UK Venues Day 2017: Five Takeaways

The fourth edition of Venues Day took place Oct. 17 in London. Some 600 delegates representing more than 200 UK venues gathered at the iconic

Venues Day
– Venues Day

#1 Grassroots Music Venues Are Live Music’s R&D Department

The music industry is the only industry that does not finance its own research and development department, said Mark Davyd, CEO of the Music Venue Trust, host of Venues Day.

New bands form, practice and perfect their craft in grassroots music venues – the business incubators of live music. Yet, once a band reaches a certain capacity, it is plucked like a ripe cherry while the branch that grew it is left to wither. While Davyd did not use those exact words, his gestures implied so. He was, of course, referring to the major companies’ practice of removing successful acts from the independent touring circuit by offering them global and unrivaled deals, without compensating the talent incubators for their R&D.

#2 Live Music Venues Cannot Rely On Live Music

Remarkably, most live music venues cannot survive on live music income. Without a bar, they couldn’t pay the bands. “The 2i’s Club that launched British rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950s was a Coffee House, it didn’t sell drink.

Cavern Club in Liverpool didn’t sell drink. The Beatles didn’t build their career by selling alcohol to people in order for the band to be able to play. Tickets were sold to see the band,” Davyd explained in a previous Pollstar interview.

At Venues Day, Davyd reiterated his stance: “We’ve built a model of work in this sector that doesn’t reward the thing we do.”

In light of not being able to stage concerts on ticket money alone, operators of grassroots venues have to be creative. Solutions usually involve opening the venue, bar and surrounding rooms for day-time program (a “toddlers’ rave” was mentioned), or convincing the local council of adjusting a venue’s licenses, allowing it to host under-18 gigs and still opening the bar – something that is largely unheard of in the UK.

#3: Venues Need To Become Brands

Getting creative with the programming can also help establish the venue as a brand. The most successful festivals sell out way before the first act is even announced, people come for the sake of the event, irrespective of its lineup. The same holds true for great venues, where people come to experience the place itself.

Today’s young audience, generally speaking, has different expectations when going on a night out. A concert needs to involve high quality production or at least take place in a cool venue to make for a decent Instagram shot. In light of that, venues need to be asking themselves whether they’re putting up a competing offer. A Snapchat-worthy venue could entice people to go to gigs more often. It may even allow its operators to raise ticket prices. What is more, artists tend to agree to play for less in high-profile places.

#4: Data Matters

Data matters for various reasons: when convincing policy makers of the importance of grassroots music venues, it helps to verify their cultural and economical impact by numbers. UK Music’s most recent Measuring Music report states that revenue generated by the UK’s live music industry, from large-scale festivals to stadium shows to concerts in grassroots venues, was £1bn in 2016, a year-on-year increase of 14 per cent.

Data also shows that young people drink less than the older generations. Eventbrite conducted a survey of 1,023 millennials, and found that they mostly consider drinking uncool. The company also claims to have found that the same group of people values experiences over material things, suggesting that there is potential for anyone offering experiences, as long as those experiences don’t revolve around getting drunk.

#5: PROs Need To Step Up Their Game

Performing rights organizations that collect royalties on behalf of songwriters need to offer digital solutions that a) allow venue operators to quickly determine whether music played on any given night requires them to pay a license fee to the PRO, b) enable the correct and timely reporting of songs played and c) enable the correct and timely distribution of royalties to all songwriters involved.

Nathan Clark of the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds made the case that it shouldn’t even be the venue’s responsibility to make sure music play lists were submitted to the PRO, as the venue didn’t touch the royalty money. He also heavily criticized the British PRS for its intransparency and inefficiency when it came to distributing the money.”Not a single venue, promoter in the UK can get a full list of registered artists [to PRS] to compare what we should be paying. To me, that is an outdated, fraudulent system that is simply wrong,” Clark said.