brand, we see a lot of changes and different approaches from brand partners,” he said. “Now it’s more connected to brand values: do they see anything that can have longevity rather than just one kind of interaction between the artist and the brand?”

“We get a lot of brand offers, but it’s never about the money”

Dugi pointed out that although the global success of Dua Lipa’s second album Future Nostalgia had placed her in even higher demand with would-be sponsors, there were additional considerations to take into account.

“We get a lot of brand offers, but it’s never about the money,” he insisted. “It’s always about the long term partnership and the values. You become part of the brand and the brand becomes a part of you for that period of time.

“Even though you have a lot of offers, you have to be very, very careful what your next step is and who you are going to be affiliated with, etc. We are living in a new kind of world, where everything is online, everything is reachable, everything is accessible to you. So you have to be very careful who you work and why you do it.”

US-based ASM Global EVP of marketing Alex Merchan summed up the venue company’s approach.

“A key thing we find is really looking beyond just the transactional relationship,” he said. “What is in it for both parties? We’re looking for partners that we can find unique, creative things that add value to the fan experience, or to the facility itself.”

Music Venue Trust CEO Mark Davyd explained the organisation’s formation in 2014 marked a turning point for the grassroots sector’s relationship with brands. Davyd referenced the Revive Live showcase, launched in July 2021 with support from the UK National Lottery, which contributed £1 million to directly underwrite the touring and production costs of hundreds of live performances.

“Post-pandemic, it seems to me like a lot of the brands are becoming smarter and not overlaying quite so much,” he suggested. “Our deal with them doesn’t really involve us saying ‘the National Lottery’ very much at all. What they’re looking to do is own the space where an artist broke through, from being unknown to being a touring artist. They want to own that across a number of years.

“In five years’ time, they’re hoping that one of the 60 or 70 tours we’ve already put out will be by the next Adele or Dua Lipa – and they want that reputational branding, rather than a big ‘look what the National Lottery has done’ shout, and that feels quite different. I’ve done a lot of branding where quite often you weren’t really sure why the company was there, but you liked their money. But what we’re now seeing is a lot more of a focus on, ‘What is the authentic experience and how can our brand sit alongside that?'”

“The reaction from the audience is tangibly different than it was before Covid. And I think brands can see that and want to be part of it”

Davyd added that Covid-19 had acted as a “wake-up” call for people who had previously taken their local venue for granted.

“They had to drive or walk past it when it was closed for nearly two years and they really thought, ‘Wow, I could lose that,'” said Davyd. “In this pandemic, a lot of the audience reconnected with what they’ve missed. I’ve been to about 200 shows already and the reaction from the audience is tangibly different than it was before Covid. There’s a real atmosphere in the room of being so happy to be there. And I think brands can see that and want to be part of it.”

CAA UK’s Bradlee Banbury continued on a similar theme, saying many brands had been forced to rethink their relationship with live music due to pandemic.

“They had been lazily badging tours or festivals, but not really activating in a different way with music fans,” he said. “And when we went into the pandemic and there were no live events happening, I think everyone had to reinvent the wheel a little bit. There were some brands that already had strong connections with musicians established for years and they lent into it quite easily. But there were others that were just completely shocked by the whole experience.

“Post-pandemic, I think everyone will have a bit more of a strategy to spread the money a little bit further and make that connection with the actual fans, rather than just badging a tour [although] there’s a place for that as well.”

Banbury spoke highly of drink brands White Claw and Jagermeister’s link-ups with All Points East.

“They’ve got their own stages,” he said. “So you’ve got a lot of fans seeing a show, drinking Jagermeister or White Claw; they’re having a party and they’re really enjoying it. Those brands have brought something to the table.”

This discussion took place as part of the Sponsorship: Falling through the cracks? panel at ILMC 34 in London.

 


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Venues Day International to debut in October

Music Venue Trust (MVT), which represents 100s of grassroots music venues in the UK, has announced that its annual conference and networking event, which was postponed last year due to the pandemic, will now take place in October.

To enable as many venues as possible to participate, Venues Day 2021 – which takes place at Earth in London on Tuesday 5 October – will be a hybrid event incorporating Venues Day Online, a day of virtual activity on 12 October, to ensure every venue in the country gets access to best practice information, advice and guidance as they emerge from lockdown.

Another new event, the inaugural Venues Day International, will take place on 19 October. A partnership between MVT and Live DMA (Europe), Music Policy Forum (North America), Canadian Live Music Association, Live Music Office Australia and NIVA (US), Venues Day International is the first global event aimed exclusively at grassroots music venue operators and owners.

Venues Day International will also take place online and feature panels, presentations and discussion on shared challenges and opportunities across the world.

“We are incredibly excited … to have taken the challenge of the crisis head on and be delivering a hugely increased range and scope of events”

Venues Day is sponsored by Ticketmaster and Amazon, with additional support coming from Jack Daniel’s, White Light, ILMC and media partners IQ and NME.

Andrew Parsons, MD of Ticketmaster UK, says: “Venues Day has long been a pillar for the grassroots community, but this year’s will be a lifeline to so many venues around the country as we inch closer to reopening. The sheer graft of MVT throughout the pandemic to support the industry has been truly inspiring to see, and we’re happy to do our part and sponsor Venues Day 2021.”

“Music Venue Trust offers invaluable support to our industry, and initiatives such as the Grassroots Music Venues Crisis Service have provided a lifeline for many over the past year,” adds Patrick Clifton, UK head of music for Amazon Music. “At Amazon Music we’re proud to continue our partnership with MVT, to help bring Venues Day to grassroots sites across the country, providing guidance and advice to ensure they can safely open their doors to music fans.”

Beverley Whitrick, strategic director of Music Venue Trust, comments: “Venues Day 2021 will further encourage collaboration and sharing, connecting venues across the world so they feel part of a growing movement to emphasise how vital they are to both the wider music industry and local communities. We are incredibly excited to not only be able to deliver the existing event, but to have taken the challenge of the crisis head on and to be delivering a hugely increased range and scope of events with our domestic and international partners.”

 


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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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UK orgs react to new PRS tariff for small live streams

Key organisations from the UK’s music industry have criticised PRS for Music for its new “ill-conceived” licence for small-scale livestreamed gigs, following last year’s backlash about the proposed tariff for larger livestreamed events.

The UK performance rights organisation has today launched a new licensing portal for music creators, venues and promoters wanting to stage livestream small-scale events, which will impose a flat fee equating to a minimum 9% tariff on events generating less than £500.

The blanket rate for a show that generates less than £250 is £22.50, and £45 for an event that generates between £250 and £500.

The move follows the last year’s proposal that larger livestream events should be subject to a tariff of between 8% and 17% of gross revenues, compared to 4.2% charged at normal in-person live shows.

This prompted Music Managers Forum (MMF) and Featured Artists Coalition (FAC) to send a joint letter – countersigned by more than 50 artist managers – to PRS for Music CEO Andrea Martin last month urging her to reconsider the move.

“[PRS] need to commit to a full and transparent industry-wide consultation before issuing invoices to cash-strapped artists”

PRS says it will not be actively pursuing licences for livestreamed events that took place prior to the launch of the new portal, which would have qualified for the fixed fee licence.

Commenting on the new licence for small-scale livestreamed concerts, David Martin, CEO at FAC, and Annabella Coldrick, chief executive at MMF, say: “All of us want songwriters and composers to be paid fairly and efficiently for the use of their work, but this is not the way to go about it. Once again, we would urge PRS for Music to stop acting unilaterally.

“They need to urgently listen to the growing concerns of artists and their representatives during the pandemic, implement a waiver for performer-writers to opt-out of such fees, and commit to a full and transparent industry-wide consultation before issuing invoices to cash-strapped artists.”

“Unilaterally announcing ill-conceived new tariffs in a crisis is not such a discussion”

Mark Davyd, CEO at Music Venue Trust, added: “The live music industry, including grassroots music venues, artists and promoters, is in crisis mode and pulling together. The team at MVT have been in regular correspondence with PRS for Music throughout this crisis on how we can work together to ensure everyone emerges from this crisis and we can get back to work. At no time during those conversations has anybody suggested that a new tariff for streaming would be created. We have not been consulted on this, advised of it, or even notified of it prior to a press release being issued.

“The principal beneficiaries of paid streaming during this crisis have been artists. The beneficiaries of charitable streaming, online broadcasts by artists to raise money for causes, have included venues, crew, artists, and the wider community, including healthcare workers, food banks and homeless charities.

“It is unclear from this press statement whether PRS for Music wishes to clampdown on artists paying themselves or on artists supporting charities, but we would strongly suggest that neither should have been advanced to the stage of an announcement of a Tariff without understanding the most basic economics of what streaming is actually doing during this crisis.

“We remain available to discuss the realities of streaming during this crisis with PRS for Music if they wish to have an informed discussion on it. Unilaterally announcing ill-conceived new tariffs in a crisis is not such a discussion.”

“[PRS] is continuing to work to agree a range of licensing options for larger events, including a proposed discount”

Andrea Martin, CEO, PRS for Music, says: “We recognise the importance of providing simple licensing solutions wherever possible and the licensing portal for small-scale online events is an example of this. We are continuing to work hard to agree a range of licensing options for providers of larger events, including a proposed discounted rate during the pandemic.

“This is a part of the market which has seen exponential growth and is itself constantly evolving, meeting the expectations for worldwide blanket licences is alone no small feat, but we are committed to finding solutions which ensure members can be paid fairly when their works are performed.”

John Truelove, writer director, PRS Members’ Council, says: “Composers and songwriters have faced monumental challenges this past year. So, the huge surge in the online live concert market beyond anyone’s expectations, is positive news all round. It is great that so many artists are performing online concerts to stay connected with fans, to earn a living, and to promote new releases.

“Anyone wanting to hold small online ticketed gigs can now get a PRS licence in a simple and straightforward way. This will create even more opportunities for artists, musicians and writers to thrive together while ensuring that songwriters and composers are being properly paid when their music is performed.”

PRS is proposing to apply temporary discounted rates on livestream licensing for bigger events until the live sector can reopen – though these are yet to be determined.

 


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Unsung Heroes 2020: Music Venue Trust

Unsung Heroes 2020, published in IQ 95 just before Christmas, is a tribute to some of the organisations and individuals who have gone above and beyond to help others during a year unlike any other – be that through their efforts to protect the industry, or helping those who were in desperate need.

We turned to the readership and asked you to nominate worthy causes and personalities for consideration as the inaugural members of our Unsung Heroes awards. Now, IQ can reveal the dozen most-voted Unsung Heroes of 2020, continuing with the UK’s Music Venue Trust, which follows Musically Fed’s Maria Brunner.


Led by husband and wife founders, Mark Davyd and Beverley Whitrick, Music Venue Trust (MVT) also counts Clara Cullen, Sarah Claudine and Menna Grasser as its core team.

However, during the pandemic, MVT has enhanced its team with a number of national and regional co-ordinators who include Nick Stewart, Sam Dabb, Stu Fletcher, Jay Taylor, Danni Brownsill, Chris Sherrington, Harkirit Boparai, Luke Hinton, Sophie Asquith, Keiron Marshall, Sam Jones, Geoff Priestley, Barney Jeavons, Tom Maddicott, Matt Otridge, Toni Coe-Brooker and Lucy Stone.

Strategic director Beverley Whitrick explains, “Music Venue Trust started 2020 with plans to build on the success of 2019 – the first year in which more grassroots music venues (GMVs) opened than closed in the UK. Having spent the last few years trying to build understanding of the vital role that these venues play as cultural, social and economic hubs and creating a community of venues (the Music Venues Alliance, or MVA), we planned to move to a more formal, paid membership model and travel around the country consulting widely with the people who run these venues.”

As the coronavirus pandemic spread and restrictions hit live music and venues hard, that strategy, of course, had to be scrapped. “Instead we found ourselves completely changing plans, appointing lots of temporary team members, and the MVA growing from 600 venues in January to over 900 by November (membership is still free).”

At the start of 2020, MVT had only two full-time members of staff, but Whitrick pays tribute to the committed team members who stepped up to focus full-time on the plight of the UK’s small venues, which, in history, have never needed more help.

“We needed three things: more money, more people and more lobbying power”

“Our early surveys and reports identified that we needed three things: more money, more people and more lobbying power,” says Whitrick. “We created #SaveOurVenues to try and tackle all three, embarking on a huge crowdfunding campaign to pay for a bigger team and raise money for venues, while also creating a focus for PR and lobbying.”

That effort worked. Since the end of April, more than £3 million (€3.3m) has been raised thanks to artists, photographers, designers, merch companies, music industry donors, music fans and the mayor of London.

The money raised enabled MVT to appoint MVA coordinators across the UK to work individually with every venue in the network and to assist clubs and businesses to apply for any money they could claim from governments or local authorities.

“Key to our work has been giving all layers of government reports about the financial interventions needed to sustain venues. We have worked with cultural funders to help design funding, and then guided venues through the process of applying for funding – most of them for the first time.

“This work is ongoing, but so far £60m [€67m] has been secured by GMVs, exceeding our expectations of the recognition they would receive for their cultural value. Our team has been incredible at teaching, supporting and encouraging people who had never thought they could (or should) have to lay out why their work is as eligible for support as any theatre, concert hall or arts centre.”

Unfortunately, not everyone was eligible or successful in obtaining funds, so the work continues. Whitrick adds, “MVT always aims to be practical and effective. We also understand the need for mental health support, and are grateful that our venue community exists and is well supported by other parts of the music ecosystem. We are still working on ways to reopen every venue safely, and hope that will happen soon so we can all get back to experiencing live music in intimate spaces.”

 


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DCMS criticises “failure” of UK govt to support live

The UK’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee has stated that the government’s support package for cultural industries came “too late for many”, and has called for further urgent sector-specific measures.

In the ‘Impact of Covid-19 on DCMS Sectors’ report, the committee states that the government’s recent £1.57 billion support package for the arts, while welcome, “will not be enough to stop mass redundancies and the permanent closure of our cultural infrastructure”.

In addition to the support package, which came after an intense day of lobbying from the UK live industry, the committee calls for an extension to the government’s furlough scheme – currently set to expire at the end of October – until mass gatherings are permitted; continued workforce support measures, including enhanced measures for freelancers and small companies; clear “if conditional” timelines for when events will be able to reopen, with a date for stage five of the government’s plan to reopen events set by 1 August at the latest; and “technological solutions”, such as app-based testing and tracking systems, to allow audiences to return without social distancing.

The committee also recommends the creation of a long-term pandemic reinsurance scheme, ensuring cultural industries are covered by “adequate insurance” in the future, as well as “long-term structural support” to rebuild audience figures, including sector-specific tax reliefs and a value-added tax (VAT) cut for the sector for the next three years. The British government has currently cut VAT on event tickets to 5% until the end of the year.

As for the previously announced funding, the committee demands the government “publish eligibility criteria and application guidance as soon as possible”, as well as “ensur[ing] that the funding reaches recipients no later than October 2020”.

“To reduce uncertainty, the government must publish eligibility criteria  as soon as possible”

The DCMS committee is calling for “sector-specific versions” of the current job retention and self-employed income support schemes to be implemented by October 2020 “at the latest” and kept open until income returns to “sustainable levels”. The committee notes that existing support schemes, such as the self-employed income support scheme and coronavirus business interruption loan scheme, do not cover many working in the live industry.

The report also points out that a large number of festivals, outdoor events and city centre venues have also been unable to access grants earmarked for the retail, hospitality and leisure industries, as the scheme requires businesses to occupy properties with a certain rateable value.

Using data gathered from across the live industry, the committe highlights the threats posed to the UK’s venues and festivals, with over 90% of grassroot music venues in Britain currently face permanent closure, as estimated by the Music Venue Trust (MVT), and the 23 UK arenas making up the National Arenas Association set to lose almost £235m in ticket sales over a six-month period.

As for the festival sector, the report state that: “The seasonality of the industry means that cancellations over spring and summer mean a complete loss of income for the year ahead, which could have devastating consequences for the SMEs and self-employed workers in the live events supply chain.”

The Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) has previously stated that 92% of its member festivals are facing permanent collapse.

“We are witnessing the biggest threat to our cultural landscape in a generation,” comments DCMS committee chair Julian Knight.

“We are witnessing the biggest threat to our cultural landscape in a generation”

“The failure of the government to act quickly has jeopardised the future of institutions that are part of our national life and the livelihoods of those who work for them. Our report points to a department that has been treated as a ‘Cinderella’ by government when it comes to spending, despite the enormous contribution that the DCMS sectors make to the economy and job creation.

“We can see the damaging effect that has had on the robustness and ability of these areas to recover from the Covid crisis. We urge the government to act on our recommendations, to recognise the value these sectors provide and imagine how much bleaker the outcome for all without their survival.”

Representatives from across the UK live industry have welcomed the DCMS recommendations. UK Music acting CEO Tom Kiehl has called the document a “watershed report in the fight for survival for many companies and individuals working across the music industry.”

“We fully support the conclusions of today’s important report and want to send out thanks to the committee for recognising the value in our industry,” comments Phil Bowdery, chairman of the Concert Promoters Association and executive president of Live Nation.

“This report demonstrates that a sector-specific deal to support the industry, conditional timelines for reopening without social distancing and long-term structural support are going to be vital in ensuring the survival of the live music in the UK.

“We look forward to continuing to work with the government to ensure that the entire sector can be supported through this time.”

“This report demonstrates that a sector-specific deal to support the industry is going to be vital in ensuring the survival of the live music in the UK”

Mark Davyd, CEO of MVT, commends the recognition of the “urgency of short-term measures to prevent the catastrophic loss of vital infrastructure”, as well as more long-term measures aimed at “restor[ing] the sector to health and to future proof it against threats”.

From a production point of view, Andy Lenthall, general manager of the Production Services Association (PSA) says it is “hugely heartening” that the DCMS has recognised the “vital part” suppliers and technicians play in the cultural ecosystem.

AIF CEO Paul Reed similarly welcomes the findings of the report “which specifically acknowledges that the UK’s thriving festival and live events sector has been particularly badly hit by this crisis”.

“We’re particularly pleased to see that our recommendations for long-term relief, including extensions of existing employment support schemes and an extended VAT cut, have been taken onboard,” says Reed.

“We look forward to working further with DCMS to ensure that the festival sector, which generates £1.75bn for the UK economy and supports 85,000 jobs, can survive and continue to thrive into 2021 and beyond.”

The report is available to read in full here.

Photo: Chris McAndrew/UK Parliament (CC BY 3.0) (cropped)

 


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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Scottish govt dedicates £2.2m to grassroots venues

Scottish grassroots music venues have received a £2.2 million boost from the government, following concerns that a previously announced £10m fund for performing arts venues neglected the commercial sector.

The fund, announced by Scotland’s culture secretary Fiona Hyslop last week, aims to provide “immediate support” and “much-needed stability” to grassroots venues in the coming weeks.

The Scottish government had been involved in ongoing discussions with the Music Venue Trust (MVT), who had stressed the need for sector-specific funding for grassroots music venues in Scotland.

“We are delighted to have agreed this funding with the Scottish Government, and we thank them very much for their commitment to grassroots music venues,” comments Nick Stewart, MVT’s Scottish co-ordinator and manager of Edinburgh venue Sneaky Pete’s.

“This funding will stabilise venues in the short term and prevent permanent closures, and we can begin to plan towards reopening every venue safely.”

“This funding will stabilise venues in the short term and prevent permanent closures, and we can begin to plan towards reopening every venue safely”

MVT, along with other members of the Scottish live industry, had previously raised concerns that a £10m relief fund for performing arts venues in the country did not benefit the for-profit sector.

An open letter sent to the culture sector by a newly formed Scottish commercial music industry taskforce, which includes representatives from promoters DF Concerts, Regular Music, ATC Live, Fly Events, Active Events, Craft Management, A Modern Way Management, Ironworks Venue, Asgard and Sneaky Petes, asked the the government to “fulfill the Music Venue Trust and the Scottish members of the Music Venues Alliance’s request for specific funding for grassroots music venues”, noting “a lack of consultation with the commercial music sector”.

In the letter, which was also signed by artists including Biffy Clyro, KT Tunstall, Simple Minds, the Proclaimers and Primal Scream, the task force urged the government to provide a “clear, conditional timeline” for reopening venues without social distancing and to establish a culture and creative industries infrastructure fund with the £97m earmarked for Scotland from the UK government’s £1.57 billion arts and culture rescue package.

The taskforce was also among those to call for a value-added tax (VAT) exemption on ticket sales, days before the UK government’s reduction in VAT on concert tickets from 20% to 5%.

 

 


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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UK biz awaits reopening info as sector faces ‘mass closures’

Industry associations in the UK have called on the government for sector-specific support and “absolute clarity” on reopening, as it is estimated that 90% of venues and festivals in the country face permanent closure.

According to the UK Live Music Group, which sits within trade body UK Music as the collective voice of promoters, festivals, agents, venues and production services, nearly a billion pounds will be wiped off the value of the UK music industry without state support and clarity on when – and how – live events will return.

Last week, grassroots venues representative the Music Venue Trust (MVT) asked for “an immediate cash injection” of £50 million, warning that a lack of immediate aid will result in “mass closures” of venues over the summer months.

The organisation also proposes a one-off cut in value-added tax (VAT) on ticket sales for the next three years for venues and promoters.

MVT states that the industry is currently facing “a substantial loss of infrastructure”, with nine out of ten venues and the festivals in the country at risk of permanent closure.

“Frustration and anger is growing within the sector to get some absolute clarity on when businesses will be able to reopen and what extended provision will be available to businesses unable to open under the measures presented by government”

The charity’s Save Our Venues campaign has so far raised £2m, providing short-term relief for many venues. However, “relying on donations simply isn’t sustainable as we move into a recovery phase”, says MVT CEO Mark Davyd, who recently spoke on an IQ Focus panel on the difficulties facing grassroots music venues.

The call comes as the UK’s Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) criticises the government for “procrastinating” over the future.

“Frustration and anger is growing within the sector to get some absolute clarity on when businesses will be able to reopen and what extended provision will be available to businesses unable to open under the measures presented by government,” comments NTIA CEO Michael Kill.

Kill says that “consistent ambiguous messaging” from the government has increased “the level of anxiety” amongst business owners.

“At what point is the government going to realise that we are playing with people’s livelihoods here, and businesses and jobs are being lost with every passing day?” asks Kill.

UK prime minister Boris Johnson is expected to announce details of the next phase of reopening – starting from 4 July – tomorrow (23 June), with updates anticipated for businesses across the hospitality sector.

The outcome of a review on the possible relaxation of the two metre social distancing rule is also expected in the coming days.

Photo: Maurice/Flickr (CC BY 2.0) (cropped)

 


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