Adam Behr: Newcastle University
Narrating Popular Music: The state of the live music ecology
ABSTRACT: This paper introduces the political and industrial context of the Great British Live Music Census. It builds on the theorization of live music in cities as an ‘ecology’, which has informed the development of the census project, and looks specifically at the role of the state (local and national) in shaping the musical lives of cities and their inhabitants. Whilst music is often deployed as part of city branding exercises, and used to drive trade, tourism and regeneration, venues and musicians are often at the sharp end of such changes. With policy formed with the benefit of the wider economy and populace in mind, musicians and music businesses attempt to carve out a space in the regulatory process to protect and sustain their activities. This paper examines the dynamic between grassroots music activity, the larger commercial operators and policy bodies that has both informed the census and been a feature of the ecology that the project team has had to negotiate. It discusses the political decisions, the responses of musicians and music industry personnel, and the space for academics within this equation.
Adam begins the session with an overview of a large-scale UK research projects in which he is involved. The Great British Live Music Census is an AHRC-funded project to document and study live music production and consumption in the UK. He provides an overview of the live music ‘ecology’, discussing issues of the ‘value’ of music defined in an economic, cultural, industrial or political sense. He talks us through the postwar development of arts policy, which he asserts begins with a Keynsian paternalistic template based on ‘excellence’ rather than a more modern agenda based on (for example) diversity. He suggests that this paternalistic approach began to give way in the 1960s to a more free-market small-state approach, which he tracks via less interventionist arts policy in the 70s/80s. From the 90s, and particularly from the late 1990s, the arts became more commodified; this correlates, in time, with the 1997 formation of the govt Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
In the current climate in the UK, there is substantial economic activity. Adam notes that benefits are unevenly distributed, with concentration of ownership of the sector with high end venues and large companies (Live Nations, for example). He discusses gentrification of venue areas and the economic impact of adding new venues to parts of cities (or subtracting them) – he also briefly discusses secondary ticketing. The UK Live Music Act 2012 removed the need for a separate licence for venues to be allowed to host live music; this was a significant move for the UK live music sector. He name-checks lobby groups including the MVT (Music Venue Trust) which arose in 2013 to lobby on behalf of venues of all sizes, including grass roots venues.
We now look at live music from a political perspective; Adam quotes from the manifestos of two opposition parties – the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrat Party – both of whom have committed to increased support for live music.
Adam ends with the statement that everyone in the ecology wants good data. Is this where academics come in?