Scotland To Get Agent Of Change In Wake Of UK Music Census

Last year, some 200 volunteers in Glasgow, Newcastle, Oxford, Leeds, Southampton, Liverpool and Brighton tracked live music performances over a period of 24 hours, and the findings highlighted the need for Agent Of Change policy, which is reportedly being adopted by Scotland.

– Geoff Ellis
Geoff Ellis, Chief Executive of DF Concerts & Events

The research group, a collaboration across the universities of Edinburgh, Newcastle and the University of Turku organized the census, which, besides the 24-hour tracking session, included a survey tailored to musicians, venues, promoters and audiences, respectively.

The results demonstrate the importance of live music to artists, fans and the economy, and make a case for small live music spaces where tomorrow’s talent is being developed. 78 percent of respondents to the online audience survey said they had visited a below 350-capacity venue in the past 12 months. 67 percent of the respondents to the musician survey said they had performed in a small venue in the past 12 months. The percentage was higher (78 percent), when only taking into account those musicians who also said they were in their formative years.

33 percent of respondents to the venue survey identified as small venues. 22 percent of all respondents, not just small venues, said they had been negatively impacted by planning and property development in the past 12 months. 27 percent said that noise-related complaints had a negative impact in the last 12 months and 22 percent of musician respondents had gigs which were negatively affected by noise-related complaints in the last 12 months.

There’s a solution to this problem, called the Agent of Change principle. It puts the burden of soundproofing venues on the developer that moves into an area with live music spaces. In January, the UK industry rejoiced, because the planning bill making the case for Agent of Change was read out in the UK parliament.

The second reading, which is just the second step in a long process before a bill can receive the Queen’s approval (Royal Assent), had been scheduled for Jan. 10. However, the second reading hasn’t taken place so far. It is currently scheduled for March 16. Pollstar has reached out to John Spellar, the MP who read out the bill for the first time, for clarification.

Meanwhile, the Scottish government has reportedly issued guidance to local authorities to implement Agent of Change as well, after being pressured by a campaign spearheaded by Glasgow venues SWG3 and Sub Club. Geoff Ellis, CEO of DF Concerts & Events, collaborated closely with both clubs during the campaign. As operator of the iconic King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut in Glasgow, he knows the threat posed by new developments all too well.

“Today’s news that the Agent of Change principle will be adopted into Scottish Planning policy is a huge step in protecting Scotland’s live music scene.  It removes a crippling threat that loomed over our music venues for too long,” said Ellis. “We want to thank Kevin Stewart MSP for championing Agent of Change and striving for it to be implemented immediately.  We also want to give special thanks to Scottish music fans for their support in lobbying MSPs to push for this change. They’ve proved, once again, why they’re the best fans in the world.”

Other venue-related issues include the increasingly competitive environment between venues and promoters, which 39 percent of respondents said was a problem. To highlight this issue, one of the report’s researchers, Dr. Emma Webster, interviewed Chris Cusack, Events/Venue Manager of BLOC+ in Glasgow.

The working group also surveyed promoters, and 29 percent of respondents said that venue closures had negatively impacted their events in the past 12 months.

Playing and touring live are the main form of income for a professional performing artist today. 

“On average, nearly half (49 percent) of the annual income of those respondents to the musician survey who identify as professional musicians comes from performing live compared to only 3 percent from recording,” the report’s executive summary states.

Fans spend more on live music than they do on recorded music. Nearly half of respondents to the survey (47 percent) spend more than £20 ($28) on tickets each month vs. 25 percent, who spend the same amount on recorded music.

80 percent of professional musicians said stagnating pay made it difficult to make a viable income, over half of them (54 percent) said they have worked unpaid in the past 12 months.

And that’s not even going into the social and cultural values of live music, which “enhances social bonding, is mood enhancing, provides health and well-being benefits, is inspiring, and forms part of people’s identity,” according to the summary. 

The data to bolster this claim can be viewed in the full report, which can be downloaded on It also lists the methodology used to gather the data.