With 8 new arenas opening in the UK, and attendance at grassroots venues falling, the Music Venue Trust is calling for investment from them to ensure the survival of the UK's musical ecosystem.
Date published: 2nd Feb 2023
The new report from the Music Venue Trust, published this week, shows that the UK grassroots gig spaces are “going over a cliff”, potentially disrupting the progressive pipeline of future talent that could one day play at the eight new huge arenas being opened across the country.
Britain is a country that has prided itself on its musical output for generations. From The Beatles to Bowie to Oasis to Stormzy, we are a country that has repeatedly produced some of the biggest names in world music. Yet, in the modern world, the pipeline of small independent venues, which would have set each and every one of those names on their path to greatness is failing.
At the forefront of those trying to fix the issue is the Music Venue Trust. The trust, which represents almost 1,000 UK grassroots music venues, shared its annual report, which has laid out both the value of the sector to both the UK economy and the music industry, as well as the grave danger that venues and the UK face without urgent action.
Such action, according to the trust, has to be made by both Government and the long line of new thousand-seater arenas which are popping up across the UK.
Image: Co-op Live on Facebook
There are currently eight new arenas either proposed or set to be built in this country: Manchester’s Co-op Live, YTL Arena Bristol, New Cardiff Bay Arena, Edinburgh Arena, London’s MSG Sphere, Sunderland Arena, and Dundee Arena. All of which look set to boast capacities of over 10,000 at least.
The report was first launched at an event in the Houses of Parliament, where long-time MVT patron and musician Frank Turner performed, and MVT CEO Mark Davyd gave an important speech.
He said: “This is a £500million sector delivering 177,000 events a year, employing 31,000 people, and with 21million people visiting grassroots music venues every year.
“It’s remarkable that we have to publish a report before anybody noticed that. We should have known that all along – how important these venues are to local communities and to our friends from the music industry.
“However, that’s the end of the good news. This sector is really seriously in trouble. With £500million of turnover, that’s £499million in costs and a 0.2 per cent profit margin. It’s not sustainable. There are 177,000 events happening, but it’s down 16.7 per cent. We used to do an average of 4.2 events per week at these venues, and we’re now down to 3.5.”
Image: Mark Dayvd on Facebook
He continued: “Every single one of those venues that isn’t doing one of those shows means a musician who isn’t getting their first chance, it’s someone who might never step foot on a stage, it’s a lost career for that individual and to the British music industry, it’s a loss to that community, and it cannot go on. It has got to stop.”
One of the other events trying their hardest to combat the crisis at the grassroots level of the UK music scene is Independent Venue Week. Celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, the week-long event celebrates 300 plus grassroots live music spaces across the UK, by putting on a stream of gigs featuring artists from all levels of fame, all performing in such spaces.
Skiddle caught up recently with the Independent Venue Week's Operations Manager and Bookkeeper, Erin Gibson. On the topic, on which she wholeheartedly agreed, she said: "Without independent venues, local artists would have nowhere to play their first shows. These are the places they try out their craft and find out what works. They are invariably locally owned businesses putting back arts and culture and creating jobs for people in their local community.
"They are spaces where individuals learn about how to put on shows, young people learn that lighting engineers and sound tech exist, and they are the breeding grounds for the next generation of the music industry both on and off stage. Supporting local is immensely important, and more often than not, far more fun due to the intimacy of shows!"
Image: Independent Venue Week on Facebook
During the MVT event in the Houses of Parliament Davyd also pointed a finger at the eight aforementioned new arenas being built across the UK, he said: “not a single one of those arenas should open unless it has a policy where every ticket sold is investing back into grassroots music venues and grassroots artists”.
“Otherwise, you’re building a carbuncle, a white elephant in the middle of our major cities that will not be filled in 10 years' time because there won’t be the artists to fill it.
“Co-Op Live in Manchester will be a 23,500-capacity venue due to open later this year or early next year. It has no plan at all to invest in the grassroots venues that are going to create the artists that will fill that stage in 10 years' time. That is not good enough.”
The Music Venue Trust also made demands of the government in its damning report. They asked for a reduction in the VAT on venue ticket sales, of which we are currently the second-highest in Europe.
As well as this, they called for an end to excessive business rates which are anti-competitive and killing many of these cultural spaces before they've begun.
Additionally, they are pushing for a Theatre trust style approach with planning applications from neighbouring developments, which help prevent noise complaints that can potentially shut down venues, as has happened recently with Night & Day Cafe in Manchester.
Ultimately, our music is one of the things we as a country wear proudly on our sleeves, and the established ecosystem that has produced such a situation is under threat. The Music Venue trust and Independent Venue week are vital for the next generations to experience said pride in their country's musical output.
We can build as many big arenas as we like, if we don't have our grassroots venues operating to their highest ability, we won't have anyone to play them.
One of the best ways you can support grassroots music venues at this time of year is by attending an Independent venue Week Event, and there are lots of them available right here on Skiddle.
You can find an extensive list of all the IVW events we've got on sale by clicking or tapping - HERE
Check out our What's On Guide to discover more rowdy raves and sweaty gigs taking place over the coming weeks and months. For festivals, lifestyle events and more, head on over to our Things To Do page or be inspired by the event selections on our Inspire Me page.
Header image credit: Music Venue Trust on Facebook
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