It was interesting to read the Sound Diplomacy recommendations into the ways in which Cardiff can become the UKs first music city. Firstly, I have to say, that if these recommendations are taken forward, there is no question they will have an important contribution to the musical life of the city. The report contains some fascinating information, including statistics of the impact of tourism, numbers of full and part time music jobs, and average earnings of the creative and support sectors. There are also some very sound strategic advice regarding factors such as the establishment of busking and loading zones, not to mention countless examples of good practice from around the globe.
As this is just a very brief initial response, there is no room to go into detail here. However, just a few standout highlights. I found it fascinating that although there are more recording studios and a similar number of live venues in Cardiff when compared to Bristol, there are significantly less gigs taking place. Why is this (I think the report could have investigated this more)?
I also found it interesting that Cardiff has a similar number of people working in the music industry as Liverpool and Bristol, despite having a lower population. However, many of these workers are part time. Does this mean that it is more difficult to make a living as a full time musician in Cardiff than in these two cities? If so why?
Finally, although this has a personal perspective, I could not help but notice that in my opinion, the report needed to acknowledge the long ‘backstory’ of the research that has already taken place into the Welsh Music Scene. Alongside colleagues such as Sarah Hill, Pwyll ap Sion and a few others, I have documented a number of reports into the relationships of live music and higher education, not to mention a report into live music in Wales for the Welsh Music Foundation several years ago. Many of the recommendations included in the Sound Diplomacy report were also documented in this 2011 report. These included
- That Cardiff council has a dedicated music representative to action the recommendations in the report
- The challenge of Bristol
- Issues associated with the ‘classical’ music sector obtaining more funding
- The lack of music industry awareness into funding that is available
- The need for more rehearsal studios
- The need for a mid size 2000 capacity venue
- Consideration of why many artists still decide to bypass Wales when touring
- Consideration of transport issues that prevent people from attending concerts
- Issues around developing relevant training
- The development of under age audiences
I was very surprised not to see my 2011 report referenced, considering the similarity of findings, as it would have highlighted the fact that the Sound Diplomacy concerns are not new. Indeed, many of these concerns were in place long before I moved to Wales in 2003. However, if the Sound Diplomacy report ensures these recommendations happen – it is great news! It is a good report and I can see a lot of work has gone into it. With my education hat on, I think the idea of setting up an education board that looks at the challenges throughout the city is an excellent one. This would enable stakeholders from all levels to speak to each other, ensuring there is no overlap and most importantly, we can investigate the most appropriate ways to develop and assess both our young people and older music industry employees/employers.
Here is a talk I done in 2012 on the relationships between higher education and the live music industry in Wales. The research was completed for the Higher Education Academy and was presented as part of the excellent Live Music Exchange network headed up by Martin Cloonan and Simon Frith.
In closing, aside from the importance of ensuring that Wales keeps its income from live music, probably the biggest outstanding issue issue for me for the Cardiff Music Scene is the importance of ensuring grassroots musicians are paid for their work. Although I have not conducted any official research into this, I can say firsthand that many young musicians performing in Cardiff’s grassroots venues are not remunerated in the ways they need to be. I know my son’s band, who have performed in many Cardiff venues, rarely get paid for the hours of rehearsal and dedication they put into their music. His particular band have just finished university, so it is hard to understand how bar staff and cleaners are paid far more that them in the grassroots live music events they partake in. They have found however, that when they play in Bristol, they do usually get paid, so I think this is a factor that requires more research and action: What can we learn? Young bands simply wont hang around the city if they are not getting paid at least a minimum wage for their creative efforts. An important ‘fair play’ initiative is included from page 70 in the Sound Diplomacy report, but I would personally have liked to have seen the plight of many aspiring young musicians in the city highlighted more.
Considering all of this, the report is still an excellent start, so lets hope it has a big impact over the next several years, so we can ensure creative musicians can continue to live and work in the city.