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Industry reacts as MPs recommend ticket levy on arenas and stadiums to save grassroots venues and artists

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Artists and figures from the music industry have spoken to NME as a government committe of UK MPs have joined the call for a levy on arena and stadium gigs – as well as a cut in VAT – to support struggling grassroots music venues and artists.

Earlier this year, the Music Venue Trust delivered their full report into the state of the sector for 2023, showing the “disaster” facing live music with venues closing at a rate of around two per week. Presented at Westminster, the MVT echoed their calls for a levy on tickets on gigs at arena size and above and for major labels and such to pay back into the grassroots scene, arguing that “the big companies are now going to have to answer for this”.

The Featured Artists Coalition  – a trade union body representing the needs of musicians and artists in the UK – then wrote to NME to argue that while the survival of venues is “essential”, any kind of ‘Premier League’ model to be adopted by the industry needs to take into account keeping creators in pocket and being able to exist, as well as ways to open up the world of music to different genres, backgrounds and audiences.

“What good is it keeping venues open if artists can’t afford to perform in them?” asked FAC CEO David Martin.

IDLES performing at Moles – which shut down last year. CREDIT: Press

Figures from across the UK music industry then took the case for a £1 ticket levy on all gigs arena-sized and above to the government, explaining the perils of losing 125 music venues last year to the the Culture Media & Sport Committee in an evidence session to reveal the dangers to the UK talent pipeline as a result of the cost of touring crisis and a general lack of support and investment in the grassroots.

Now, the cross-party Culture, Media and Sport Committee, have shared a report highlighting the importance of grassroots venues, calling for immediate financial help through “a levy-funded support fund and a targeted temporary VAT cut to help stem the tide of closures”, as well as calling for “a comprehensive fan-led review of live and electronic music” to “examine the long-term challenges to the wider live music ecosystem”.

The economic impact of losing 125 music venues means that artists have lost around 16 per cent of all opportunities to perform across the UK (around 30,000 shows) – as well a loss of around 4000 jobs in total. The Music Venue Trust also argued that there was a “very significant blockage” in the talent pipeline as a result – leading to the “concern about whether the UK is going to continue to bring up the exceptional talent that we’ve dominated the world with for the last seven decades.”

DCMS’ new report says that “given the urgency of the crisis, a voluntary levy on arena and stadium concert tickets would be the most feasible way to have an immediate impact, creating a support fund for venues, artists and promoters administered by a trust led by a sector umbrella body”.

The report said that the industry must also ensure that the levy cost is not passed on to music fans – with Enter Shikari proving that this can be done with their own system last year –  and that “if there is no agreement by September or if it fails to collect enough income to support the sector, the Government should step in an introduce a statutory levy”.

Hull Adelphi. Credit: Gary Calton / Alamy Stock Photo
Hull Adelphi. Credit: Gary Calton / Alamy Stock Photo
The New Adelphi Club.

Beyond that, the DCMS committee’s report also called for VAT relief with a temporary cut based on venue capacity, with the Government undertaking analysis to assess the impact to inform future decisions.

“We are grateful to the many dedicated local venues who gave up their time to take part in our inquiry,” said Dame Caroline Dinenage MP, Chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. “They delivered the message loud and clear that grassroots music venues are in crisis. The ongoing wave of closures is not just a disaster for music, performers and supporters in local communities up and down the country, but also puts at risk the entire live music ecosystem.

“If the grassroots, where musicians, technicians, tour managers and promoters hone their craft, are allowed to wither and die, the UK’s position as a music powerhouse faces a bleak future.”

She continued: “To stem the overwhelming ongoing tide of closures, we urgently need a levy on arena and stadium concert tickets to fund financial support for the sector, alongside a VAT cut to help get more shows into venues.

“While the current focus is on the many grassroots music venues falling silent, those working in the live music sector across the board are also under extraordinary strain. It is time that the Government brought together everyone with a stake in the industry’s success, including music fans, to address the long-term challenges and ensure live music can thrive into the future.”

The report recommends that the Government and Arts Council make it easier for the live music sector to apply for public funding (with more than 80 per cent reportedly currently awarded to opera and classical music) and for stakeholders across the industry to continue to support the Featured Artists’ Coalition’s campaign for venues and promoters to stop taking  a punitive cut of artists’ merchandise fees.

Having made an impassioned plea at a government hearing into the call for a levy earlier this year, Lily Fontaine of rising Leeds band English Teacher – just released their acclaimed top 10 album ‘This Could Be Texas‘ – told NME of her joy at the DCMS’ call for a long-term response to help artists survive and thrive.

English Teacher. Credit: Andy Ford for NME
English Teacher. Credit: Andy Ford for NME

“It’s a relief that the enquiry has resulted in recognition at a governmental level that not only is the music industry ecosystem is in crisis, but that saving it and bettering it is important,” she said.

“Struggling to make ends meet as an artist isn’t a new concept – but that doesn’t mean it’s right. I’m looking forward to seeing how, when implemented, the ticket levy will be delivered to the grassroots venues and scenes. There’s little to be proud of coming from this island sometimes, so it’s a relief we’re at least trying to save potentially our best and coolest cultural export.”

Music Venue Trust CEO Mark Davyd, meanwhile, also welcomed the findings.

“We want to thank the Committee MPs and the CMS team for their excellent work in understanding and considering these challenges, and the clear recommendations they have created to address them,” he told NME.

“These recommendations provide a clear pathway forward to a positive future for the UK’s Grassroots Music Venues, a set of actions that are deliverable, affordable, and will genuinely have a positive impact on live music in communities right across the country. We look forward to working with the music industry and with the government to deliver on these recommendations as swiftly as possible.

Davyd continued: “We would like to thank all the thousands of music fans that have supported our work across the last 10 years. It has taken much longer than any of us would have liked to get the positive change we all wanted to see, but we could not have achieved this fantastic outcome without your continued support for your local live music venue.”

David Martin, CEO, Featured Artists Coalition and Annabella Coldrick, Chief Executive, Music Managers Forum, issued a joint statement in which they “wholeheartedly endorsed all the Committee’s recommendations”.

“Most important is their recognition of the ‘cost of touring crisis’, and that the benefits of a ticket levy must flow down to artists, managers, and independent promoters – as well as to grassroots music venues,” they told NME. “The entire ecosystem needs support. While we still believe this mechanism should be mandatory, the clock is now ticking to get a process in place before September 2024.

“We are also delighted to see the Committee endorse the 100% Venues campaign, and hope this will trigger action from the UK’s largest live music venues to overhaul outdated practices on merchandise commissions. The sale of T-shirts, vinyl and other physical products represent a crucial income stream for artists. It is only fair that they should retain the bulk of that revenue.”

Music Venue Stock Image
UK music venue. CREDIT: Rawlstock/Getty Images

Michael Kill, CEO of the Night Time Industries Association, also supported the report to save venues, adding that “without adequate support, we risk not only the loss of these invaluable spaces but also the erosion of the entire music ecosystem” and urging the government to “act swiftly on these proposals to ensure the survival and prosperity of live music in the UK.”

“We stand ready to collaborate with policymakers, industry partners, and stakeholders to implement the necessary measures and secure a sustainable future for the night-time economy and the cultural heritage it represents,” he added.

The call for a levy made headlines recently when it was dismissed by the then-boss of the beleaguered Manchester Co-Op Live Arena. Gary Roden came under fire for saying that some smaller venues in the UK were only closing because they were “poorly run”. In response, the Music Venue Trust, told NME that they believed Roden’s comments were “disrespectful and disingenuous”, while also highlighting the irony of making such “ill-judged, unnecessary and misleading” remarks on the week that their own venue was forced to postpone their own launch numerous times, due to a spate of logistical problems.

However, the venue has now said it will meet with the Music Venue Trust to discuss the levy after it initially said it wouldn’t implement it.

This week also saw the announcement that The Ferret in Preston is the latest grassroots music venue to have been saved by the Music Venue Trust’s ‘Own Our Venues‘ scheme. The  initiative, set out as “the National Trust of music venues” was first announced in April last year, and it aims to secure the long-term futures of grassroots venues by bringing them into shared public ownership. This follows the scheme purchasing The Snug in Manchester last year.

The Ferret in Preston
The Ferret in Preston. CREDIT: Press

This also comes after the recent announcement that Tunbridge Wells Forum has become the first venue in the country to introduce a grassroots ticket levy. US acts Alien Ant Farm and CKY have also opted to add a £1 ticket levy to their UK tours, following a move by Enter Shikari. Last year; the band shared details of a 2024 run of UK tour dates, where £1 from each ticket sold was donated to the Music Venue Trust – at no extra cost to fans.

Other companies have launched similar initiatives. Independent ticketing company Skiddle announced in October it would donate 50p of every ticket sold towards saving grassroots music venues, while taxi firm FREENOW pledged to donate £1 from every ride to the cause.

Ticketmaster have introduced a Music Venue Trust charity upsell option, enabling fans to make direct contributions to MVT when purchasing tickets. Halifax venue Piece Hall has also implemented a similar scheme.

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