The future of the live music industry is at stake
Labour MP Jo Stevens says today’s publication of the DCMS Committee report into Live Music reveals the gulf between the lucrative end of the live music market and the huge challenges facing those at the other end.
Late last year, the Gwdihŵ live music venue in my Cardiff Central constituency was told by its landlord that its lease would not be renewed. With little warning, and even less meaningful engagement, the Rapport family – who own the historic building that the venue had called home for a decade – decided that the easy money to be made through redevelopment trumped the huge community and artistic value of a venue like Gwdihŵ.
There was a massive public response our ensuing campaign, led by local live music hero Daniel Minty and Gwdihw’s owner, culminating in more than a thousand people marching and singing through the centre of Cardiff in support a few months later. But while the response from the Cardiff’s musicians and gig-goers was heartening, the result was depressingly familiar, with Gwdihŵ closing its doors. While there are plans afoot for Gwdihŵ to find a new home, it remains the case that Cardiff has lost a cultural jewel to possibly make way for yet another car park.
All of which makes today’s publication of the DCMS Committee report into Live Music especially prescient. As a member of the committee, I found the evidence sessions by turns sobering, baffling and depressing; all too often, we heard of the gulf between the lucrative end of the live music market and the huge challenges facing those at the other end. As well as the crisis facing our small live music venues, there are punters being conned by ticket resale sites, a dearth of funding for new talent and unfair obstacles thrown up before urban artists.
But while the challenges are significant, our report isn’t all doom and gloom; there is a real and growing engagement from established artists to take a stand against the charlatans out only to make quick buck. Ben Lovett of Mumford & Sons, Tom Gray of Gomez and DJ Target all gave evidence, and Ed Sheeran has led by example with his efforts to tackle one of the most deep-rooted issues – ticket touting.
The newly styled “secondary ticket” market was a law unto itself for many years, apparently governed by the same rapacious greed that motivated ticket touts of old hanging around outside gigs. The Committee has called for fans to be given simple, faster routes to resolve disputes with ticket resellers, and called on Government to review existing regulations around ticket resale and the use of online ticket harvesting bots.
And while some platforms such as Google have made progress in this arena, I am pleased that our report names and shames one of the worst online offenders for conning fans – viagogo. With prices as eye-wateringly high as their customer service is bad, viagogo has ridden roughshod over consumers and Government alike for too long.
Elsewhere, our report touches on two different ways in which new live music talent is being damaged, with licensing and law-enforcement unfairly targeting urban music and grime artists, while talent of all kinds at grassroots level is being starved of the cash and investment it needs to flourish. To properly support urban music, we’ve called for Government-led action involving the police, councils and music venues to help properly manage risk without unfairly targeting these performers, who number amongst our most innovative and successful. We’ve also asked Government to take a lead on properly resourcing grassroots talent, with a Taskforce to see how the industry itself can better support future generations of British music.
For me, however, it is the raft of recommendations to better protect our small live music venues that I am most proud of. Venues like Gwdihŵ, and thousands more across the country, are closing at a frightening rate, a perfect storm of soaring rents, spiralling business rates, rapacious property developers and often unsympathetic landlords. Organisations like UK Music, the Music Venue Trust and the Musicians Union have done what they can, with notable and welcome successes to their name, but Government action has been virtually non-existent. That’s why we’ve called for business rate relief for these venues, and the extension of tax relief currently enjoyed by orchestral performances to these venues as well. With artists ever more reliant on live performance to make any sort of living, it is no exaggeration to say that the future of the industry itself is at stake.
Responding to this article viagogo has said: "For those transactions that fall into the 1% annually where customers do have an issue, the overwhelming majority of cases are due to the unfair and potentially illegal restrictions the event organizers pose simply because customers have chosen to purchase tickets from a competitor of theirs. We have been complying and will absolutely continue to work constructively with the CMA to make further amends where necessary, all the while putting all of the buyers and sellers who use the platform first"