FEATURE: (Not in Our) House Music: How Noise and Resident Complaints Are Threatening Brilliant Venues




(Not in Our) House Music


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How Noise and Resident Complaints Are Threatening Brilliant Venues


WE are aware there are a lot of venues closing…


around the country - and it is hard to pinpoint an exact reason why this is happening! In some cases, there is a lack of demand and popularity that means venues cannot afford to keep going. In other instances; there are factors around licensing and legalities; some close because of a change of management and, whatever the reason behind venues closing, it is sad to see this happen. Some have their theories as to why small venues, especially, are closing and why the live music landscape is getting poorer. This article, written last year for The Guardian assessed the damage and theorised one reason why some venues are closing:

But for the past five years Total Refreshment Centre has been under the perpetual threat of losing its space in the relentless redevelopment of London’s east. In the last decade alone more than half of London’s 430 music venues that traded in London between 2007 and 2015 have followed a similar path – toppled by planning regulations, noise abatement rulings, the juggernauting cost of land in the capital, not to mention the great outlay of booking bands and staging gigs. It’s a similar story outside of London too: across the UK, music venues that have flourished for decades have begun to disappear.

This week, the Music Venue Trust, the charity that supports the interests of Britain’s small music venues, questioned Arts Council England’s decision to reject its application for funding. The trust argues that while Arts Council England does much to support new music, with money for the internet radio station NTSlive-streaming Boiler Room and contemporary music curators Capsule to name but three, 85% of its music funding has been allotted to opera and classical music, according to the charity, with £96m given to the Royal Opera House alone. With the next round of funding applications in 2022, it’s hard not to foresee that many more small music venues might close in the next four years”.


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It is hard to say how bad the problem can get and whether a turnaround can happen – there is a very real issue and I do wonder how long it will be until all our grassroot venues are lost. This report investigated London’s grassroot venues and hoe extreme the issue of closures are:

35% of London's grassroots music venues have been lost since 2007. Music helps make London a dynamic city. Our music scene is second to none and this decline needs to stop if London is going to continue to be a city that nurtures, creates and enjoys a world famous live music scene.

The Mayor and London's Night Czar are leading the city-wide charge to support and protect London's important grassroots music venues and make London the world’s best music city.

Impact of business rates on London grassroots music venues

fifth of London’s grassroots music venues could be forced to close due to business rates increases.

A further 18 of London’s 94 grassroots music venues are expected to experience significant financial challenges. In total, these 39 venues account for up to 530 jobs and generate up to £21.5m for the capital’s economy.

On top of this, an additional 23 venues are at risk of having to cut the number of new artists they book, instead opting to put on safer, more-established artists that generate higher sales.

Together, these grassroot music venues account for at least 14,000 emerging-artist performance opportunities annually at risk, and have a knock-on effect for the music industry as a whole, while reducing the opportunities for new and emerging talent in London.

This conservative figure is based on one emerging artist performing at each of the at risk grassroots music venues per night.

Read the full report below produced by Nordicity, commissioned by the Mayor of London”.


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I know measures are being put in place and the Government are pledging remedies to stem the closures. It is worrying, for all music fans, to see any venue go under and close its doors. I can understand a venue closing if it were not pulling in traders because of low demand and a general feeling of apathy in the community. Maybe that could be reversed but it is hard to compete with modern consumerism and how we spend our nights – people more willing to stay in and save money than go out. It seems, however, one factor is responsible for a lot of venue deaths: noise and complaints from local residents. This report from the BBC sheds light on this growing trend and ways in which soundproofing can protect venues from closure:

"They can be some of the best shows. You have everyone packed in... It's often the most intimate and standout experience on a tour."

That's how artist Isaac Gracie describes playing small venues around the UK - and it's a feeling many in the audience recognise too.

But the UK is at risk of losing more of its music venues, members of the British music industry say.

And now they're hoping parliament will help them stop the decline.

UK Music, which represents the British music industry, is pushing a new law based on something called the 'Agent of Change' principle…


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UK Music says 35% of venues across the country have closed in the last decade.

"The big problem has been in recent years that developers have moved in next to pre-existing music venues," says the body's chief, Michael Dugher.

"All of a sudden, the people in a block of flats are complaining about the noise of a venue."

Agent of Change would mean that developers have to pay for soundproofing - either in the homes being built near venues, or in the venues themselves.

Bristol venue Thekla has hosted live music and club nights since the 80s.

Julie Tippins is from DHP Family, the company which owns the venue.

"Thekla is one of the few live music venues and nightclubs that operates from a boat on a harbour," she says - something which limits how much soundproofing they can do at the venue.

DHP Family says Thekla is under threat because of plans to build residential buildings nearby.

"It is completely avoidable if we build the right kind of soundproofing into residential developments," she says, arguing this hasn't happened in the planned development near Thekla.

"If we continue to lose live venues, then it will only just make all of our lives a little bit poorer"

Some new venues, such as The Horn in St Albans, have been working closely with residents to ensure there is cooperation and understanding. Soundproofing checks have been carried and, whilst there is trial-and-error associated; it has meant greater visibility, transparency and understanding. This is one case where a new venue has been able to foresee potential stumbling blocks and avoid needless complaints.


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An established venue near where I used to live - The Star Inn in Guildford (Surrey) - is under threat because locals are complaining about the noise projected by live acts. A petition is online – so people can save the venue – and it has drawn a lot of coverage:

The pub, which claims to be Guildford’s longest running music venue, hosted The Strangler’s first official gig in 1974.

However, the pub has been handed a noise abatement notice requiring a reduction in noise levels or facing fines of up to £20,000.

Pub manager Georgina Baker, who started the petition , described the decision as "stupid beyond words" and said it will "kill our business".

The pub’s “Back Room” is a popular venue for live music and regularly hosts events from the Guildford Fringe each year.

Neil Young, a developer, converted a former office that backed onto the pub into four flats and, shortly after, made the noise complaint to Guildford Borough Council.

That was despite warnings from the pub’s owners, Shepherd Neame, when he applied for planning permission that noise would be a problem.

The warning came five years ago but, nonetheless, consent was granted by the council.

Those signing the petition have been lending their support to the prestigious pub.

Callum Weston, who signed the petition five months ago, said: “The Star Inn is an invaluable asset to the cultural fabric of Guildford. It has played host to countless well-established home and international acts, as well as giving young local musicians and promoters a fantastic platform to hone their skills and take their first steps into the creative industries.

“The loss of this historic venue would be an outrage and a huge loss for the people of Guildford.”

Council leader Paul Spooner has also given his support to The Star after the noise complaint was initially made, and said he was “very disappointed” that officers had decided to issue a noise abatement notice.

You can sign the petition here”.


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It seems that noise complaints are among the most popular (if that is the right term?!) reasons why venues are closing down. Although spaces like The Star Inn have been there for years; it seems a new crop of residents are creating problems. As the article above shows; many venues are informing councils and local bodies of potential issues and trying to avoid conflict. Maybe, in a lot of cases, councils and those who receive these complaints need to do more. I feel soundproofing should be part of every venue’s plans. Whether that will be too costly and it will be unrealistic I am not sure. I feel that method and solution would avoid needless problems and ensure more venues survive. I am concerned there are closures because of noise complaints. You have to wonder why people are shocked to discover venues will project noise. The people who are complaining live pretty close to these venues. Unless the venue has their windows open and are blasting music from speakers; you have to wonder the radius that comes into play and issues around proximity. If you do live that close to a venue or pub; noise, of course, is to be expected. A lot of venues that are receiving complaints are contained – in the sense there is not a great deal of noise bleed and there is a case of residents being sensitive.


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Most of the people who are complaining, one hopes, would have done some research and have been around the local area! You have families moving close to good schools and considering amenities; they are keen to move somewhere affable and well-off and, you feel, they must realise a music venue not only puts out a little bit of noise but is essential to the community. I do wonder whether it is mostly families who are making these complaints and concerned about their children. The exact demographic is not being released but many complaints are from new residents making claims against a venue that has been there for years. These new developments and high-rise apartments attract a more affluent type of person and, not to judge, they tend to be quite delicate and self-concerned. Many do not spend a lot of time at music venues and do not realise how much they mean to musicians who rely upon them. In many cases, the residents could have saved themselves a lot of hassle by doing proper research and consider things like noise when moving into a new place. I do wonder why there is such vociferous complaint regarding noise because the venues who are closing due to noise complaints could have just put in some soundproofing and solved the issue – residents are not accepting this and are unwilling to be malleable. It seems like the majority of the venues that are being threatened with closure due to noise have either been there years – and new residents are making an issue – or local bodies are not adequately protecting them.


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Is noise really that much of an issue when it comes to health and well-being?! This illuminating article studied the issue at hand:

“…anti-social noise can be an enormous problem. Quite apart from the immediate distress it can cause, some research suggests a link between noise pollution and health issues like heart disease.

Anti-noise legislation exists to make sure noise that is genuinely causing a nuisance can be stopped. And as the Chartered Institute for Environmental Health found, that legislation gets used a lot.

It’s research asked 150 local authorities in England and Wales (that’s 43% of the total) about noise complaints. And it found that, over a 12-month period, there were 10,442 noise complaints relating to licensed premises such as pubs and clubs.

“It’s hard to talk about noise without examining a whole chain of factors,” explains Mark Davyd, founder and CEO of the Music Venue Trust. “At this level, running a live music venue is generally a not-for-profit business.”

“There’s an enormous amount of pressure on venues. Touring budgets have been cut, yet the industry still wants venues to take on the risks of helping new bands develop. At the same time, music venues don’t receive the same levels of public funding as other arts venues.”

It’s something of a slippery slope, with noise just one of many factors affecting venues’ prospects.


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“A noise complaint can be the last straw,” confirms Mark. “When margins are so thin, venues don’t have the leeway to comply with even minor licensing adjustments”.

It is hard to negotiate and navigate noise! It is such a varied, unpredictable and widespread issue in any high-street. Consider noises from pubs and bars in general – before you even throw in musicians and live performances! I know there is mediation and attempts at detente when venues are threatened but you have to wonder whether venues that are being threatened – and those already closed – have been met with (ironically) deaf ears! Can the problem be avoided on a tight budget?

Even on a tight budget you can take measures to minimise how much sound escapes your premises:

·         Make sure doors and windows stay closed during performances. If customers tend to enter and leave frequently, install door closers to keep sound leakage as low as possible.

·         Fit acoustic seals around doors and windows. You can buy kits to install yourself for around £100.

·         Evaluate where speakers are located. Speakers attached to walls and ceilings may vibrate the structure of your building, transmitting noise externally.

·         Install sound absorption materials beneath your stage, and make sure there is some kind of anti-vibration material on top.

·         Think about installing noise limiters. These restrict volume without interrupting the sound. If acts provide their own amplification, you can also install a cut-out system, activated if the volume exceeds a defined level.


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·         Evaluate noise levels during the sound check for each event. Set a maximum volume level and then restrict who has access to volume controls on the amplifiers or mixing deck.

·         If you are concerned about noise from customers leaving, put up signs and get staff to ask people to be quiet on the way out. Some venues have even experimented with handing out lollipops at closing time!

·         Think about the small things, too. Ask local taxi firms not to toot the horn when picking up customers. And don’t carry out noisy tasks – like tipping bottles into the recycling – late at night.

·         This means you need to be prepared on another front. Try to build up some positive PR that you can draw on in the event of problems.

·         If your building is physically attached to another, go and have a chat with your neighbour. Building a relationship makes it more likely that they’ll come to you with any complaints, rather than going straight to the local authority.

·         Then think about how loyal customers can help. With a little effort, you can turn their enthusiasm to your advantage.

·         “In the UK, we’re terrible at praising,” explains Mark. “We don’t say enough about how much we love having a library, an arts centre, or a music venue. Venues need to take the initiative in showing how much value they give the local community.”


·  Try to mobilise your regular customers. For instance, Mark co-owns the Tunbridge Wells Forum. By asking social media followers to post reviews on TripAdvisor, he was able to get the venue listed as the town’s top attraction.

·         He says it’s about playing the long game: “It may seem irrelevant right now. But if we ever have a noise complaint, the council’s attitude will be influenced by the fact that we’re rated as the number one thing to do in Tunbridge Wells.”

·         There’s strength in numbers, too — because when it comes to nuisance noise, a single complaint can shut down a venue. “You’d be amazed at how often a perceived noise problem relates to one angry, vocal person in the community,” says Mark.

The Government has brought in plans to combat the issue. It seems the problem regarding noise is being taken seriously:

On 18th January 2018, the Government announced plans to adopt 'Agent of Change' into The National Planning Policy Framework.

The principle of ‘agent of change’ protects clubs and music venues by transferring responsibility to “identify and solve any sound problems” at new properties back to developers, rather than the owners of nearby music venues.

What effect will the changes have?

Essentially, it means that a developer of flats next to a live music venue would need to make provision for ensuring the residents were not affected by noise from music, via proper design and soundproofing…


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Likewise, an operator of a new live music venue in a residential area would need to ensure that they installed adequate soundproofing to prevent noise adversely affecting residents already living nearby.

Currently the law, in particular in licensing terms, favours developers of residential homes and their buyers. Under the Licensing Act, they can review a premises licence at no cost to themselves and force the venue to change its practices for the benefit of the residents, even if it has been hosting music events for decades.

Who do the changes apply to?

Introduction of the principle into general law would give added protection to premises to fight against such outcomes. The Planning Policy would not change the ability of people moving into existing residential properties to complain about noise coming from a venue, but it allows for a more balanced approach to the problem.

Richard Arnot, a Partner in Ward Hadaway’s Licensing team, said: “The increase in demand for housing in built-up areas means some residents are coming into conflict with existing live music venues.

“There needs to be consideration between the parties as someone shouldn’t be able to move next door to a music venue and decide afterwards that music is a nuisance. In the same way that it wouldn’t be right for a live music venue to install a sound system without consideration for nearby residents…


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What effect will the changes have?

Richard added: “This proposal means that developers will be responsible for identifying and solving any sound problems if they are granted permission to build.

“It strikes a balance between the obligations of developers and protects music venues from running into expensive issues as a result of complaints from new neighbours”.

Although these measures have already been implanted and there is on-going contingency; it seems a lot of venues are suffering because they are older and have not been fitted with insulation or been considered under these new guidelines. It is clear cooperation and better communication between venues and residents needs to happen. I can empathise and feel needless noise and volume can put them off; it makes their lives worse and can actually affect property prices. Rather than them going straight to ‘teacher’ and lodging their grievances; I wonder whether they should actually go direct too the venue; not with anger and threats but suggestions and ways in which everyone can benefit. How many times has this potential truce occurred when venues are being forced shut?! I can appreciate how people moving into an area want as little noise as possible but music venues, unless you in big cities, are not all over the place and it is easy to live away from the worse of the noise.


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If you happen to be in the noise ‘radiation zone’ and near the epicentre of the issue; one would image you’d take all that into consideration and discuss your concerns with the venues. As we heard earlier; new musicians rely on these venues, large and small, in order to cut their teeth and hone their skills. If it is not for these venues, it means artists have fewer chances to improve and that can impede their career development. Not only that but local residents who do not have that many venues near them and being denied and it makes an area poorer. Music brings sociability and togetherness; it can put a town/city on the map and bring revenue to that venue and other local businesses. I realise most venues in the country are not responsible for putting out too much noise and receiving complaints. There are other reasons why venues are closing but, as this article highlights; musicians are feeling the pinch and it is having a knock-on effect:

The UK’s first live music census has found that a third of Britain’s small venues outside of London are fighting to survive in the face of high business rates and noise restrictions.

Some 29% of small venues, and 27% of all venues, reported experiencing problems with property development around their premises, which can provoke complaints from nearby residents. In response, the researchers recommended that the government continue to develop at a national level a legally binding “agent of change” principle, which would put the onus on developers to soundproof new-build properties, rather than placing restrictions on existing venues. Last month, ministers including housing secretary Sajid Javid committed to strengthening planning rules to protect grassroots venues


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Beverley Whitrick, strategic director of the Music Venue Trust, welcomed the news. “For us, the UK live music census is an entirely positive story because it’s taking a lot of the things that we have been saying about the needs of the grassroots music sector and reinforcing it with evidence. MVT has operated as a small organisation on anecdotal evidence for the last few years and we have gone as far as we can with that. And what we needed was evidence to show why help is needed. The census is a huge step forward in providing that help.”

The report also highlighted the difficulty of making a living as a musician in Britain: 68% said stagnating pay made it difficult to earn a viable income, with the figure rising to 80% for those identifying as professional musicians; 66% reported working unpaid for “exposure” that they believe had no positive effect on their career.

Further recommendations resulting from the census included continuing to investigate secondary ticketing via the Competition and Markets Authority, encouraging more extensive funding for emerging artists, venue infrastructure, tour support and rehearsal spaces, and promoting music education in schools and encouraging live music attendance inside and outside the curriculum”.

We all, as music fans, want to reduce the number of closures and stem the issues that are clear and growing. Even though the Government are assisting when it comes to noise; you wonder how much of a long-term impact this will make: in the short-term, we are still seeing beloved music venues close and, with that, musicians and locals who rely on that lifeblood are being hit hard.


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I feel noise complaints will continue to threaten venues for years and it is so easy to avoid. If a local resident does not want ANY noise and wants to live like monks observing a vow of silence then good for them. If venues are tossing out nuclear noise then I can see where they are coming from. Venues do not want to close and stop putting on live music and are willing to make arrangements with taxi companies and locals to ensure as little noise as possible is projected. So many of the venues who are being scrutinised are old and have been there before new-build apartments. Even if buildings have been around longer than local venues; you feel a civil compromise and conversation could happen. I cannot stress how important these spaces are for musicians and locals. Bands and artists depend on them for revenue, experience and new fans; locals have that social aspect and can discover new local artists/those travelling to their area. You are not only impacting the local area by shutting down venues but those wider afield. Many people travel from further afield to go to these venues and, when the spaces are closed, where do they go?! I feel more needs to be done, especially by residents, to understand the importance of small venues and avoid such needless loss. If we can do this then that will mean the world to musicians and residents and make that local area…


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A more peaceful and culturally-rich place.