law is passed making live music easier to put on for venues
law is passed making live music easier to put on for venues
law is passed making live music easier to put on for venues
law is passed making live music easier to put on for venues

The small venue law change which could resurrect the UK’s unsigned music industry

By Seren Myamoto

On October 1st it was announced that venues with a capacity of 200 or less no longer need a licence to host live music. The change in law has been welcomed by many in the music industry. The UK Music website reported up to 13,000 venues can now hold live music and 20,400 can now increase their provision of live music.

This will be a welcome change for smaller venues and will allow them to stage live music events between 8pm and 11pm, without applying to their local authority for a licence, which can be costly for smaller businesses.

So how will this affect the music industry? Despite a high demand for live music, in recent years it has been increasingly difficult for new musicians to perform to live audiences and build a reputation. The licencing act in 2003 required all venues, regardless of size to obtain a licence for live music. This drastically reduced the number of venues available for musicians to perform to smaller audiences.

As an industry insider, I for one have noticed fewer unsigned nights promoting new bands and acts. This, we can assume, is due to a number of reasons.

Firstly, since the recession many small businesses up until now simply couldn’t afford to hold nights for new music. There are huge costs for the venues such as sound engineers, staff and live music licences. For the venues paying for music licences, why put on a new band when you can use one with a fan base, guaranteeing customers? It’s a fair point. However, this has had consequences for upcoming artists.

Performing unsigned nights and smaller venues is where musicians and artists hone their skills and kick start their fan base and careers.  Even events such as \’In the City’ where unsigned acts perform across venues in Manchester to music enthusiasts and influential people within the music industry no longer take place. There’s been less and less support and fewer opportunities for young musicians to play live.

Secondly, not all but many venues and music promoters are unwilling to put on new bands starting out, unless they bring in a certain number of ticket sales and people. Even some unsigned nights in smaller venues ask for this. This is just greedy. It’s unreasonable to expect any new band to have a fan base. I’ve witnessed many musicians and bands being completely exploited.

\’Pay to Play’ has a bad rep for a good reason. Young bands starting out will approach a venue or promoter with their demo asking if they have any unsigned nights they can play. They’ll be asked how many people they can bring in or how many tickets they can sell. The band, willing to take any chance to perform will then sell tickets to/encourage friends and family to come and see them at the venue along with another couple of new bands doing the same that night.

But this is a vicious cycle to get into. How many times can they call upon their family and friends to come and see them live? They may be building confidence and developing their skills but this is a dead end and rarely brings a true fan following or real exposure. There’s only so long upcoming bands can keep this up until they get completely disheartened that they’re not getting anywhere with their career and still playing to friends and family a few years down, completely unaware they’ve being exploited.

However, there is another way for venues and promoters.  If enough actually listened to the demos ensuring the music was something special and built a reputation for finding great new talent, that would bring in customers.

Too many times I’ve bought a ticket into a trendy venue to support new bands, but I’ve left feeling cheated. There are some bad bands out there that should only be playing to their friends and family. It’s harsh but it’s true. I’ve been the only person in the audience with no relation to the band onstage, feeling awkward questioned from family at the bar “so how do you know Bob? He’s been learning how to play guitar since last year. Are you one of his little friends from school?” Errm, no.

The venue or promoter obviously didn’t care what band they were putting on, as long as they brought in friends and family ”“ and they made their quick buck. This has made it increasingly challenging for unknown bands to sell tickets to anyone outside of their circle of friends.

There are still promoters, venues and organisations such as Un-Convention that work hard to support new talent and young musicians facing these issues. These issues in the UK music industry may take a while to change, but hopefully this new law can be a catalyst for this change to happen.

A welcome change.

The UK is an amazing place for music. There are still great underground artists/bands breaking through into the industry. Over the next few months and years, we’ll hopefully see a boom in young talented bands, rising from small venues that before this rule change may not have made it. New bands will be able to start their careers and build a genuine following without the worry of upsetting promoters and venues if they don’t manage to bring in the numbers.

With the new act passed, fresh talent will no longer be forced to go down the route of selling tickets and bringing in fans they simply don’t have yet, and instead start out where they’re meant to, in small venues, playing their music, building a reputation, making fans and not paying to do so.

To the campaigners who were against the new act, complaining they don’t want \’noise’, I say in true British punk-rocker fashion, Fuck off!









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  1. I’m not sure that is ‘Pay To Play’. I thought it was essentially where a band must actually give money to the venue to be on the bill. The system you describe is fairly common in York with all venues, essentially a band will get a % of every ticket sold, but that doesn’t have to be just for friends and family, it can be for annonymous fans who use a code or special flyer for cheaper entry and so much of that entry goes to the band. That is not to say the band don’t get an extra fee on top of what they make, it just depends on the generousity of the venue/promotor. It’s true some bands wallow in only playing to friends/family, but many do gather fans and remember some touring bands are so unknown they will get 0 audience coming to see them, to make a gig work sometimes a local band do need to pull some people, and those local people might discover a new band not from their town. I’ve discovered loads of bands that way by following local acts put on a bill where a touring band have no pull, but nevertheless are a decent act

  2. Great informative article. It’s given me a sense of optimism not felt since the late ’80s when the DIY approach to the house music scene prevailed. I’m wondering, and maybe somebody could fill me in, does the new act extend to the DJ (strictly speaking a ‘live’ performer)?


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