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Live Music: Licensed To Thrill?

13th October 2009 @ 6:30 pm - 9:30 pm

Venue: The Basement, PRS for Music, Copyright House

INTRO: Last year, revenues from live music overtook those from record sales, with £1.39billion generated from live music – up 16% on 2007 – while record sales revenues fell to £1.31billion.1

But while the live industry appears to be thriving, the voices of discontent at its roots are growing louder.  In July the government rejected widely supported recommendations from the Culture Media and Sport Select Committee regarding changes to the Licensing Act of 2003. In a rare public meeting, a leading voice supporting reform of the Act and an abandonment of form 696, UK Music CEO Feargal Sharkey will face the Metropolitan Police’s head of clubs and vice, Adrian Stubbs, the officer responsible for many of the controversial measures to which the live industry appears so opposed.

As highlighted in MusicTank’s July editorial, noise abatement orders are having a destructive impact on small venues across the UK.  So we’ve invited the MD of the Noise Abatement Society and the Birmingham landlord whose 2000-capacity venue has been threatened with death-by-noise-abatement-order.

Prepare for a clash of opinions, with individual livelihoods and the future of the industry at stake. This will be your chance to hear from all sides and put your own questions the key decision makers. Conclusions from this session will be fed into the Live UK Summit 7th October Mass Movement panel.

TOPIC: Noise is a massive issue for residents local to music venues.  Nobody, let alone those with a young family, wants to be kept up at all hours by loud music in the club across the street.  In such circumstances, some say that the venue should go, others say the residents should ‘like it or lump it,’ but, rather than generate a stalemate, the session will explore amicable resolutions that allow residents to get a good night’s sleep, while giving up-and-coming acts the chance to entertain and hone their craft.

In the Digbeth area of Birmingham particularly, noise abatement orders have been a common subject of news and conflict.  When the Abacus apartments opened next door to The Spotted Dog, a pub that has put on live music outdoors for over 22 years, three complaints of noise were made and a noise abatement order subsequently issued by Birmingham City Council.  This reduced the venue’s ability to continue as a business and robbed residents who had moved into Abacus for the local music scene of a key reason they moved to the area.

More recently, The Rainbow pub, a music venue further down the road in Digbeth, received one complaint before being threatened with a noise abatement order.  Despite offering to replace their roof with a £30,000 soundproof top and over 22,000 supporters, the venue was issued with its noise abatement order – constricting its ability to raise the required funds to satisfy the complainant or continue providing an invaluable platform to artists.

Form 696 and the Culture Media and Sport Select Committee’s recommendations to the Licensing Act need less of an introduction.  But with the Metropolitan Police recommending the form’s use to other forces across the UK, it seems apt to sensibly highlight the issues the form intends to prevent and the issues it causes and see what concessions can be made.

The form requires promoters at some 100-plus venues in London to provide detailed personal information to police if they want to stage a music event and has come under accusations of racial stereotyping.

UK Music CEO Fergal Sharkey said that form 696“is a wholly unnecessary impediment to live music and has become a mandatory licensing condition on more than 70 premises in 21 London boroughs. UK Music has been vocal amongst musicians, civil liberty campaigners and members of the public who want to see this counter-productive and morally questionable risk assessment form scrapped.

“Music is a vital part of all UK culture: we should all celebrating that, free it from bureaucracy and make this country a richer and more vibrant place.”

This is a point that has been supported by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who has pinpointed creative industries as a vital part of the British economy, more important than ever in the current recession, saying that, “culture in the UK helps to define and shape and deepen our lives as individuals [and] also makes a significant contribution to our nation’s prosperity.”

This statement is backed up by the figures: music in London alone puts in excess of £1 billion into the UK economy2 and the government has pledged to increase the number of jobs in the industry too, with music industry jobs being part of a £1.1 billion investment announced in the latest budget.3

With this in mind, the problems raised by the Licensing Act become more important.  UK Music and publicans argue that the act impacts on the ability for small pubs and venues to afford licences by requiring licences for the smallest live performances.  They say that the time and money required to handle the bureaucracy of the process makes it impractical to get through.

As such, calls from the Select Committee to remove the needs for licenses for acoustic sets from two players or fewer and venues of under 200 were widely supported, with The Publican magazine launching its own ‘Listen Up!’ campaign to try and persuade politicians to change the licensing rules so that beleaguered landlords can attract more customers with live music.  And despite a separate petition requesting licensing exemptions for small venues featuring prominently on Number 10’s website, with over 7,500 signature 4, those proposals were rejected by the Government, who argue that it would not increase the number of live music venues.

These grassroots venues are the hub of our music scene and, without them, there will be nowhere for tomorrow’s superstars to learn their craft and develop their passion.  An amicable solution is paramount to our future.

Such a solution was found in Australia, where the music sector has campaigned to help venues in similar situations to the noise abatement order effected locations across the UK.  Now developers of properties adjacent to existing live music venues to take responsibility for sound-proofing the apartments. Likewise, new venues opening in a residential area have to fit in with its pre-existing circumstances and can be closed for making too much noise.

In this age of promoting creativity, can a happy medium be found for developing and promoting new musical talent while safeguarding the interests and needs of the wider community?


1 Adding up the Music Industry for 2008, Will Page, PRS for Music

2 The Value of Music in London from Cultural Trends 38, 2001, published by Policy Studies Institute

3 Plans for more than 5,000 new jobs in culture, music and creative industries unveiled by Andy Burnham and James Purnell

4 Downing Street Petition calling on the Prime Minister to stop using the Licensing Act to criminalise live music and to implement amendments that would exempt small gigs

Licensing Act 2003 – Case Study: St Albans District Council, 2009.  This report is a study of St Albans District Council’s implementation of the Licensing Act 2003 and the impact on live music.

Continuing the themes of MusicTank’s recent Licensing Act debate, BBC 1’s Inside Out programme covered both Form 696 issues (19.10.09) and more recently, noise abatement (02.11.09) featuring MusicTank keynote speaker, Kent Davis. Separately, BBC1’s One Show has further covered Licensing Act issues around small venue exemption, (02.11.09).

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