Live Music in Wales: A Report for the Culture Welsh Language and Communications Commitee

This last week has been a busy one for me, with my report on the impact of live music in Wales released, just a few days before I gave evidence to the Culture Welsh Language and Communications Commitee. In order to give readers an overview of the whole ‘post covid music industry in Wales project, what I have done here is upload a transcript of my 15 minute presentation to the committee, which can be downloaded below. A full copy of the 36000 word report can also be found here, with shorter executive summaries in English and Welsh also available for download below.

I have given evidence on live music to the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee a number of times, but this is the first time I have had an entire session dedicated to a report I have written. As always, the session was organised collegiately and professionally, with some excellent questions asked. You can see a recording of the whole 40 minute session below.

As always with evidence sessions like this, there were a number of things I wanted to say, that because of time restrictions, I just did not have the opportunity to address, so it is this that I would like to dedicate the rest of this blog post to.

Firstly, I wanted to highlight that it is NOT ALWAYS POSSIBLE TO COMPARE LIKE FOR LIKE, when considering covid related funds that have been allocated across Europe. For example, prior to the UK’s £1.5 bn Cultural Recovery Fund, the following funds had been allocated, none of which outline a specific music pot as far as I am aware.

Austria (EUR 2 billion for arts and culture) 

Poland (EUR 900 million for arts and culture) 

Netherlands (EUR 300 million for arts and culture) 

France (EUR 6.3 billion for small businesses more generally).

Germany allocated EUR 1 billion, via their ‘Neu Start’ for culture scheme, includes a 250 million euro allocation to ensure cultural institutions such as music venues are ‘fit for reopening’ 

In my talk to the committee, I discussed culture at home initiatives in Argentina, Belgium and Chile and music specific recovery funds in New Zealand and Australia. However, other interesting examples related to the facilitation and financing of digital content that I would like to have discussed include examples such as. 

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation announced their AUD $5 million (£2.7m) ‘Fresh Start Fund’, which includes the commissioning of new music and music scholarship schemes

Canada’s ‘Digital Strategy Fund, offers grants of up to £29k to implement digital solutions for long term strategies dealing with Covid-19.

Canada have also launched a ‘Digital Originals’ scheme, which offers artists micro innovation funds to position their work for online sharing.

Colombia have developed a national registry of artists and are sharing their creative culture as part of their digital strategy.

It’s also interesting to note how Cuba’s ‘Institute of Music’ has promoted online/virtual concerts (collaborating with the Ministry of Culture and the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television).

Also Malaysia’s ‘Music from Home’ initiative, has included a series of ‘virtual concerts’ which assisted home grown artists produce digital content to engage with audiences.

Finally, I also wanted to note French Government’s EUR 50 million allocation to its ‘National Music Centre’ to support the music industries. This is in addition to the money it already receives from Government. The centre has a remit to increase musical diversity and promote French music around the world – similar to what the Welsh Music Foundation used to do. 

In terms of speed of opening live music venues, I gave some examples in my talk of nations across Europe opening more rapidly than Wales. I have included a number of other random examples below, but is important to point out that many of these nations subsequently had to close due to the ‘2nd wave’ of the pandemic spreading across Europe.

FranceLive performance venues opened July 15th.
GermanyLive performance venues opened from August 31st, depending on the regions.
ItalyLive performance venues opened from June 15th with a maximum of 200 persons seated indoor and 1000 persons seated outdoor.
NetherlandsLive performance venues reopened from June 1st with a maximum of 30 people per hall. From July 1st, there was no maximum, as long as people maintained a 1.5 metre distance.
NorwayLive performance venues opened on May 7th for a maximum amount of 50 people. Up to 500 allowed from Sep 1st.

I also wanted to point out to the committee how some nations are attempting to compensate for the lack of income currently generated by live music. Although I realise broadcasting is not devolved in Wales, I wanted to highlight that many nations are playing or asking to have more national music played on radio.

In Denmark for example, it was announced in March that Danish National Radio were increasing their quota of local artists and copyright holders from 49% to 80% in order to support the local music scene – for a predetermined period. A number of commercial radio stations followed this example. This was achieved via strategic discussions between government and the radio industry.  

Also, Radio France announced on 15 April an initiative to support the French music scene by playing more French music, promoting ‘French only’ live music evenings and dedicating time to promoting news featuring French artists. 

Others examples of this can be seen in Norway, Portugal, Romania and Switzerland, with nations such as Bulgaria, Croatia and Netherlands all having had campaigns asking for more local music to be played on radio. Should we do something similar in Wales?

I also wanted to highlight some different traditions for supporting music pre-pandemic that Wales could learn from, with two main categories being important to me – ‘national music centres that promote a nations music and alternative ways of funding

Regarding music centres, I mentioned Cuba’s Institute of Music and the National Music Centre in France in my talk (see above). However, there is also an interesting example in Poland – The ‘Music Export Poland Foundation’, which aims to support the export potential of Poland’s music industries. In order to do this, it recognises the importance of research, features a database of the Polish music industries, and has readily available information about its music venues. It also features a regularly undated spotify playlist of artists – similar to Creative Wales.

A similar initiative is ‘Music Finland’, which supports live music, facilitates tours and showcases talent. Music Finland’s main aim is to assist artists who find it difficult ‘breaking even’ when touring, by paying for accommodation, travel, per diems, and marketing and production expenses (equipment hire, insurance, visas etc).

In my view, Spike Griffiths ‘Beacons Project’ is attempting to move in this direction and should be given finance to pilot.

Regarding funding models, it is important to remind ourselves that the UK live music scene relies more on commercial income than in Europe. I am no expert on this, but in Italy for example, the “theatres of the tradition”, such as Rome and Naples’s opera houses, have been told all their salaries and expenses will be met until the end of 2021 by the state. In a study of venues across mainland Europe – 60% of venues were non-profit on average – with nations like Belgium, France, Switzerland and Netherlands having over 90% non-profit. These venues are seen to attract more government funding – this is not the case in the UK or more specifically in Wales.

At the other side of the spectrum, I understand music venues in the US rely more heavily on commercial income than the UK, so unless they are lucky enough to be bequeathed money by wealthy benefactors, they are in trouble. It is no surprise that the New York music scene is still effectively closed. 

This has to be one of the reasons why the music scenes in Europe have been able to open earlier than in the UK? In terms of how Wales could move toward the tradition of mainland Europe – I have no idea how this could happen – but it would certainly protect venues should something like this pandemic happen again, as venues would not rely as much on commercial income – it is that simple.

In terms of how the continued prohibition on live performances in Wales will impact the industry internationally, for me, the longer we wait – the more music industry stakeholders will either leave the profession or take their services elsewhere. I think the main issues are the inevitable talent drain (especially if there is work elsewhere); the fact that so many Grassroot Music Venues are forecast to close, and of course the Economic Impact – We already know that the income from live music across the UK is going to be well down on previous years – the question is how long will it take us to recover and how can Welsh Government help. There has been a longstanding discussion surrounding why don’t more artists play in Wales’ and I would suggest a policy of prohibiting live music is only going to make this worse.

Regarding the financial sustainability of music venues in Wales, for me, it makes more sense to try and subsidise venues to keep their doors open, as opposed to closed. So the Musicians’ Unions recommendation of a seat matching scheme is a good idea, as a means of measuring the amount of government money a venue gets and also, because it it targeting finance towards opening culture up. Depending on what happens with the vaccine, it may be interesting to explore a ‘mixed mode approach’ for live music – a socially distanced venue accompanied by a virtual, broadcast, which is monitored. Virtual Concerts are explicitly mentioned in Government documentation – but not explained – so this is something that could be explored further. This is where the technical infrastructures of venues would need to be financed, if this approach was adopted. Basically, in this new world, at least in the short term, most music venues can’t survive on commercial income alone – many were already struggling, so they need subsidy of some sort.

Regarding how the sector should change in the future for me, Welsh Government needs to do everything it can to make the grassroots sector in particular more sustainable – and that is going to require financial support. We are going to need empathetic licensing; sympathetic rate relief; better transport and internet access across the country; a long-term music strategy; relevant statistical research, good training and mentoring, etc.  

As I mention in my report, Welsh Government also needs to understand what its music industries are, and the best way to do this is to develop a Taxonomy. Most importantly, Creative Wales’ membership would have to ensure it represents it.

As I have mentioned in an earlier evidence session last year, we also need to make sure the school music curriculum reflects the modern music industries. However, those involved in the post covid music industry will require an even more distinct skill set, depending on the impact of the vaccine – so we need to ensure that education and training is up to date.

It is apparent that most of the major music industry bodies provide Mental Health information – so I would suggest that Welsh Gov should also prepare and provide advice for the Creative Industries and Performing Arts more broadly. Also, there is a lot of research verifying how good music participation is for Well-Being – let’s use it! 

I would also suggest that Welsh Government needs to ensure it engages with the ways in which the nations creators can a) be exploited more both within the nation via a dedicated web site and also possibly via national media outlets and b) be compensated more for their work, by reducing the value gap for Welsh artists.

The value gap is where much of the mechanical income from music making is in the hands of technology giants such as You Tube, Facebook, Spotify and iTunes. One of the objectives of the 2018 ‘European Copyright Directive’, is to reduce the value gap between internet platforms such as these and the content creators themselves, something which will become essential in a post-covid world, where performance income may be restricted for some time to come. 

Finally, I would say Welsh Government could do some work to ensure the means through which the music industries access funding is demystified as much as possible – making it clear where funding is available and how to complete any paperwork. 

To finish this blog post, I would like to say a few words about what the Welsh Music Industry could do in order to be more resilient in the future. These are points that I did not mention in the evidence session: I would suggest A) fix what was already broken – by ensuring the pertinent themes that have been discussed in the Culture Welsh Language and Communications Committees evidence sessions thus far are considered and actioned. B) this is a long shot, but could Wales move in the direction of allocating more finance to at least some grassroots live music venues, in a similar way to European venues – so there is less reliance on commercial income. To ensure this we would require more publicly owned venues! C) Is it possible for Welsh Government to develop a philosophy which focuses on support to open, as opposed to support to remain closed? D) The arts more broadly have often been accused of not facilitating equal access to its various sub-sectors, but Welsh Government also need to be made aware that a move toward more online provision has the potential to not alleviate this trend, but to exacerbate it, for those (audiences and music industry stakeholders) currently experiencing ‘digital poverty’. We need to ensure the whole of Wales has access to fast reliable Broadband.

About Paul Carr

Academic working at the University of Glamorgan
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8 Responses to Live Music in Wales: A Report for the Culture Welsh Language and Communications Commitee

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