Editorial: Summer Of Live

15 Sep 2016

Credits: stux@pixbay

UK Music’s annual Measuring Music report 2016 was published at a key moment earlier this month, coming at the end of a summer in which the live music industry has remained foremost in headlines detailing its battles, be they the plight of grass roots venues, the ongoing issue of secondary ticketing, or most vocally, the recent the closure of Fabric.

Measuring Music’s report of a drop by 2% in the value of the live sector is particularly important, reflecting the parlous state of the UK’s and in particular London’s grass roots venues, no better or more timely illustrated than last week’s enforced shuttering of Fabric, the last of the nation’s remaining superclubs.

The events leading to Fabric’s closure are well documented. Whereas Islington Council appeared willing to work with the venue to address valid concerns, their arm appears to have been forced by the Police. Six drug-induced deaths since 1999 are plainly six too many, however venue closure seems unduly harsh, not to mention shortsighted. Was the Dorchester Hotel facing calls for closure or ‘special measures’, when in December 2015 a businessman was found dead in his room from a cocaine binge? In other words, without in anyway condoning the drug culture endemic in clubland, was this not a heavy-handed approach to an issue that needs more deft thinking and thought-through policy?

This last point – policy – is of particular interest to us and is echoed in research that we and University of Westminster have recently concluded for the Mayor of London. Contrary to popular belief, generally speaking, London’s local authorities want to and indeed appear to licence live music wherever they can, striving to seek pragmatic ways forward, even in instances of violence or anti-social behaviour, albeit with a list of conditions attached that defeat all but the most determined. Enforced closure appears to be the last resort. The same doesn’t always hold true with the Police who wield ultimate power under the Licensing Act 2003.

One of the themes arising from our research has been a desire expressed by those interviewed – venue owners, police, local authorities, their agencies and stakeholders – for joined up thinking with policy that is open, transparent, fair and consistent across London. This can’t come soon enough for the grass roots venues sector, whose day-to-day is spent managing a melee of political and economic pressures spanning re-development, rising rents, insecurity of tenure, police and local authority licensing, social welfare, government policy and continued austerity measures that at times appear to erode all notions of logic and common sense.

What’s at stake is an economic and cultural imperative – £904m in terms of revenue, 25,150 jobs and 5 of the top 10 biggest selling artists of 2015 coming from the UK. For these and many other reasons, the announcement of the appointment of London’s first Night Czar armed with the necessary muscle to bang heads together can’t come soon enough…

The live eco-system that nurtures, supports and carries fledgling artists through to arena success is a fragile one, deserving of greater recognition and a surer footing befitting of its economic and cultural importance.

Elsewhere, moves are afoot to address ticketing and large-scale touting once and for all – a subject MusicTank has repeatedly put under the microscope as long ago as 2010 and again in 2012. So we welcome newly-formed FanFair Alliance’s launch of their #Toutsout guide for artist managers which was warmly received at the MMF’s Live & Ticketing Summit earlier this week. Despite all the debate over recent years – including ours – it was somewhat depressing to hear the same repeated cries of ‘the live industry needs to do more to improve the customer experience’ – with ticketing one of its longest-running issues.

Funniest comment of the session has to be awarded to AIF’s Paul Reed on the impact of industrial scale online touting, commenting that “…you know you’re in trouble when there’s a rosy nostalgia for the tout in the donkey jacket selling a few tickets…”, his witty line reinforcing the scale and seriousness of the online secondary market estimated to be sucking £1bn out of the UK industry, annually.

Legislation is finally in place to try to make the provenance of tickets sold by the likes of Viagogo, Get Me In and StubHub more transparent, yet faced with lack of enforcement, it remains to be seen how the Competition and Markets Authority will conclude their review of the secondary market later this year. Again, lack of joined-up thinking hasn’t helped. Trading Standards, whose job it is to enforce regulation is under-resourced to do just that. As Professor Mike Waterson, Chair of the Independent Secondary Ticketing review commented, it is essential to enforce existing legislation before introducing any more legislation.

Legislation alone isn’t the answer, however, and the live sector does have someway to go to help itself – data and knowledge-sharing and ticket standardisation in pursuit of transparency about the tickets being bought, not to mention fixing the problems in the primary market that push consumers to the secondary market in the first place all need resolving.

Editorial by Jonathan Robinson

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