The Save London Music Campaign is delighted to have been informed that our submission has been accepted by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport as part of their inquiry into Live Music. Submissions have also been accepted by several other campaigns we have links with (Click here for the full list). We are pleased to see that the Live Music Forum, Association of Independent Festivals and Music Venues Trust have also seen their submissions accepted. It is interesting to see that much of what these three submissions say is the same, if phrased in a different manner, although the Association of Independent Festivals submission has a slightly different tack, as the issue of ticket abuse is tackled.
The preparation of our submission was a lengthy and time consuming task. We were keen to ensure that we covered all of the issues we were aware of. There was also a requirement to provide sources for information and references. I would recommend that anyone involved with venues and live music provision make sure that they follow what is happening with this inquiry and reads the above mentioned submissions.
The Save London Music Campaign is disappointed to see that the main thrust of inputs from private individuals was in relation to ticketing abuse by third party selling agencies. Whilst this is clearly an issue, it is not an issue that solely affects live music, with sporting events, theatres and other major shows having exactly the same problems.
The Inquiry is an opportunity to help achieve the objectives of our campaign. Please contact your local MP and ask them to support the recommendations of the Save London Music Campaign and our sister campaigns, working to keep music live in London and the rest of the UK
Here is the full text of our submission.
Written evidence submitted by Roger Tichborne on behalf of the Save London Music Campaign
- Who I am.
My Name is Roger Tichborne. I run Mill Hill Music Complex, which is North West London’s leading independent rehearsal and recording studio, which sees over 1,000 musicians and artists a week pass through our doors. I am also a member of the organising committee for the Bi-Annual Mill Hill Music Festival, which has been running for the last 22 years and The North Finchley Music Festival. I regularly promote live music in North West London and have played guitar in a rock band called “The False Dots” since 1979. I founded the Save London Music Campaign in 2016, and it is in this role that I am addressing my comments to the committee.
- About The Save London Music Campaign
The campaign was launched in 2016 on the Robert Elms Show on BBC Radio London, to act as a focal point for the protection and promotion of grassroots live music venues in London, in response to the rapid decline in the number of such venues over the last 10-15 years.
The Aims of the Save London Music Campaign
The campaign is working to make the case to protect London music venues and studios Specifically we want to see the following:
1. Special protection for important London music venues from redevelopment. This should take two forms. The first should grant important venues the same protection as listed buildings. The second is that where large infrastructure projects destroy venues (such as the Astoria), the venue should be re-sited elsewhere in equivalent or better premises at zero cost to the operator.
2. Established venues should be protected from noise and disruption complaints from neighbours. Soundproofing etc should not be the responsibility of the venue, where the venue is an established music site.
3. As creative industries are a key component in the UK economy, tax breaks, planning assistance and grants should be made available to any company or individual investing in infrastructure to support creative industries. This should be done with a view to ensuring the UK maintains its leading position as the centre of world music.
From a music perspective the following should be available.
* Generous Capital Tax allowances for investment in venues and studios, in recognition of their benefit to the economy
* Free or discounted planning costs for studios, music venues and other music related companies (such as instrument manufacturers etc).
* Rates holidays for start up businesses involved in the music and creative sector. A six month period of zero rates and a six month period of 50% rates would give businesses a great
opportunity to get off the ground and generate employment
* Offer grants to creative industries to assist with the costs etc of starting a creative business, specifically for assistance with the cost of consultants for noise control and other issues which are specific to the music industry.
* Grants and easy terms loans for music venues when legislative changes result in capital costs for safety and access works
* Enact legislation to ensure that major new developments include an element of light industrial space suitable for venues, creative industries and studio space at low rent.
* Offer mentoring and assistance to young people wishing to set up SMEs focusing on the creative sector.
We are also working to actively set up new grassroots music venues across London and support other individuals and organisations with the same aim
- Why is this initiative needed?
Here are a few reasons
- FACT: One quarter of all London Music Venues have shut in eight years.
- FACT: UK music industry contributed £4.1bn to national economy in 2014.
- FACT: In Mill Hill, NW7, one small district of London, 6 music venues have closed in 9 years.
- FACT: Half of all commercial recording studios in London have closed since 2000.
London is recognised as the worlds leading city for Culture, Media and Music. The financial contribution this generates for the UK economy is huge. The closure of grassroots venues threatens this position. These venues provide the apprenticeships and training for the next generations of artists, technicians, managers, promoters and road crew. London’s premier, world beating venues such as The O2 arena, Wembley Stadium etc cannot thrive in a vacuum. Artists need to learn to walk before they run. Vital small venues which have been lost such as the 12 Bar, The Forge and The Purple Turtle are the breeding ground for talent.
Another aspect that must be reviewed, which is directly relevant to this issue is rehearsal and recording spaces. Whilst the public recognise key live venues and will campaign when they shut down, without good provision of recording and rehearsal spaces, performing becomes impossible.
As a studio owner, I see many international bands who will arrange a trip to London to play gigs and coincide this with a trip to our studio to rehearse and record music. This makes London an attractive destination for international artists. It is vital that the committee recognises the holistic nature of the music industry in the UK. We keep our competitive edge because musicians have the opportunity to mix across cultural and ethnic lines and are exposed to a huge number of creative influences that result in the most exciting music scene anywhere on the planet. We need to protect all aspects of our unique scene.
- Is Live Music still a viable proposition?
There is much evidence that Live Music is having a renaissance in London. I have seen three excellent examples in my area recently.
Last year, Barnet Council and local traders organised the North Finchley Music Festival to promote the local High Street. I was responsible for finding the artists and logistics. Over two days, we staged over 50 acts at six different venues. This encompassed choirs, Trad and modern Jazz, Ska, Punk, Soul and Hip hop music. Over 1,500 people attended in total, giving the High Street a massive boost. The Mill Hill Music Festival was also held. We had live Opera, The BBC Elstree Concert Band, Jazz, Classical music and pop. The festival made a profit, venues were all busy and over 1,500 people attended events over nine days. The festival gave the whole area a lift.
I have also been involved with The Chandos Arms in Colindale. This was a run down failing pub three years ago. New managers took over, made live music a key part of the offering and have seen the business go from strength to strength. This year the pub won “Community Pub of The Year” at The British Pub awards.
Many promoters, bands and agents I know are reporting that after a tough few years, live music is very much on the front foot in London at the moment. Grassroots venues such as The Dublin Castle in Camden are packed week in week out. Musical tastes change from generation to generation and what worked 20 years ago doesn’t always work so well now. The venues and promoters that have adapted to the current trends are doing very well. Live music is very much a great proposition and it can kick start building a successful community. There are huge developments going on all over London and I believe there should be legislation to ensure that these huge new estates have access to safe, modern, well run music venues. This will help social cohesion
- The need for safe and well run venues
There has always been an ebb and flow of venues and music promoters. Some are good, some are bad. Some invest in the music and generally reap rewards, some simply milk the scene and generally fail. Some are naïve and try and run events without planning and financial control and fail. This is why the UK needs to train people in music management and event planning. A key element to consider is safety. It is totally unacceptable to run unsafe venues. All should have proper fire escapes, emergency lighting and where possible good access for disabled people. There are many venues where it is simply impossible to enjoy a concert in a wheelchair. Whilst I believe that it is absolutely vital to ensure all of these things happen, given the perilous state of the finances of many small grassroots venues, legislation for such necessary improvements can close the venue down. There is a clear case to recognise that grants and long term loans should be made available for venues where changes in the law threaten the financial health of a business.
- Finance for Music related business
Although it is probably well outside of the scope of the committees work, I am of the opinion that the UK Banking system needs a shake up, with specialist lenders being set up to service niche areas such as music. Unlike a company producing or selling tins of beans, music has a legacy. Many artists are earning more now from their music than they did when it was originally released, especially when tunes are used in movies etc. When we look at our top artists who generate millions for the UK PLC, we need to recognise that they would not have reached that pinnacle without putting their feet on the first rung of the ladder at grassroot venues. As a businessman who has run a studio for 39 years on a commercial basis, I am not suggesting that cash simply be given to anyone who wants to try to start a music related business. I am suggesting that where a sound business plan is presented, finance should be made available and if social good can be demonstrated, grants should be considered. This should especially be the case in areas with social problems.
I have experience of the issues borrowing money from banks for music related business. There is zero recognition in the financial services industry that music is a financially lucrative area when managed properly. When trying to obtain a £3,000 loan for a PA system for live music I was told that there was no business case. This was despite the fact that the I was buying the PA for a band that was playing 20 gigs a year, and paying £300 a time to hire a PA system. The business case was clear and the system had a decent resale value if the band were to dissolve. The bank simply refused to recognise that a band playing contemporary music could operate as a business. Our business case also mentioned that we would hire the system to other bands when we were not using it. They used the fact that we had “no experience of running a hire operation” as a reason to decline the loan. I eventually raised the funds via other means and still have the PA, which has paid for itself many times over.
What we really need to see is support for young artists and young promoters. This can only come through opportunities at Grassroots venues. There should be an easily accessible network of support and mentoring for young promoters looking to run nights at venues. I would suggest financial and logistical support, to underwrite artists fees and help promote and plan at venues on nights run by young promoters. My suggestion would be to hook up these budding entrepreneurs with students at local further education colleges and universities to help with website, logistics and management. It would be great to see Financial institutions also encouraged to help such individuals. In many cases the amounts of money required to get things off the ground are small and the experience gained is invaluable.
- What about the “problems associated with music venues”
Whenever I’ve discussed the issue of live music with politicians who are not particularly familiar with live music venues, the subject of the “Problems associated with Music Venues” are raised. These are typically perceived to be drugs, antisocial behaviour (especially at closing time), noise and transport issues. Any discussion must acknowledge these, I am of the opinion that a well managed venue should not have issues on a regular basis (and a venue should only be considered problematic if issues occur regularly and are directly related to the operation of the venue). I would contend that more antisocial behaviour is caused by street drinking of cheap products from off licenses than are ever caused by venues. Robust strategies for dealing with drug issues do work. It is no more realistic to expect venues to be able to stop everyone with drugs entering a venue than it is to stop them walking into Marks and Spencers, however schemes to identify and ban known dealers, refusal of entry to anyone who is suspected of being troublesome and good co-operation with the police work well. Design of toilets and CCTV cameras where appropriate are an excellent way to prevent dealers and casual users from indulging in drug taking. It is also important to train staff in such issues. Door staff and venue management should be required to have training for all venues where such issues are perceived to be a risk. I personally would like to see a more flexible licensing regime. The licensing regulation is more or less the same for a piano recital as it is for a full on hard rock or rave band.
- Why we need a more intelligent licensing regime
A useful change would be to see better education of those involved in licensing of venues. If you look at an example of a well run venue in London such as The Roundhouse, it is clear that every aspect of the venue is well thought out. The security is not obtrusive, but you feel safe. The bars are well run and the sound is generally good. The toilets are clean and the food in the restaurant is good. As a result, if people see that a band they like is on at The Roundhouse, it will be a compelling proposition. If you want a trouble free environment, it is a good model to use as a base.
There are other venues that are far less well run in London. In the London Borough of Barnet, a venue recently closed, following a whole spate of problems with licensing, the Police and local residents. The issue was not “live music”, it was bad management. A management team that doesn’t pay staff properly, allows customers to be short changed and treated with contempt is not going to succeed. Such a venue will always have problems because the staff are not given the direction to ensure that the establishment will function in a professional manner.
To summarise, live music is not the problem when a venue has issues. It is simply bad management. The tools available to the licensing committee for dealing with bad venues are rather limited. The four grounds for withdrawing a license are inflexible and do not reflect the need to for a licensing authority to be able to work with venue. In the case of good venues, the process and the costs are the same as licensing more problematic venues. I would make the case that license renewals should be automatic and cost free if a venue has operated without issue.
In my area, The London Borough of Barnet, the chair of the Licensing committee is an octogenarian, retired University professor. Whilst I would not question the fairness or honesty of such a chair, my view is that decisions about music licensing should be determined by people who are likely to use the venues and have relevant knowledge of the subject. A review of the members of the licensing committee in Barnet reveals a committee that is unlikely ever to choose to go to a venue playing modern music. I would prefer to see a more professional regime for licensing of music venues, with a wider remit, that can work in tandem with the police to ensure safe and well run venues.
My recommendation would be to adopt the Save London Music Campaign objectives described above. There should be greater awareness of the contribution both financial and cultural of the UK music industry. There should be recognition by police and licensing authorities that problem venues are the result of bad management. Strategies for dealing with such accordingly should be drawn up, with advice on best practice. The licensing regime needs to be updated and fit for purpose for the 21st century.
- Sources & background references
Details on contribution of UK Music industry to economy
Article detailing decline of UK Grassroots venue
Various news stories relating to UK Grassroots venues
Details of Barnet Council licensing committee