The Price of Passion: An Industry in Battle

Last month it was Independent Venue Week, a ‘7 day celebration of small music venues around the UK and a nod to the people that own, run and work in them, week in, week out.’ A celebration of something quintessential to the music industry which seems to have been marginally ignored. 

  • Why is it that we’re in dismissal to independent venues?
  • Why is it that we live in a world of idolisation, where the majority only go and see the big cats?
  • Why do people state they are ‘passionate’ about music yet not experience it live?

Having worked in the industry, in a venue, as a promoter, booker and manager I have been exposed to the reality of the business, there’s a massively rewarding side to it, but there’s also a dark side that most people ‘outside’ choose to ignore. It is a hierarchical industry, with those at the top raking in more dollar. At the bottom end of it all is the financially frail ‘independent’ sector driven by strong and passionate individuals (doing similar jobs to those at the top for a pittance), it is undoubtedly heartbreaking.

Why?

Since the early 2000s, illegal downloads and then the rise of streaming has diverted money away from record sales leading the industry to be in a steady decline and the situation is not getting any better. Global revenue for music currently dips below $14bn, it was $40bn in 1998.

The majority of us do not attend local music events or are even aware of local talents, we are suffocated by popular culture and idolisation. People believe what they are told, advertising and marketing is at its pinnacle, people cling on to artists that ironically seem to come up in their everyday activities. People lead busy lives and unless you’re working within music or are militantly aware, you won’t have the headspace to go out and engage with your local area or the independent music sector as whole. Because of this people invest their money into those at the top of the industry, that money does not trickle down.

Being a promoter, I’ve questioned young people attending my shows, often it’s their first ‘gig’. The answers I get, I’m sure are the same for many adults. There is an anxiety around independent venues. People are get anxious about things they don’t know about. But also, people do not like to go on their own to shows.

Outcomes

Musicians are not making money , many are in part time jobs, some even homeless. It’s a hard long journey to reach success and many don’t make it. Essentially the only way to  make money anymore is through touring and merchandising. Touring – you only really make money if you’ve got a following or are touring with a bigger headliner. Merchandising – you only really make money if you’ve got a following.

And of course Independent venues up and down the country seem to be closing fortnightly, this is no longer surprising but it is a hideous fact; of the 430 music venues that traded in London between 2007 and 2016, only around 245 are still open. Independent venues are a backbone to the industry, musicians need them to flourish, the industry needs them to continue.

The Future

In recent years we’ve seen a boom in DIY culture, it is thriving, this is a movement of passionate people breaking through the industry to make a stand for change. It’s people working within this ethic who are holding up the industry at this crucial time. Independent labels, promoters, bloggers, volunteers, committed supporters. Sadly these people make up a small proportion of our population but as a whole it is growing. Whether this will eventually draw more people into the industry or not, it is unknown, but I for one have faith.

Below I’ve collated some info on entities working within Independent music. If you’re maybe feeling a little new to it all, give these a little google search –

DIY Space for London is a new East London venue which opened in September. It’s a collective not-for-profit venue with a strong sense of community. The venue ‘works to promote the ideas of mutual aid (helping each other) and cooperation (working together.)’. It works sustainably and as well as supporting music it also provides a space for people to exercise their activisms and have a voice. The venue empower people to get involved and learn, breaking down perceptions of who does what kind of work.

Buzz label, Beech Coma, have caught a lot of people’s attention in the last year and have crafted a strong community of admirers. Arguably becoming the next best indie label, Ba(e)inbridge is sure finding some gems. As well as releasing independent music, the label also contribute putting on dreamy shows. Beech Coma are doing everything right.

There’s so many promoters emerging at the minute, some diy, some with very polished branding, some focusing on the real fresh music, others booking artists on the rise. For me, collective, Teen Creeps are really sticking out at the min, ticking all boxes, sticking with the diy ethic, fully supportive of new music and upcoming bands. Very exciting promoters indeed.

How you can contribute now

  • Make yourself aware 
  • Actively support music – buy physical releases and go to gigs
  • Make others aware 

An argument for another time…

An anxiety in itself: Are the amount of tasteless promoters putting people off live music and their local scene?

Charlotte Mandell

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