A New Year’s Resolution for the live music industry: from January 1, 2024, no show should take place in any major arena, stadium or festival where the ticket doesn’t include a contribution to the grassroots circuit that supported the artist in building their career. We have 12 months to plan, let’s make it a reality.
At Music Venue Trust we’ve bounced straight into 2023 all guns blazing, determined to tackle the underlying challenges that our grassroots circuit has been facing for decades. The first part of that work started late last year when we hosted colleagues from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport at two of London’s finest grassroots venues – Corsica Studios and The Lexington. Both have their own stories, but it’s their current circumstances, the way they operate and the restrictions on their ability to support new artists that should concern us most.
Corsica Studios is surrounded by building developments that are simply inappropriate to be built around a thriving grassroots music venue. There are huge holes in the ground both in front of and behind the venue, waiting for tonnes and tonnes of concrete to be poured into them to create housing.
The developments are so close that the venue will have to move, a complex negotiation that still hasn’t been adequately settled. Corsica has been at the heart of live music in its community for over a decade, but there’s never been a time when the venue felt its future was safe or free from landlords and developers.
The Lexington, on the other hand, is thriving despite an ongoing problem with neighbours and some extraordinary demands on the team there to manage the streets on behalf of the local authorities. However, the nature of how it thrives as a business is a prime example of the challenges the grassroots sector is facing.
The venue loses money on live music and relies on the fantastic downstairs bar and club nights to keep the live music offer alive. How bad are the economics of live music at this level? To fill their nights with new music and to support promoters, both of which are essential to the future of our industry, The Lexington charges less than a third of the cost of opening the venue as a hire fee. If they didn’t do that, there wouldn’t be any live music. The venue is investing hundreds of thousands of pounds a year into live music with no prospect of return on that investment.
The DCMS meetings were enlightening for everyone involved. We’re currently drawing up a report covering 17 areas of government and public policy which could enable more supportive environments for grassroots venues and artists. They include obvious things like tackling the highest rate of VAT on ticketing in Europe, to measures such as a Statutory Duty Of Notification and Right Of Comment on planning applications being granted to Music Venue Trust. The government, or at least our DCMS colleagues, are genuinely engaged with what they can do to overcome the challenges the sector faces.
But the government keeps coming back to the same question, ‘What is the industry itself doing to tackle these issues?’ The answer is, we aren’t doing enough. We can’t go on pretending that everything is fine while the foundation stones of how we build talent in the UK are chipped away. Bluntly, we can’t go on making incredible profits from successful artists that came through a system which we are also allowing to crumble.
There are eight new arenas proposed to be built in the UK across the next five years. Not a single one of those proposals commits to ensuring that the new venue’s success will support the grassroots circuit creating the talent.
There are 22 live music arenas and more than 30 major stadiums or festivals in the UK. Not one of them has a mandated contribution to the grassroots circuit within their ticket price. We have service charges, maintenance and restoration levies, but not the one thing we absolutely must have: an investment into our future.
In the UK, we have enjoyed years of free research and development carried out by venues like Corsica Studios and The Lexington at their sole expense. That period is now ending. I’m putting you all on notice. It’s over.
It can end by the UK live music industry working with Music Venue Trust to recognise the value of it, work towards a financial support package for it, and take responsibility. We can do that in a method we collectively control and manage as stakeholders.
Or, it can end by the government, this one or the next one, becoming fed up with reading about live music venues in their constituency being closed down and taking action to make the industry take responsibility.
The time to do it is now, before it is done to us. January 1 2024. There’s your deadline. Resolve to get it done.