The news that the government will now support plans to include the “agent of change” principle in planning law was a great victory for UK Music and all the other campaigners who turned up at the recent demonstration in Westminster and have kept the pressure on in recent months.
But, while anything that helps out the beleaguered pubs and clubs that remain the lifeblood of local scenes has to be good news, smaller venues will need more than a sympathetic ear over noise complaints if they’re to survive in the music industry’s bold new future. Such complaints are usually the final straw in a venue’s demise, rarely the first one.
The general live scene remains more vibrant than ever and top end shows can command ticket prices that would have produced gasps even five years ago. But, at the bottom end, ticket inflation appears almost non-existent: new band nights often still seem to go for the three-bands-for-a-fiver approach that’s been in place since the ‘80s.
Smaller venues will need more than a sympathetic ear over noise complaints if they’re to survive in the music industry’s bold new future
Of course, making money is rarely the point of such shows, at least for the artists. The Grassroots Venue: Spirit Of The Scene award that we introduced last year at the Music Week Awards in conjunction with the Music Venue Trust shows that there are still plenty of incredible venues out there, and last year a report showed there is finally some stability in terms of London venues closing. But with fewer and fewer bands coming up the old-fashioned way of gigging relentlessly around the country, if we really want the gig circuit to survive, the biz will also need to find other ways to support it.
In the old days, of course, when playing live was a loss-leader for album sales, record labels would often support the cost of touring. Few do so nowadays, but newer artists desperately need some form of backing if we’re not to lose more of our treasured circuit. Fans, too, need to be persuaded than there’s more to supporting an artist than streaming the heck out of their latest track. After all, a live fanbase tends to be a lifelong fanbase.
So let’s hope it’s not just planning officers that are listening to the plight of small venues. Otherwise, the agent of change victory could prove to be a hollow one.