Can small music venues weather the storm? Only time will tell.
Live music venues are under pressure and face significant financial adversity, according to the new UK Live Music Census report.
The small venue industry provides a massive boost for the economy and a welcome platform for small-scale events. The poll shows that nearly half (47 per cent) of respondents to its audience survey spend more than £20 on tickets for concerts and festivals each month, while only a quarter spend the same on recorded music.
But the industry is now facing altogether different challenges. Two out of every five respondents identifying as small music venues and a third of all venue respondents believe that increased business rates had an extreme, strong, or moderate negative impact on their events in the past 12 months.
The business rates revaluation came into force on 1 April 2017, adversely affecting commercial buildings located in major town and city centres. The Lexington, a small music venue in north London, saw a rise of 118 per cent in its rateable value last year, while Arsenal Football Club’s stadium, the Emirates, benefited from a seven per cent cut. And that’s just one example. Other venues have reported their rateable value tripling or even quadrupling since April.
Likewise, a third of small music venues, and around one in five (22 per cent) of all venues say planning and property development has had a negative impact in the last year.
The findings follow a campaign, backed by the Local Government Association (LGA), to protect live music venues across the UK.
The campaign says venues (including pubs, theatres, music and concert halls) under threat from “outdated noise restrictions” could be protected by introducing new planning laws.
Under the current regime, any housing or commercial developer has the right to move into an area and demand that noise levels are reduced – much to the detriment (and cost) of venues.
The proposed changes would see the “agent of change” responsibility passed over to the developer. Essentially, anyone moving next door to a live music venue would be assessed as having made that decision and understanding there is going to be some form of noise.
In January, Gerald Vernon Jackson, Chair of the LGA’s Culture, Tourism and Sport Board, said: “Our live music venues are part of the cultural lifeblood of communities, but sadly the increase in demand for housing in town centres is bringing some residents into conflict with them.
“It cannot be right that someone can knowingly move next door to such a venue and then decide afterwards that the music is a nuisance, in the same way that it is not right for a venue to install a speaker system without consideration for nearby residents. Instead this proposal provides a common-sense solution which strikes a balance between the obligations of developers and protecting the vital live music scene in our towns and cities across the country.”
The Bill is currently making its way through Parliament.
Until action is taken, small venues are in something of a predicament. Do they ride out the storm, or shut their doors like so many others before them? Only time will tell.