“Numbers speak volumes” – AFD Conference panel urges more government and public figures to fight for grassroots music venues

Last week, the very first Appetite For Disruption Conference was held in Brighton, UK, which saw 700 students from over 15 prestigious educational institutions join leading representatives to discuss the future challenges of the music industry.

The array of panel sessions and talks throughout the day focussed on many aspects of the industry, including the future of streaming, the art of songwriting, mental health, gaining fans through social media, and much more.

MI Focus sat in of a number of sessions, one of which centred around how we can save grassroots music venues.

35% of London’s grassroots music venues, or GMVs, have been lost since 2007. With London managing to turn the tide with nearly 14,000 people going to a gig in a GMV every day, Brighton seeming to be doing quite well in the GMV stakes, and the recent success of the Agent Of Change campaign, the panel looked at what these venues can do to survive and how higher profile figures can help draw attention to the importance of the grassroots scene.

Chaired by Music Venues Trust’s Bev Whitrick, the panel kicked off the session by looking at why certain areas have more trouble with GMVs than others.

“We’ve got lucky and unlucky towns and cities in terms of small venues. There are some issues that impact differently in different places. One of the big challenges for GMVs is that they are such small operations that their limited in the amount of money they can make, and we have a strong rise in business rates,” said Whitrick.

“We need to find more figures to fight for grassroots music venues.”

Natasha Bent, CODA

“How do you fight business rates? Most people that work in music are not business experts. What can the industry do when these business implications come along?”

Natasha Bent from artist agency CODA noted: “In London there is a night tsar, Amy Lame. Having a vocal and prominent figure, that’s where change in going to come. Having someone in government fighting our corner will help make something happen. We need to find more figures to fight for grassroots music venues. Numbers speak volumes.”

Farouk Deen from event specialist Cellar Door added: “Grassroots music venues need to recognise they are not alone. If their rates affect their businesses, there will be others in the area having the same issues. Engage with your fellow businesses in your area and team up with your business neighbours. Strength in numbers.”

Whitrick also touched on the recent Agent of Change campaign, which Music Venues Trust has been fighting for over the past 4 years with the likes of the Musicians’ Union and UK Music.

“The policy is now going to be implemented in Wales, the UK, and specifically London, but it’s not the law, it is a policy. We need a rallying call across the industry to get everyone involved in lobbying.”

Asking how the industry could bring developers, councillors and the industry together to help keep venuse open, Toni Coe, from music venue The Green Door Store, stressed that funding is important: “I don’t think councils are seeing GMVs as important. They care more about high art. We need the council to hold more value with these venues and allocate a certain amount of funding to go to these venues so they can put in more soundproofing to help with noise problems. Funding is absolutely essential.

“We need to remove the stigma that live music venues are just for young people.”

Toni Coe, The Green Door Store

Deen commented: In Croydon, what we’ve found Is that the offices turning into residential property is a problem as venues had set up there originally when there weren’t any residential properties. So, it’s important to keep an eye on the developers.”

Despite last year being the biggest ever for live music in the UK, it was actually one of the worst at the grassroots level.

On the subject of getting more people through the door, Coe said: “We need to remove the stigma that live music venues are just for young people.”

Deen suggested that making sure venues are catering for all is key: “We need to take a look at if we’re putting on the right kinds of shows at grassroots levels in relation to what’s popular. The most listened to genre in music for online streaming is hip hop and there’s a lack of that genre at GMVs.

Whitrick draw attention to the rise of festivals in recent times and how that can affect where the crowds go. “There’s a real rise in festivals and big gigs, so people have to save up, which means they’re probably not spending money going to local gigs. It’s not that young people don’t love music, it’s because they have to choose how they spend their money.

“We need to balance that out. The thriving live industry needs to help to cover the grassroots section.”


About Laura Barnes 427 Articles
Founder/Publisher of UK musical instrument industry publication MI Focus.