When the sun goes down I can often be found at one of London’s hundred’s, if not thousands, of music venues watching a variety of musicians and artists alike. The offering in London is second to none with hundreds of gigs taking place on any given night bringing joy, euphoria and maybe even disgust to the various punters. There are however shocking statistics highlighting the rate of closures of these venues, particularly at the smaller end of the scale.
There are many factors that have contributed to these closures but the main points being noise complaints from nearby residents, planning, residential developments and rising business rates.
The UK music scene has a rich and diverse history producing some of the finest musicians the world has seen. These musicians will have started in their bedroom and parents homes, moving through the ranks to smaller venues and, if particularly successful, on to national stadiums and world renowned festivals. It would be a crying shame to take away the opportunity for rising musicians to perform in the historic ‘stepping stone’ venues that are so important to our country’s culture.
Over the past decade the UK has seen a closure of 35% of ‘smaller venues’ as provided by the charity ‘Music Venue Trust’, however on a positive note a new Planning Bill has come into play, known as the ‘Agent of Change’, requiring specific planning controls in relation to developments likely to be affected by existing noise sources; and for connected purposes, putting the emphasis on the developer.
A welcomed change for the music industry but I also believe that this could be to the benefit of developers too. By allowing the developers to continue with their work, albeit with some restrictions, and permitting the music venues to continue pumping out their ‘noise’ there should be a natural synergy whereby both parties can continue as usual and assist each other along the way. This is most certainly the case in vibrant city centres where the young and outgoing want to be near to these cultural hubs and able to walk out of their home and stumble across one of these venues.
A prominent phrase in the world of development is ‘place-making’ and there is a real drive to create and invest in communities and bring a vibrant buzz to the area providing both housing and commercial uses. Some music venues have been subject to being shut down as developers get to work. However in some cases there is evidently an interest in using the history of the area to the benefit of the development. A large scale example of this is The Old Vinyl Factory, Hayes ,which is a large scale mixed use development on the site of the EMI record plant, where records by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd were pressed. The development will provide a mix of commercial uses, residential, education, a gym, a cinema and a music venue.
Further information available at http://www.theoldvinylfactory.com/
Another major factor is business rates. It is no secret that the rise in business rates is crippling swathes of high street retailers amongst many others and this is no different with music venues. A recent report ‘Valuing live music: The UK Live Music Census 2017’ showed that of the 200 small music venues spoken to, 33% reported that the increases in business rates had an ‘extreme, strong or moderate’ impact on their existence in the past 12 months. Some venues have reported that their rates bill has quadrupled from one year to the next. This is not sustainable for venues that are most likely scraping by just to keep the music pumping. Whilst the last budget addressed this issue to some extent in helping to reduce the business rates paid by small retailers for some bizarre reason music venues and studios were excluded from this reduction. Essentially to benefit from this rates reduction the property has to be wholly or mainly used as a shop, restaurant or drinking establishment hence the exclusion. Surely you would have thought that these venues would have been included?
There is of course the education factor in the sense that the planners and politicians etc are so far removed from these small music venues that they don’t appreciate that people are trying to earn a living and also help others earn a living by running these venues. They live very different lifestyles and don’t understand how the venues operate and how important they are to their local area and the industry.
I do believe that raising awareness and ‘educating’ all stakeholders by bringing them together could make a big difference to help protect the future of these venues.
An example of where this is happening in the world is, unsurprisingly, Berlin. The rate of closures of small venues was similar to that of London but ironically it was as a result of the startups and tech firms moving to the city, because of the music scene, forcing the property prices up and putting pressure on the music venues.
There are various companies and public bodies in place, the Musicboard and the Clubcommission amongst others, helping to counter this and bring various parties together to help forge relationships. The main aim is for the parties to work together and to help encourage investors to monitor the city’s music scene. One example is ‘The Clubkataster, which is a list and map of venues of music establishments with the city. This is used to guide planners and developers on where they should and shouldn’t build.
This is happening in the UK too with one example being The Sound Diplomacy who acts as an advisor helping governments and businesses achieve their goals using music as a tool, however it feels like we are really in the early days of trying to protect these smaller venues and there is still a long way to go. More information can be found at www.sounddiplomacy.com
Whilst it is more complex than a case of you live here and you play the music there I think that property and music can form a lasting relationship to help create economic development, more integrated and lively communities, provide employment and keep tourists coming back to the UK.