Centre Stage: Mark Davyd

Centre Stage: Mark Davyd

Music Venue Trust CEO Mark Davyd’s monthly deep dive into live music’s biggest issues...

That’s a wrap then. 2021 done.

In 2021, it feels like the traditional end of year articles are likely to fall into two polarised camps. One side will tend towards the optimistic, predicting ever-growing revenues for an ever-growing circle of people that never quite seems to include the artists, crew, staff and venues that really desperately need it, or a crisis-drivenrampage through the turmoil of the last 12 months, concluding that the dangling axe of doom created by the pandemic continues to hang over the live industry like something out of an Edgar Allan Poe novel.

To break up this polarisation, I wanted to take the opportunity to say thank you to everyone who has supported the campaign to Save Our Venues in the last 12 months. It’s because of the outstanding efforts of people who really believe in the potential of these venues that so few of them were lost to the crisis.

We could throw around the high-level numbers and the statistics from our social media interaction, but my hope is that you already know those numbers – and if you don’t, I’d be very happy to come to your office and do a presentation for your team. Save Our Venues, and the subsequent Revive Live campaign, are great examples of what our industry can achieve when we pull together. But they also provided real, individual examples of what live music and live music venues mean to people.

At some point in the middle of this crisis, it must have been about this time last year, I took a phone call from a mum who wanted me to know what her son Jamie had chosen to do with his pocket money. He’s 14 and gets £5 a week to spend how he likes. And how he wanted to spend it, and the reason she had called me, is because he wanted to donate all £5 of it to the campaign to save his local music venue.

She put him on the phone and we had a little chat about it. I thanked him, and I asked him his reason why. Because I knew the venue, and I knew that they don’t do many underage shows, and at 14 he can’t have been going there very long, if at all.

“We’ve got a band, just started,” he explained, “and we were talking about where we would be able to play, and I saw that they were listed as a venue the Music Venue Trust said was highly likely to close down. Honestly, I just wanted to make sure there was somewhere to play when we were ready.”

Now, I don’t know how good Jamie’s band is ever going to be; I don’t know if he will ever trouble any of you reading this with some hits, a tour or an album. But I do know that there were lots of Jamies across the country during this crisis who missed live music, missed the excitement and the thrill it gives them, and missed the opportunities that these venues represent to them and people just like them in all our communities.

Venues would not have survived this year without your support

Grassroots music venues may be the bottom layer of the value pyramid of the £5.2-billion-a- year music industry, and of course, the combined collective turnover of the sector of circa £400 million pales into insignificance when compared to some of the individual major companies that dominate our industry. We are incredibly grateful for the support we have received from so many of you this year, some of it measured in six figure sums. Venues would not have survived without your support.

Five pounds isn’t a lot to most people reading this. But five pounds was everything Jamie had and he wanted to invest it in a future where he has the potential to make live music in his community. That was the scope of his ambition: to have somewhere to play. To win over ministers and governments, we have to do a lot of explaining about the value of music to our economy, the tax yields, the profits, the Brand Britain cultural impact.

But within our industry, as the year closes, let’s take a little moment to reflect that perhaps we don’t spend enough time thinking about the Jamies right across the country who want and deserve a great little venue in their community to aspire to play in.

We should be excited about what the future holds: technology, particularly, is empowering us to do all manner of amazing things, from making music and engaging audiences, to creating new experiences for fans. Music creation, distribution and marketing have never been more accessible and democratised, meaning artists now take for granted that they can connect to a global audience with ease.

But it is sometimes easy to forget that, while we delight and sometimes get distracted by these shiny new opportunities, all over this country there are Jamies, sitting in their bedrooms and dreaming of playing their first gig at their local venue. Dreaming of taking their first step on the road to who knows where? 

So, let’s pause and remember to take care of the younger generation, because without them taking that first step we’ll never know if we missed out on a culture-defining superstar.

From all of us at Music Venue Trust, thank you for all your support through this crisis, and let’s talk about how we can make 2022 the starting point of a bright future.

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