By Bally Studios
On the BBC newson the 28th March, there was feature bit about music venues closing in London, and how the Mayor appointed Night Czar isn’t helping much. We predicted this exact thing back in November 2015 (link to that article below,) for the exact same reason that it’s happened.
The segment was about the future of venue ‘The Social,’ in central London, being threatened. In the interview, the Night Czar says “some things are just out of our control, like rents”, and the fact that someone else wants to pay more for the rent is the reason given as to why the future of the venue was at stake. A point being missed is that there’s a huge difference between how much profit something can generate at the point of sale, and the actual value of something.
For example, Nelson’s Column doesn’t actually bring in any money in itself. If it was taken down, we wouldn’t get tourists saying, “Now that Nelson’s Column isn’t there, I’m cancelling my trip to London…..” People don’t have to pay £10 to look at it, it’s free, so it doesn’t directly bring in revenue. Instead it sets a tone for the city in that it shows tourists what the city was built on, which is the power that the UK had in the past. That history has a value, and the statue is a symbol for that, and the fact that it is one of the most central parts of London shows the value of that history. In turn, that history brings in the profits in tourism revenue.
Likewise, imagine if Manchester United said, “there’s not many people coming to our Under 18 matches, so we may as well close down the Academy and Youth teams….” that wouldn’t make sense either. The point of the academy is not to generate profits at the point of sale. Instead it acts as a development tool where the profits are earned many years down the line. It means they can sell players for £50m+, or not have to buy players for £50m+.
The same applies in the music industry. It has just been announced that there will be a new 21,500 capacity venue being built in East London by the people behind Madison Square Garden, which will be the biggest in the UK. (https://www.theguardian.com/…/proposed-designs-revealed-for…) Hence, there is clearly a demand for live music in London and this relies on new acts coming through, but for this to continue happening we need the smaller independent music venues, and we also need a culture of music in the capital, which is what is at threat here.
The new venue also needs a market of people who consume that music, which requires a vibrant music scene, which is built upon the independent music venues. The more these venues close down, the more we drive those people away to other cities. These venues act like Nelson’s Column – they may not bring in the profits themselves, but they set the tone of the city. They help to ferment the culture within the city that these large new music venues can then profit from. It’s an obvious point, but it is being missed by the UK government.
It also said in the report that the music venue The Social had been threatened as “the leaseholder had been made a generous offer by a chain to take over the venue, and to turn it into a cocktail bar. To counter it, The Social raised £95,000 by crowdfunding.” The Social is a very popular venue, so it was most likely making a profit beforehand, but as someone else could make the leaseholder more money, it was under threat.
But would that work elsewhere? If the National Gallery closed down they could build an amazing hotel there and charge £200 a night per room, all year round. It could certainly make more profits than the National Gallery does, yet that doesn’t happen, because to do so would damage London’s reputation, and put off tourists from coming. So why doesn’t the same apply in this case? As it says in the article above about the opening of the new music venue, “Jayne McGivern, MSG’s executive vice-president of development and construction, said: “This is an opportunity to take an inaccessible coach park and use it to support thousands of jobs, and billions of pounds of economic benefit.” Analysis conducted by EY on behalf of MSG suggests the project will create 4,300 jobs across the three-year construction phase, and then generate £2.7bn of revenue over 20 years, supporting 3,200 jobs annually.” Are the UK government really going to risk eroding the music culture of London, when individual projects that are based around that music culture can bring in this kind of money into the capital? This is just one project, and it’s £2.7 billion of revenue. Why would the London Council risk that for £95,000, or 0.0035% of the amount?
This isn’t a matter of prioritising art over profits, it’s a matter of prioritising greater long term profits over lesser short term profits, and central to that is making sure that the music industry, and the culture of live music in London is kept strong. If ever there was a case of short sighted economics, this is it.