The figures published today (31 January) show that the number of gigs at UK grassroots music venues was, on average, 16.7% lower last year compared to 2019. Of course, coronavirus restrictions still hampered the start of last year for gigs in the country, but by 24 February the rules were all but gone.
Audience numbers were down last year compared to 2019, too, by around 11%. This might seem like a big deal – after all, you can’t force someone to go to gigs – but it spells a worrying trend for grassroots venues.
Overall, the sector’s value to the UK economy is around £500 million, but with a mere 0.2% profit margin it’s running on a knife edge – a fact organisers of this week’s Independent Venue Week are under no illusion of.
As MVT’s CEO Mark Davyd is reported to have told people at the launch of the report, held yesterday at Parliament, “This sector is really seriously in trouble. With £500million of turnover, that’s £499million in costs and a 0.2 per cent profit margin. It’s not sustainable.
“Every single one of those venues that isn’t doing one of those shows means a musician who isn’t getting their first chance, it’s someone who might never step foot on a stage, it’s a lost career for that individual and to the British music industry, it’s a loss to that community, and it cannot go on. It has got to stop.”
Davyd also called on the government to readdress the Energy Bill Relief Scheme, first announced last September, which could see some venue’s energy costs rise by around 7% from 1 April – a figure which could put many more grassroots venues out of business.
Last year, MVT launched its ‘Own Our Venues’ campaign, which aims to bring the freehold of grassroots music venues into a state of benevolent ownership through a Community Share model. The new report says MVT have so far raised £1 million, of their £3.5 million aim, to help go towards initially buying nine grassroots venues in the UK to test the scheme.
Last September, Ed Sheeran came out in support of the initiative, saying it was something he was “really passionate about getting behind.”
“Small, independent venues are so, so important to the music community, and I’ve played some of my favourite gigs of my career in these rooms. We’ve got to do all we can to protect these beautiful venues that we’ve all come to love for years to come.”