Live Music Contents

1The live music success story

‘Let us not forget our amazing rich history and legacy in music, but we have our Adeles, our Stormzys and our Ed Sheerans and then there is an enormous gap.’ (Jane Beese, The Roundhouse)

The benefits of live music

7.Live music is at the heart of the UK’s thriving music scene, accounting for almost one quarter of the music industry’s £4.5 billion contribution to the UK economy.5 The Association of Independent Festivals identifies that through supporting local landowners, suppliers and facilities:

a 5,000 capacity festival can generate approximately £800,000 in net gain to the local area, while a 110,000 capacity festival can generate £18 million for the local area.6

While such income is significant for the rural economy, live music also contributes to the ‘night-time economy’ in urban areas.7 The Music Venue Trust told us that “for every £10 spent on a ticket in a grassroots music venue, £17 is spent elsewhere in the night-time economy.”8

8.Gigs and festivals are an increasingly significant source of revenue for musicians, and support the careers of the thousands of engineers, touring crew and promoters who work behind the scenes. The UK’s first live music census, published in February 2018, identified that live music forms a greater proportion of consumer spend than recorded music does, and that on average live performances account for 49% of professional musicians’ income—compared to just 3% from recording.9 This was echoed by rapper ShaoDow, who told us that as online streaming brings in less money for musicians, live performances and related activities such as selling merchandise are increasingly significant:

Without it, if we are taking a hit on the musical, physical side of things and then live as well, it is going to get to a point where musicians simply cannot afford to live and create and I think that is a crying shame.10

9.Live music is a key driver of tourism to the UK. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport informed us that:

According to the International Passenger Survey in 2016, 1.9m international visits to the UK were made with the intention of attending a live music event and 1.3m visitors came to the UK intending to attend a festival. For the same period, visitors attending live music events spent £1.7bn and those attending a festival spent £1.2bn.11

The UK’s musical tradition attracts fans from all over the world. Jeff Horton, owner of the 100 Club on London’s Oxford Street, credits the attraction of heritage as part of his venue’s enduring appeal:

The place of history and heritage in art and music is very important and part of London’s fabric, and I think that if you speak to most people who visit London, and if you ask them the first thought that goes into their head about the UK, they will almost certainly say music. It is what we do and we are still brilliant at it.12

10.In addition to the economic benefits, it is important to acknowledge the social and cultural value that live music offers. The Mayor of London highlighted that live music “has the power to bring people closer together and transform communities.”13 As an inherently social activity, live music offers unique benefits, especially for young people for whom venues can be safe and accessible environments that still offer the buzz of discovering something new. In this way, live music offers a social alternative in the digital age. As Ben Lovett of the band Mumford & Sons told us:

Streaming services have algorithms that create playlists of artists, and they think they know you better than you know yourself. Sometimes they have a good guess but we cannot have our culture curated by robots. We have to be curated by people who really know what they are talking about, not tech companies but music companies and venues that are run by music fans.14

The uneven distribution of live music’s benefits

Regional disparities

11.The benefits of live music are not spread evenly around the country, with significant regional disparities in the spending generated by music tourism. UK Music identified that in 2016:

In the North East only £51 million in spend was generated and in East Midlands it was £194 million. Contrastingly, in London over £1 billion was generated.15

Despite London’s dominance as a destination for live music, the capital still has the fewest arenas per person compared to other major cities. Research from the Madison Square Garden Company, which is in the early planning stages for MSG Sphere—a new, large-scale, state-of-the-art venue in Stratford, east London—highlighted that with only two arenas, London is home to 4.39 million people per venue compared to an average across comparable cities of 2.47 million people per venue.16 Ben Lovett said that London is “trending down against countries and cities that I think we like to believe we are on a par with”, which could impact the capital’s position in the long term.17

12.A dearth of suitable venues in certain parts of the country means that local economies and fans are losing out on the opportunities live music affords. Rapper ShaoDow told us:

There are parts of the country that I would love to perform in where I have a fan base, but that does not have either a small music venue or any form of musical infrastructure […] That means there is a vast array of people who are into music who are not attending gigs who could be.18

In discussing the nationwide closures of music venues, which we will explore in more detail in Chapter 3, the Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries, Margot James MP, agreed that “the situation is worse outside of London”.19

13.In suggesting strategies to address such disparities, UK Music states “that the devolution of power to Combined Authority structures presents a great opportunity to promote and grow music in cities and regions across the UK”. It cites the successes of London’s devolved government, which established a ‘Music Board’ comprised of relevant stakeholders in 2016, and encourages the Government “to consider incentives to develop these initiatives for existing and future devolution deals.”20 The London Music Board’s achievements have included protecting grassroots venues from further closures, abolishing the Metropolitan Police’s controversial risk assessment form 696 and appointing a ‘Night Czar’ to champion the ‘night-time economy’.21

14.A ‘Music City’—such as Cardiff or London—is somewhere with a vibrant music economy where there is recognition of, and support for, the benefits of that culture among relevant authorities and stakeholders.22 With nearly one-third of venues telling the UK live music census that they had been negatively affected by parking or loading issues in the previous 12 months, there are small interventions that local authorities can make to address venues’ concerns.23 Ben Lovett also pointed out that in the United States property developers are incentivised to build cultural hubs, including music venues, so that “in the long term, you get the benefit of moving into these towns and you get the benefit of people wanting to spend money in that area.”24 We should also highlight the important role that music venues play in towns, so that local councils ensure that they too give more precedence to measures to help them.

Distribution of income

15.Neither is the money generated by live music evenly distributed throughout the music industry. The Musicians’ Union told us that although there is a perception of the music industry as a “commercial proposition”, the reality for many professional musicians is rather different:

We still think of the recorded music industry being something that is self-sustaining and that rock and pop and other genres like that, which are popular, generate their own income, but we know that the majority of our members make around £20,000 a year from music, so they are definitely not high earners.25

Ben Lovett told us that playing live is a “loss leader” for many artists in the early stages of their careers and that his own venue, Omeara in south London, is run with the music component making a loss.26 It is clear that passion, rather than profit, motivates many working in live music, as demonstrated by the venue operator of the Fulford Arms, a 150-capacity independent venue in York:

Across the country there are people who support live music and believe that it has a great cultural importance. Although some artists are involved to become rich and famous, many aren’t and just want to perform. More importantly there is a community of promoters, engineers and venue owners who are often not financially rewarded for the work they do and are just trying to make events and art happen. In other areas such as theatre, opera and film this is recognised and supported through government and arts council and industry recognition and funding, but this is rarely the case with live music—I love the scene that I work in and have sacrificed a lot to help 800 artists just last year perform but it is often too much and we need support.27

Competition in the music industry

16.There is considerable ‘vertical integration’ in the live music market, with single organisations operating festivals, venues, ticketing websites, events promotion and artist management. This gives companies an advantage over smaller promoters or venues, which may have made the initial investment into developing an artist, when negotiating contracts.28 Furthermore, exclusivity clauses that prevent acts from performing at competitors’ events give dominant companies an advantage over independent ones. In highlighting that US-owned Live Nation controls 25% of UK festivals with over 5,000 capacity, the Association of Independent Festivals told us:

For independent festival operators, a Live Nation monopoly would quite simply be a stranglehold with profound and serious consequences. This situation is rapidly developing and the complaint we hear privately from a growing number of AIF members is about the collateral damage caused by the imposition of hugely restrictive exclusivity deals. By their nature, these deals are anti-competitive, restraining when and where even the smallest artist can perform and significantly diminishing the pool of talent that non-Live Nation promoters can draw upon.29

17.Similarly, Tom Gray of the band Gomez told us that the music industry is a “wild west” with competition issues and conflicts of interest that would not be acceptable in “any other industry”.30 He told us that as “the biggest players in the music industry create all the value” they have become “too big to challenge”, which has a detrimental impact on musicians’ negotiating power:

The major labels were allowed to buy the publishers so they have taken out their own competition on that negotiating table, so if you are songwriter your chances of getting more money as a songwriter for your deal is not there because the people who should be negotiating for you are already owned by the record company, the people who you should be negotiating against. This has been allowed to happen.31

18.Live music is a valuable and vibrant part of the UK’s culture; however, we cannot take its past success for granted, and must safeguard the industry and spread its benefits more evenly. Historically, this may not have been considered a role for central or local government because of the strength and profitability of the UK’s music industry; however, there are practical ways in which policymakers and local authorities can support the sector.

19.We recommend the establishment of regional ‘Music Boards’, comprising representatives from the music industry, policymakers and other relevant stakeholders, to advocate for the live music sector and promote its interests in planning and policy decisions. We ask the Government to support the formation of such bodies through its devolution deals, or the Local Enterprise Partnerships in areas where no combined authorities have been established.

20.We ask the Competition and Markets Authority to consider conducting a market study of the music industry to assess whether competition in the market is working effectively for both consumers and those working in the industry.

Case study: UK grime

21.Grime has been one of Britain’s most successful musical exports in recent years. BBC Radio 1Xtra presenter DJ Target told us that “it is the best time we have had for creatives and musical talent coming out of this country”, citing the ability of acts to build a fan base and distribute music independently thanks to the opportunities afforded by social media. However, the success of artists such as Stormzy, Wiley and Bugzy Malone has been mirrored by challenges faced by other artists “wanting to go out and perform live or go around the country and really connect with their fans.”32

22.Although the Metropolitan Police repealed its controversial risk assessment form 696 in late 2017 following concerns that it unfairly targeted urban acts, DJ Target told us that “the issues are still there”.33 For example, ShaoDow and other rappers have had venues cancel gigs at short notice after it became clear what style of music the artists play:

I had a venue cancel on me on the day that I was meant to go there. I was booked for a performance in a club and called them ahead of time to say, “I am on my way”, and they said, “Oh, by the way, we were just listening to your music. You make Hip Hop”. I said, “Yes”, and he said, “Oh, we cannot do that here, we will lose our licence.”34

The Roundhouse’s Head of Music agreed that urban music “is not being supported by local councils, by licensees. There is still an amount of what I believe to be institutionalised racism, which is hindering that scene rather than allowing it to flourish.”35

23.The relative power imbalance between licensing authorities and smaller venues was cited by DJ Target as a reason why it is hard for venues to question decisions to close events down:

It could be a venue that has been pressured to cancel the event by the police. It could be a local authority that pulls a licence or threatens to pull a licence if you have that event. It is coming from different levels. The small promoter cannot afford to have his licence taken away. The small venue that already is struggling cannot afford to risk it so then they end up saying, “Okay. We do not do those types of nights anymore”.36

A potential solution, suggested by the Musicians’ Union, is therefore to give venues the knowledge and confidence both to manage risks and defend their programming if it is questioned by licensing authorities.37

24.We welcome the abolition of the Metropolitan Police’s form 696 following concerns that it unfairly targeted certain artists and audiences, but it is concerning to hear that prejudices against urban acts persist. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Home Office should work together to develop guidance for licensing authorities, police forces and music venues on how to collaborate on managing risks to ensure that urban music acts are not unfairly targeted.


5 UK Music, Measuring Music 2018, (1 November 2018), p 8

7 The ‘night-time economy’ has long been understood as the work of bars, clubs, pubs and restaurants, as well as other sectors that operate beyond standard working hours such as transportation and security.

8 Q253 [Mark Davyd]

9 Live Music Exchange (LMU 0067)

13 Mayor of London (LMU 0069)

15 UK Music (LMU 0047)

16 Sound Diplomacy and the Madison Square Garden Company, LONDON’S VENUE MARKET: AN INTERNATIONAL BENCHMARKING STUDY, (2018), p 17

20 UK Music (LMU 0047)

21 Risk assessment form 696 was required from the promoters or organisers of live events as a condition for licences being granted. The form collected the names, private addresses and phone numbers of all performers. Originally, it also specified the style of music to be performed and the target audience, including their ethnicities. The form was felt to contribute to the targeting of particular audiences, and in 2008 our predecessor Committee heard about ways in which the police and local authorities were felt to be linking live music with crime and disorder, including terrorism. Use of form 696 was discontinued in November 2017.

22 Music Canada and IFPI, The Mastering of a Music City, (5 June 2015)

23 Live Music Exchange (LMU 0067)

28 Q340 [Jane Beese]

32 Q306 [DJ Target]

37 Q351 [Naomi Pohl]




Published: 19 March 2019