A debate among MPs celebrated the success of the UK music industry.
But parliamentarians also raised concerns about issues including grassroots venues, copyright, music education, exports, tax breaks and, of course, Brexit. While Conservatives did speak in the 90-minute debate, it was dominated by opposition MPs.
There was a government response by Nigel Adams, Minister Of State for Sport, Media & Creative Industries, who signalled continued support for the MEGS export programme, confirmed the revising of music education and welcomed submissions on tax relief for the music sector.
“The creative sector tax reliefs are kept under review to ensure their ongoing effectiveness,” he said. “I have spoken with music industry representatives and I’m very happy to receive any evidence-based proposals for a tax relief for this sector.”
A Brexiteer, Adams also voiced support for the measures in the Copyright Directive.
“We support the overall aims of the Copyright Directive, but our imminent departure from the EU means we’re not required to implement the Copyright Directive in full,” he said. “It’s absolutely imperative we do everything possible to protect our brilliant creators, as well as the rights of users who consume music. I look forward to working with the music industry to make sure that we achieve this. I will work to make sure we work to stop the exploitation of our artists here in the UK.”
While Adams provided little detail or timetables in his response to MPs, he acknowledged their comments about the threat to artists from any regulations, cost and bureaucracy imposed on touring in the EU.
“Touring is absolutely the lifeblood of the industry and we recognise the importance of the continued ease of movement of musicians, equipment and merchandise once we’ve left the EU,” he said. “Visa rules for artists performing in the EU will not change until the implementation period ends in December 2020. But these are being considered, with other activity, and we welcome the views of [MPs] and the industry in respect of movement within Europe. It’s absolutely essential that free movement for artists is protected post-2020.”
While a reshuffle and potential government shake-up is on the cards, Adams appeared focused on taking charge of a new strategy for the sector.
“This government is committed to continuing to support this fantastic UK music industry, at home and abroad,” said Adams. “I also recognise the need to consider introducing a comprehensive music strategy. We want our music industry to continue to be the envy of the world.”
It’s absolutely essential that free movement for artists is protected post-2020
Labour MP Conor McGinn secured the debate in Westminster Hall (January 21) on the contribution of music to the economy and society. He also paid tribute to outgoing UK Music CEO Michael Dugher and chairman Andy Heath, a statement echoed by Adams and other MPs.
McGinn drew heavily on the UK Music report, Music By Numbers, which values the entire sector at £5.2 billion. But he also stressed the importance of music in helping mental health and paid tribute to the work of Nordoff Robbins.
McGinn singled out the global impact of Ed Sheeran, as well as 2019 successes AJ Tracey, Dave, Sam Fender, Mabel and Tom Walker.
“There is something unique about Britain’s ability to create a globally selling music industry,” said McGinn. “It’s clear, economically, that music in the UK punches far above its weight.”
McGinn drew attention to issues including the copyright framework, the talent pipeline, support for the MEGS funding programme, shared parental leave for freelancers (currently being evaluated by government), tax breaks, Brexit and the loss of grassroots venues.
“We need to continue to monitor [grassroots venues] and respond accordingly,” he said.
Labour MP Jo Stevens said venues in her Cardiff Central constituency are under threat from business rates and planning regulations, despite the Agent Of Change principle being enshrined in legislation in 2018. 10 Feet Tall is the latest venue in the city facing closure.
“[Since 2015] it feels like I’ve been fighting to save live venues across the constituency,” said Stevens, who called for a statutory body to protect venues.
While the government has pledged to cut business rates for small venues, there were calls for a clear timetable.
Louise Haigh, Labour MP for Sheffield Heeley, recalled her teenage years watching bands in including Arctic Monkeys and Milburn at venues in the city.
“I want the kids in my constituency to have the same opportunities musicians in the last decade have had,” she said. “I want them to be able to showcase their talent on stages in Sheffield, so they can showcase it to the world.”
Former DJ Jeff Smith, Labour MP for Manchester Withington, highlighted the success of the Warehouse Project and “the importance of electronic music… in making cities destinations”.
Labour MP Rupa Huq, who’s a sometime DJ and David Bowie fan, noted that her constituency of Ealing Central and Acton has a musical heritage ranging from The Who to Naughty Boy.
“With Brexit, live touring is in doubt and any free trade agreement should prioritise this,” she said.
Scottish Nationalist Pete Wishart, a former musician in Big Country and Runrig, added: “The ending of freedom of movement is the biggest single Brexit threat to our musicians and artists.”
Wishart recalled the “days of plenty” when he was elected in the CD era 20 years ago. He noted how the industry then had to combat piracy and embrace streaming.
“I want to pay tribute to the music industry in the way they responded to that challenge,” said Wishart.
Echoing the views of many in the business, he singled out the “pitiful” payments to artists from YouTube and called for the Copyright Directive to be enacted.
On a more positive note, Wishart highlighted the “remarkable” success of fellow Scot Lewis Capaldi last year.
The MP also stressed that the gender gap in music needed to be addressed, highlighting the “fantastic” report by Vick Bain that was first covered by Music Week.
“We have to start getting serious about sexism in the music industry,” he said.