Barry Ashworth on the impact of Covid on mental health for musicians

Dub Pistols frontman Barry Ashworth blew a fortune from his Geffen deal on drugs in the noughties and was once named Caner Of The Year by Muzik Magazine.  Ahead of his third fund-raising wing walk, he discusses his recovery, as ...

Centre Stage: Mark Davyd

Music Venue Trust CEO Mark Davyd’s monthly deep dive into live music’s biggest issues... The Prime Minister recently made one of those periodic speeches that governments like to make about how we need to ‘level up’ society to make sure there is ‘access for all’. To illustrate this agenda, he chose to launch an indicative aim and ambition; in Mr Johnson’s own words, that “no one should be more than 15 minutes from a football ground”. That objective rings all sorts of bells at Music Venue Trust headquarters. Two years ago we launched a ‘State Of The Nation’ report with a series of metrics and indicators in it which, we felt, the government should recognise and take action on because they had collectively presented serious obstacles to the resilience and sustainability of our live music industry. Alongside long-running points of friction around gentrification, development, business rates and the burden of taxation, all of which disincentivise and undermine potential investment into talent, we put one other key fact on to the government’s radar: access to live music.  The statistics on access to live music for 2019’s young people were pretty shocking. A young person of 18 living in Mallaig in mainland Scotland is over 100 miles away from the nearest opportunity to see a new and emerging artist. That distance may not sound much to some international readers; in this location, without a car, a young person would need to make a round trip of seven hours and 55 minutes by public transport to access that inspirational experience of seeing an artist play their own songs on their first tour.  The situation isn’t any better in England. It’s six hours and 10 minutes of public transport away from that contact moment – the key point where musician meets potential lifetime fan – for a young person in Hunstanton. Trefasser, on the west coast of Wales, is an astonishing nine hours and 15 minutes. We need to be honest about this: if you are nine hours and 15 minutes away from an opportunity to experience original live music, you are neither becoming a music fan or, very importantly, considering any sort of career in live music.  That lack of access impacts right across the decision making and the lifestyle choices of young people. No access to live music means no ability to feel the thrill of discovering that unknown artist. It means a remote association to music through digital media that is unlikely to form a significant part of their identity. A young person with no access to live music is a lost consumer to the UK music industry. And that’s just on the commercial side. Think of all the potential lost talent: the songs that never got written, the singers who never found their talent, the people who never got to express themselves with the lyric that would have meant so much to so many people, the lost musicians who never made a connection to the people who would have been lifelong friends and artistic partners. A single young person with no connection to live music represents a huge loss of potential to our industry and to the country. And we have hundreds of thousands of them who have lost their access to music in the last 20 years.     Two years ago we suggested that the government needed to ‘level up’ access to live music for all young people. The aim should be excellent, accessible, live music opportunities for all. There are a number of ways to encourage and support that outcome: a programme of infrastructure investment to bring some of our abandoned and derelict music spaces back into usage and public funding to support artists to take their tours to rural and remote locations. Others include encouraging risk taking from promoters through tax incentives and credits, plus investing back into modern, inspirational and challenging music education that genuinely inspires young people to seek careers in our £5.8 billion industry. Our report was received with a deafening silence at the time, not least because talk of the need for constructive and ground-breaking investment to promote and encourage British talent and excellence during the age of austerity seemed like a pipe dream. But now the PM wants to make levelling up a mainstay of his premiership, and he’s provided us with an open goal to shoot at.  The UK Music Industry should set itself a new ambition for 2022: Get the Prime Minister to commit to a pledge that no young person should be more than 15 minutes from an excellently equipped and inspirational grassroots music venue.    

Digital Discourse: The post-DCMS world

Deviate Digital CEO Sammy Andrews guides you through the ever-changing tech world...  It’s been a hell of a year for music business bickering so far. But no matter what particular side of the fence you sit on, one thing that I doubt some corners of our business expected was the extent of the damning findings and recommendations listed in the DCMS report following the streaming inquiry.  There was a lot to take in across the full report, from equitable remuneration, royalty splits and CMA referrals for the majors to calls for a new GRD [Global Repertoire Database], safe harbour dismantling, and a slap on the wrist for the MPA. But, here, I want to have a look at some of the constructive ways I hope we can move forward as a united sector to ensure our business is a thriving, more sustainable place for all. Regular readers will know I’ve been speaking about this subject for some time. Indeed, at the start of the inquiry I pleaded with the business not to fight in public, but you only have to look online to see that many, many public squabbles were had. Some played out in a tweet, some in the media and many behind closed doors with, I’d say rather questionable, lobbyist efforts. But the overwhelming takeaway from all of this is that we, the music business, have some major problems that need addressing. Now they’ve been firmly aired in public, there’s no more hiding behind excuses and denial. We need to find a way to move forward. I think that sums up the only thing all parties agree on in public. But what is interesting, and in many ways heartening, is the reaction from some quarters and some of the discussions going on in private.  Even before the report was released, we saw Sony move to change their ways on unrecouped legacy contracts for artists and songwriters. It’s something I would argue would never have happened without the pressure from this investigation and one of the loudest and perhaps most unlikely advocates to come out in favour of many of the requests from artists and songwriters: BMG. Now firmly identifying themselves as an artist-friendly label (and publisher) amidst the shit flinging, they’ve received praise from all corners of the creator community for doing so.  I’ve had quite a few chats with most corners of our business since this all started (and long before). Some publicly, whilst hosting debates on the various issues and solutions, and some in private. But there have been some really interesting takeaways for me throughout this process.  One is that, secretly, many labels seem to agree that equitable remuneration should be paid out on “push” streams. I’ve heard this from multiple senior sources in both the major and indie worlds, and the more DSPs themselves identify that push and pull streams are different things, the more I think this is going to happen. Indeed, many seem to be preparing for this to take place. Another interesting part to all this is that the report very clearly identified the numerous market dysfunctions which many of us have long known existed. They’ve shone a light on some of the embarrassing parts of our business, be that black box, legacy contracts, bad contacts, questionable competition, deals and rewards… And, of course, safe harbour. These may all seem like abstract and unachievable subjects to tackle, but they’re not. None of them are. Anyone saying they are needs to move out of the way and let the next generation take our business forward.  One of the really interesting things in all of this for me is the right to recapture. Despite what some will tell you, this is really rather achievable, legislatable and already active in other parts of the world, so there is more than enough precedent.  The next few months are going to be full of more arguments. The lobbying will no doubt move up a level for all, but I want to take a moment to urge the business to talk openly, calmly and respectfully about the ways we get out of all this with or without the need for the government to force anything on our sector. Can we, for once, show we are capable of moving forward together?  In short, it’s time for the music business to grow the fuck up, have a roundtable, and discuss the ways out of this that create a more equal and equitable business for our artists and songwriters that you can all stomach. There is no one solution here, no silver bullet. If the report has shown us anything, it is that there are many issues across our business and all of them need addressing. Not everyone is going to be happy. Some will win a little, some will lose a little, but the goal now must be that we work together to create a balanced and fair business for all. 

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