Music Venue Trust (MVT) chief Mark Davyd says the UK business “cannot go on building more and more arenas” without safeguarding the grassroots network, amid the findings of a new report.
The MVT, which represents almost 10,000 UK grassroots music venues, is proposing that all new arenas opening in the UK contribute to the security of the wider music sector by investing a percentage of every ticket sold into the grassroots ecosystem.
The organisation has already issued a direct request to the City of Manchester, Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, Manchester City Council and all Manchester MPs to ensure the new 23,500-capacity Co-op Live Arena pledges its support to the initiative.
“We cannot go on building more and more arenas with no plan of how to fill the stages they create in five, 10 or 20 years time and without these new facilities playing their part in helping protect the grassroots ecosystem,” says MVT CEO Mark Davyd. “Eight new arenas are planned for the UK. We should collectively have a considered and constructed plan of research and development investment that will fill those arenas with new talent.”
The move follows the publication of the MVT’s 2022 Annual Report which, it says, shows the grassroots scene is “now past the tipping point”.
A survey of the 960 members of the Music Venue Alliance (MVA), which employs more than 30,000 people throughout the sector, found that they staged 177,000 events in 2022, attracting audience visits of almost 22 million. However, this represents a decline of 16.7% from the last pre-pandemic year of 2019, as venues were forced to make significant cutbacks to continue operating solvently.
“THE THREAT IS REAL: WE NEED MORE FROM THE MUSIC INDUSTRY AND WE NEED IT NOW”
The decline saw the number of events staged per week in individual venues fall from 4.2 in 2019 to just 3.5 in 2022 with only 1.97 of those identified as ticketed live music shows. Davyd says the conclusions of the report make for “grim reading”.
“The threat is real,”he adds. “We need more from the music industry and we need it now, otherwise what is currently a crisis will soon become a terminal decline for venues, their staff, artists and audiences.”
The report also identified that in 2022, the average grassroots music venue capacity was 308, of which 40% was utilised per event, down from 2019 when the average capacity was 51%. The total income from those events was over £500m but venues reported an average profit margin of just 0.2% resulting in them subsidising live music performances by around £79m last year.
“Obviously we are pleased to highlight the fact that grassroots music venues contribute over half a billion pounds to the UK economy and to emphasise their enormous impact on the cultural life of our country; but it is also necessary to reiterate the precarious financial position that much of the sector still finds themselves in – the current economics no longer stack up,” says Davyd.
“WE NEED A COHERENT LONG TERM ECONOMIC PLAN THAT RECOGNISES THE IMPORTANCE OF WHAT OUR MEMBERS DO AND GIVES THEM A CHANCE TO KEEP NURTURING UP AND COMING ARTISTS”
The MVT has slammed the VAT applied to venue ticket sales as “crushing the economic viability of this sector and reducing the ability of the grassroots to create new British talent”, and demanded it be reduced to the average European level of 5% – or removed entirely. It is also calling for a thorough review of what it refers to as “excessive and anti-competitive” business rates.
“We need urgent action from the government on all these factors as well as a full review of VAT on ticket sales,” says Davyd. “In short, we need a coherent long term economic plan that recognises the importance of what our members do and gives them a chance to keep nurturing up and coming artists and contributing to their local communities.
“It doesn’t make any sense for the government to continue to tax what is clearly research and development. We don’t penalise any other industry like this and we need to stop putting barriers in the way of risk taking and investment in new British talent.
“The spiralling cost of energy bills, rents, excessive & anti-competitive business rates, and other overheads, combined with the effects that the cost of living crisis is having on the disposable income of our audiences, means that venues are operating on razor thin margins and in many cases struggling to survive.”
View the report in full here.
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