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UK Live Music Census Shows Small Venues Are Good For Everyone

The Musicians’ Union (MU) was delighted to host the launch of the UK’s first Live Music Census report. Taking a snapshot of 24 hours of live performances in some of the UK’s biggest music cities - Glasgow, Newcastle-Gateshead, Oxford, Brighton, Leeds and Southampton - and combining it with survey data, the census digs deep into the economic, social and cultural value of small venues, and the challenges facing both the venues and the musicians who work in them.

Live music has significant economic value…

And the census found plenty of statistics to back that up. In Glasgow, for example, the total annual spend on live music is around £78.8 million. That means about £36.6 million in Gross Value Added (GVA, the amount it contributes to Gross Domestic Product) and about 2,450 full-time equivalent jobs.

… for musicians as well as the UK economy

Professional musicians who took part in the census said that, on average 49% of their annual income comes from performing live compared to 3% from recorded music. The census also looks at where musicians perform; 67% musicians surveyed performed in small venues and 64% performed in bars and clubs in the 12 months prior to the survey. For emerging artists, the numbers are higher - 78% report performing in both.

It’s not just economic value, small venues are good for everyone

Live music enhances social bonding, can improve mood, health, wellbeing, and is a formative part of many people’s identity. But it also has other social benefits - over half of venues and half of promoters surveyed said they have informal links with universities, colleges and other education organisations.

But small venues and the musicians who perform in them are still facing challenges

For venues, the big challenges are business rates, planning and property development, noise-related complaints, and increasing competition between venues and promoters.

For musicians, however there is one big challenge that appears to eclipse all others; stagnating pay.

Some 68% musicians surveyed said stagnating pay makes it a challenge to earn a viable living from gigging in small venues. That number goes up to 80% for professional musicians.

Over half of professional musicians surveyed reported working for free in the 12 months prior - 54% in fact. Two-thirds musicians said they had worked unpaid in exchange for “exposure”, but feel that the promised exposure did not benefit their career.

It’s not all doom and gloom

In fact, 2018 has been a pretty good year for the future of grassroots venues across the UK. We’ve won the fight for Agent of Change in England and Scotland. It’s a principle in law that makes the person who creates a change (like a developer) responsible for mitigating its effects (for example using proper soundproofing in order to protect adjacent venues from noise complaints). 

There’s still more to do - from making sure Agent of Change is implemented properly to continuing the fight for fair pay for musicians.

Luckily, there is a way you can help

Soon, we will be launching our MU Supporters drive. Everyone who loves music will be invited to register absolutely free. We’ll then be able to let you know about our latest campaigns and how you can get involved, from protecting small venues to supporting law changes that make life easier for the artists and bands you’re a fan of.

Keep an eye on the MU’s Twitter, Instagram and Facebook feeds for more. 

Published: 23/02/2018
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