The business model of music venues is a tough one. However, it’s worth supporting the people who do choose to enter the fray because music venues have an outsize impact on the life and culture of a city.
The unfortunate part of the business of music venues though is we get attached to places and it makes the news of venue closures that much more devastating. Independently owned venues are particularly prone to this, and the reasons can often be attributed to the ever-shifting playing field of the many factors that go into successfully operating a music venue.
In London, one of those factors is about to change. The city has scheduled a rate revaluation for 2017. Let’s take a quick aside for our American readers here and translate that. Rates are local property taxes. Got it? Good, we can keep going.
This past month, the revaluation has been going into effect and many venues are now grappling with the new financial realities. While there have been no significant closings announced yet, many music venues are seeing their rates increase by 45% or more. For a venue already working with razor thin margins, that’s almost certainly too much. It’s likely that several venues will not be able to fit that increased cost under their revenue margin.
One of the venues that is facing a rate hike is Fabric, which recently went though a scare that inspired a hashtag, #SaveFabric, which went viral and brought relief to the club. Turns out that celebration might have been premature as the venue is looking at a massive rate hike now.
The last time London revalued their rates was in 2010, and several venues either felt the pinch or closed. Many of the survivors, including the 100 Club, only barely stayed open that time and still haven’t fully recovered, and yet are facing a rate revaluation once again (for the 100 Club, a 50% increase).
When venues do manage to survive these kinds of rate revaluations, it’s typically by making radical changes that may not necessarily be healthy for the overall culture of the music scene. For example, one tactic is to give fewer nights to smaller local artists, which means fewer opportunities to get on stage and more competition for emerging acts. The fact is, these kinds of acts simply don’t bring in the crowds like larger acts or cover bands do, which makes them less viable to venues in stark economic terms.
There may be a lifeline coming though. The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has come up with a “Rescue Plan for London’s Grassroots Music Venues” and his office is actively lobbying the government to adopt this exemption for rate rises for music venues because of their special place in the fabric of London culture and the precarious nature of their business model.
There are also several grassroots petitions going around to encourage government intervention. They point out that the government gives economic accommodations to cultural institutions like museums and theaters but not live music venues. Sure, communities are less amenable towards live music venues, especially the noise, but local councils are stepping up and trying to adapt venues to residential areas, particularly ones that are seeing property values rising. Wandsworth Council for example, which has a history of being accommodating to live music, has supported the soundproofing of several of its pubs and venues to prevent them from being converted to residential buildings.
The editorial unit of The Upcoming summed up the reason why music venues need to be saved from being pushed out by this rate hike:
“The British live music economy is worth around £3.5 billion. The vast majority, of course, does not come from grassroots venues, but from sell-out stadium tours by the likes of Adele and Ed Sheeran. But it’s nigh on impossible for an act to reach such heights without the vital stepping stone of smaller venues taken out of the live music model. Here’s hoping these efforts will strike the right note and keep the music playing for a little while yet.”
London is one of the world’s most vibrant, culturally rich cities. This rate revaluation has the potential to put a significant negative dent in that reputation. Music venues are institutions worth supporting and preserving, and I hope the UK government does the right thing.
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