opinion

Digital Discourse: Sammy Andrews on monetising fan reworkings

Music fans now have a world of sonic possibility both in their palms and in their pockets.  Consumption habits for an entire generation are changing – many people don’t just want to listen to tracks any more, they want to ...

Centre Stage: Mark Davyd

Music Venue Trust CEO Mark Davyd’s monthly deep dive into live music’s biggest issues… A  couple of years ago, Music Venue Trust launched the Own Our Venues project. This community share ownership initiative is one of our most radical ideas, and it has the deepest impact and the most sustainable outcomes for the future of grassroots music venues. In our work, we always try to follow the process of collecting data, understanding the challenge, working to design the best solution, then delivering it in partnership with other organisations. When we began the Own Our Venues project in June 2022, we accompanied it with the data that 93% of the UK’s grassroots live sector operated in premises owned by a private landlord under a tenancy agreement.  That crucial piece of information – which, like much of our work, was learned during our annual survey – revealed the most significant obstacle to a sustainable grassroots touring circuit: these venues have sprung up organically across many years and the majority do not have anything that might be described as a maintainable occupancy arrangement for the premises they inhabit. In 2022, only 7% owned their building or had a long-term leasehold agreement sufficient to plan beyond their immediate future.  This is an almost unique fact about the UK’s grassroots music venues (GMVs). Once we had the data, we started looking around the world to see if this was a shared problem and quickly learned that it was not. We found that US and Australian venue ownership splits about 50/50 between tenancies and operators, whilst in much of Europe, the model was nearly an even split between tenancies, occupiers and public ownership. Our UK model of ownership, where the future of most venues is permanently uncertain due to the owner of the building having no involvement in the running of the venue within it, was an outlier.  Own Our Venues focuses on short-term investments, which make a radical change to the long-term stability of the grassroots sector Mark Davyd, Music Venue Trust The result of such uncertainty isn’t just that the venue operator might face crippling rent reviews or simply the end of a tenancy. Our work to understand this model revealed many other challenges that spring from it. As just one example, operators and teams in the sector are hugely enthusiastic to start on the path towards carbon neutrality. A carbon-neutral venue must tackle energy generation and consumption, perhaps by installing solar panels or insulation. These are structural investments, increasing the value and sustainability of a building that the operator does not own. Their enthusiasm for such investments is not matched by the freehold owners of the building, with the result that even if a venue elected to use its own resources to invest in tackling its carbon impact, the long-term beneficiary of it is the landlord. In one case where the operator was determined to push ahead with tackling this issue, they received a notice from the landlord that these structural improvements had increased the value of the building, which would trigger a rent review.  This isn’t just an issue for an operator business considering how to use its finances, it’s also an issue when making applications for public investment through grants. A key question in any application is what would happen to capital investment if the business were to close, and operator tenants cannot reasonably claim that insulation or solar panels would be ripped from a premises and installed elsewhere. Short-term tenancy agreements are a contributing reason why public funding of GMVs remains.  In October 2023, the Own Our Venues project bought its first venue, The Snug in Atherton, creating a new charitable community benefit society called Music Venue Properties. Buying premises housing GMVs is a lengthy business, requiring multiple levels of testing economic viability, surveys and conveyancing. However, by the time you read this, the new society will have bought three more properties: The Ferret in Preston and two for which offers have been accepted. It is working on three more, and there is much more work to be done.  Own Our Venues is the type of project that focuses on short-term, large-scale investments, which make a radical change to the long-term financial stability of the grassroots music sector. It’s these projects that will make the biggest difference; not just by changing the ownership model but by giving operators the stability they need to have a view of their future, to be able to extend and diversify their programme, and work to reduce their costs and increase income. Sony, Warner and Amazon Music were early investors into the Own Our Venues programme, and those partnerships helped us to attract over 1,250 investors. Own Our Venues gives ownership of music in our towns and cities back to the communities that love their local spaces. It’s a long-lasting positive change that will be delivered when partners in the industry get involved.  

BRIT Trust Diaries: BRIT School graduate Abi Deane reflects on the impact of Pride

In this edition of the BRIT Trust Diaries, we hear from BRIT School graduate Abi Deane, who reflects on the importance of Pride Month at the school and how her identity as a queer woman was enriched being in an empowering environment, where queerness and diversity were embraced and supported… I joined The BRIT School on the Applied Theatre Course and English Pathway in 2021 and graduated in 2023. I will look upon it fondly as a magical time, which not only set me on my creative journey and career path, but helped me to become the person I am today.   Throughout my time there, I created, performed and focused my theatre-making to discuss a plethora of topics – a lot stemming from my own identity as a queer woman. I am now studying at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, continuing my work and striving to specialise in researching theatre-making in different spaces and for different communities, with Queerness being a focal point of my study. As a young queer person, being a student in an environment that held events such as The Drag Show every year with students performing anything from original songs, choreography, art or cabaret style – covering every musical and pop culture – could not have been more empowering.  Along with the other students, I was inspired by the annual Pride Assembly, which made a point of exploring and remembering LGBT+ history and honouring the importance of Pride as a protest movement, as well as celebration of how embedded Pride is at the heart of the curriculum and ethos of the school. The sense of unity, love and acceptance during the parade was incredibly empowering Abi Deane The BRIT School have been marching in Pride in London since 2017 and I had the privilege of joining these joyful events twice during my time there – for me they remain treasured highlights of both years. I recall that the first year we marched in scorching heat, which caused inevitable sunburn because my overexcited Year 12 self was far more concerned with the rainbow glitter on my face than re-applying sun cream. By contrast, the second year was a day of pouring rain, causing the same glitter to nearly drip off my face. But it was just as memorable and life-affirming to me.  Regardless of what the fickle British weather cast upon us, both years were united with a deep understanding of what Pride is all about: coming together – albeit it huddling under a shelter to protect our make-up only to have it sweat off as we danced altogether in the rain blasting Tina Turner. Or helping each other to restyle our hair under sun-hats and bandanas to shelter from the heat. Whatever was thrown at us, we still held our banners, danced until our legs ached and sang our voices dry.  The sense of unity, love and acceptance during the parade was incredibly empowering. From the cheers in the crowd to the sea of flags waving in the air, it was a celebration of diversity, a stand for equality, and a reminder that love is love. Marching at Pride in London allowed me to be my authentic self, surrounded by supportive friends and allies. To have experienced it with the BRIT community will always hold a special place in my heart, reminding me of the importance of visibility, acceptance and love in our society. I know there is a lot of love in the music and creative arts industries for the BRIT School and its amazing work to give free admission to thousands of students, who otherwise would not be able to discover and realise their creative potential.   I know also that the school benefits from BRIT Trust funding and from the BRIT Awards to help make it the special place that it is, and for this my fellow alumni and I will always be grateful. Pride in London takes place on June 29, 2024.  To learn more about the work of The BRIT School, see here.   

UK Music Futures Group members tackle key issues for the industry: Part 1

Centre Stage: Mark Davyd

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BRIT Trust Diaries: Joe Hastings reflects on his first few months heading up Music Support

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