FEATURE: The British Live Music Scene: Improvements and Divisions



The British Live Music Scene:



Improvements and Divisions


A report by Wish You Were Here....

presented some rather pleasing findings in relation to music tourism in the U.K. The report revealed the impact of music and tourism on the U.K. economy – at a local and national level. I shall start by quoting from the report:

The number of people who enjoyed live music events in the UK rose by 12% in 2016 to 30.9 million – up from 27.7 million in 2015.

Live music fans generated £4 billion in direct and indirect spending in 2016 by flocking to concerts and festivals across the UK – a rise of 11% on the £3.7 billion they spent in 2015.
The total number of music tourists from the UK and abroad increased by 20% in 2016 to 12.5 million, of which 11.6 million were UK citizens visiting live music events in other parts of the UK.
Collating a vast amount of ticketing and other data from hundreds of venues, UK Music annually compiles this unrivalled insight into live music in every region of the UK and its impact on the local economy

The report includes an introduction by Culture Secretary Karen Bradley and will be officially launched at the House of Commons on Wednesday 12th July.

The key findings of the report include:
- 30.9 million - total audience that attended live music events in the UK
- 3.9 million - total festival attendance in the UK
- 27 million - total concert attendance in the UK
- 18.4 million local residents attended local music events in the UK
- £4 billion total spend generated by music tourism in the UK
- 12.5 million music tourists in 2016
- £656 million box office spend on tickets by music tourists in 2016
- 40% of live music audiences are music tourists
- 47,445 full time jobs sustained by music tourism
- £850 average spend by overseas music tourists in the UK
- £150 average spend by domestic music tourists in the UK
- 6.2 million total audience at small music venues
- 1.67 million tourist visits to small venues
- £367 million total spend generated by music tourists visiting small venues

It seems concert attendance is higher than ever. Festivals are seeing rising numbers and the gig-going audience soared by 12% to 30.9 million in 2016 – that is according to UK Music. That has contributed £4 billion to the nation’s economy. It is heartening seeing those key figures/facts - 4 million people attended a festival in 2016; and that 823,000 people travelled to the UK from abroad specifically to watch live music, spending an average of £850 per visit – and, since 2011, the U.K. has seen a 76% rise in music tourism. I shall look at the flip-side of the report but, looking at those statistics, it seems there is much to celebrate. In terms of the word ‘tourist’, in this context, it is very apt. Britain is seeing a lot of international music fans come here and see some of our biggest festivals. Whilst nations like the U.S. have great festivals themselves: there is a definite appetite for the finest British festivals. Glastonbury has just passed and saw huge numbers flock there. We have Reading and Leeds approaching; many more festivals approaching – as the weather warms, so too will the live music economy. Maybe the improved weather has helped boost numbers – if it continues, that will attract more tourists over here. It is not only the major festivals enjoying boosted numbers: smaller, boutique festivals are enjoying increased numbers and sales.


Maybe political events have caused a social rebellion. The tragedies at Grenfell and terrorist attacks have seen, as predicted, people come together and defiantly embrace life. Music festivals are the perfect place for the masses to unite: no shock festivals are seeing more bodies through the barriers. There are security fears but, for the most part, festivals are being stringently policed and monitored. It is good to see the raised threat of terrorism is not deterring music-hungry crowds. The fact two-fifths of those contributing to the coffers of live music are tourists is good news. One wonders, however, whether political decisions will impact on this prosperity. If Brexit does go through – it is a BIG if at the moment – and limitations are imposed on E.U. citizens coming to the U.K. – how damaging will that prove?! There is a lot of confusion and uncertainty surrounding restrictions and decrees. At the moment, before any legislation has been passed, some are wary of travelling through fear of persecution and reprisals. The murkier the Brexit waters get; the more obfuscated the music tourist community will become. I am buoyed by the figures released by Wish You Were Here’s annual report and wondering if this is influential…


One cannot look at the growth of the live music scene without talking about sales and the digitisation of music. It appears, for the first time, digital music streaming/purchases are overtaking physical formats. This trend looks set to continue. An article, written by FACT, explains it:

Streaming revenue is to overtake physical music sales in the UK, according to figures released by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI).

Streaming accounted for 30% of overall label revenues in 2016, compared to 32% for physical sales. According to the BPI, the rate of growth means that streaming is expected to overtake physical in 2017.

According to the BPI’s report, 11% of the UK’s adult population were subscribed to a service such as Apple Music or Spotify at the end of 2016.

The figures also revealed that overall revenue (streaming, physical and download sales, performance rights and licensed music) rose by 5.1%. The £926 million total is the largest in five years.

However, the BPI was cautious about the challenges the industry still faces, including piracy and the difference in revenue generated for artists and labels from services such as YouTube.

BPI chief executive Geoff Taylor also warned of the uncertainties surrounding Brexit, arguing that UK artists needed to retain access to EU markets after the UK’s withdrawal.

“Britain’s world-leading music sector has the potential for sustained growth in the years ahead, but this exciting future can only be realised if government makes creative businesses a priority post-Brexit,” he said.

“It means making sure that UK artists can tour freely in EU markets and that UK businesses can access the best talent.”

The boom in streaming and rise in overall revenue for the UK music industry mirrors that of the US, where streaming accounted for a massive 51% of all revenue in 2016.

Bringing in another piece - https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/industries/entertainment-media/outlook/segment-insights/music.html - and more exposition is provided:

Global music industry revenue grows with consumer preference shifting towards subscription-based, rental services

Global music industry revenue is expected to grow at about 3.5% CAGR thru 2021, with growth driven by both the recorded music and the live music sectors. The most significant trend witnessed however, has to be the marked consumer shift away from purchasing and owning recorded music to showing an increasing preference for subscription-based, music-rental services. The five leading markets also all headed in the same direction.

Digital recorded music revenue will increase at about the same rate that physical recorded music revenue declines

Physical recorded music revenue continues to decline, with even long-stalwart German music fans now turning their backs on CDs in number, as consumers look to digital music to provide their audio entertainment. However, this decline in physical recorded music will be more than compensated for by revenue growth in the digital recorded music segment, driven by consumer uptake of music streaming services”.

I am a bit torn by these findings. On the one hand, it is hard seeing formats like C.D. and vinyl decline – by comparison – and the physical side of music. Maybe pricing and limited availability is seeing more people turn to digital methods. More people are listening to music on the move: they want to access their tunes through their Smartphones and laptops. Another reason digital music is starting to grab the majority marketshare is the fact many can get it for free. Spotify, YouTube and BandCamp are free; many can subscribe to Spotify and not pay anything – making is more attractive than buying a C.D. or vinyl. That said, the greater availability of music – through digital methods – means better education. If people are not able to afford music, or find they cannot find everything they want at the local record shop, it is a good thing one has options like Spotify. I shall talk more about this service in relation to small venues’ future but, for now, it appears there is a correlation between festivals’ growing numbers and the popularity of digital streaming.

The Internet opens one to the full majesty and scope of music. Once we have that degree of access: it means we discover more artists and, as such, are more inclined to go to festivals – knowing who is playing and what their music sounds like. One might argue there are issues with streaming and remunerating artists – I shall come to look at the issue of restitution and checks-and-balances later. We should, as a music community, be pleased festivals are expanding and flourishing. I wonder whether streaming sites are contributing to the profitability of the biggest festivals. We all are aware of the headline acts but many are attending festivals because of the minor acts – many of whom they would only come into contact with via streaming sites. Even though there are ethical discussions around streaming services; one cannot quibble with the fact it is putting more music into the masses’ hands.

For many, who cannot get to a new band’s gigs, they will often go onto sites like SoundCloud and Spotify and find their music. A few of the issues with physical formats comes down to availability, cost and choice. I have often gone into a record store, looking for a particular album, and find myself empty-handed. High-street stores are struggling with rent prices: meaning stores are smaller and more compact. Many shops have to stock records that fit into the ethos and ‘personality’ of a town and, because of that, it is only the biggest stores that provide a pragmatic choice of music. When you get to these shops; one finds them crowded and the prices a little unreasonable. A study has shown how vinyl sales are increasing at the moment. This is wonderful but, if one actually looks at the price of an L.P., it can be quite galling. C.D.s are a more affordable option but are still putting a lot of people off. Because of this, many are using streaming services and getting as much music as they can – often without having to pay much. It is the availability and selection of music one gets – through digital stores – that attracts so many. I can get a brand-new album without having to pay too much (I subscribe to Spotify) and can find any classic album without having to traipse around and wait. The more we have at our fingertips; the more curious we will be. I have found so many great new artists through the Internet. Many people are discovering music they would not usually know about. It is this serendipity that is seeing, not only artists find success – and get added to festival bills – but drawing more people in. Live music is burgeoning in one area but, in another, there are real cracks and doubts forming.


The money being spent on small venues is becoming less and less - those with a capacity of less than 1,500 are in real danger it seems. The fact, in some areas, we are seeing fewer venues close does not reflect a national issue. London’s Astoria and The Boardwalk in Sheffield are two venues that have closed their doors in recent years. I wonder why there is such an explosion for festivals – contrasted against the shaky nature of the smaller venues. Perhaps it is the sort of acts who play festivals that are drawing people in. Although, as most festivals are annual; there is going to be that need and sense of release - waiting a year for something extraordinary to come along. Small venues are open most nights and it can be hard constantly pulling people in. We know we’re becoming a more ‘indoor’ society. Folk are staying in more and not enjoying music venues as much as they once did. A lot of artists are scaling-back European tours because (many) have to apply for visas and £1,000 ‘carnet’ documents – temporary import/export agreements – so they can transport equipment across borders. Brexit might mean fewer European artists are coming to play small venues around the U.K.


A single visa would limit the issue but, until we know about the details of Brexit; what will be the fate of our small venues? There is a fear many acts are willing to play these spaces but the public is not quite as eager. Perhaps there is less disposable income – the cost of living is tightening their budgets – but, more likely, people are getting their new music from streaming sites. It was the case, a while back, before these sites, people would go to gigs to discover new artists. Rather than see a new band/artist play; go and find their music online: now, people are discovering them online and, in a lot of cases, not feeling it necessary to see them perform. For a lot of musicians; the smaller venues are their way of getting music heard – it compromises the future of live music is we do not provide it necessary loyalty and love.

It is hard to take the news of festival boom with anything other than caution and pragmatism. Right now, there are a lot more tourists attending festivals and embracing live music. Events like Glastonbury – Reading and Leeds coming up – have brought the crowds together and shown there are few nations that put on a music festival quite like us. It is clear the summer festivals are going to bring in people from all around. This is good news because, in past years, we have seen smaller festivals end – through lack of demand and financing. This turnaround could revive some festivals and create new ones. Glastonbury is on a break next year: there is a fantastic opportunity to fill the void and provide the June gig-goers a great alternative. There is another occurrence that threatens to undermine the industrious and elevating festival business account: the unsure fate of the small venues. In a way, in the middle of these disparate corners of music is the battle between digital music and a physical release.

Streaming is overtaking physical sales: we are entering an age where our buying habits have altered. Finance and affordability are seeing fewer people regularly attending gigs and buy C.D.s/vinyl. Divisions are occurring but there is remedy and a way to move forward. More money needs to be set aside for our smaller venues. Ensuring their sustainability is a paramount concern. Without them, there is a risk the fabric of live music will crumble. It is all well dedicating a budget to small venues but can we easily regulate the way people but their music?! So many are downloading/streaming songs for free. I read a report that underlined how many people choose to get their music for free – keep them on hard drives and websites for months/years after purchase. There is an ethical argument: should we all pay for music or not? But, in the long-term, it will hit the fortunes of new artists. Many are getting fewer gig requests and struggling to survive (with venues closing down). They need the revenue from sales. If they are denied this then that will have awful consequences for music. I am hopeful we can redress the imbalance but, as recent surveys have shown…

IT is certainly not black-and-white.

PHOTOS: Unsplash