Grassroots music venues remain under threat post-Covid

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The future of grassroots venues across the Midlands remain under threat of closure despite re-opening the music scene, according to a Birmingham music industry expert.

Pre-pandemic there were about 197 venues within the West Midlands offering capacity for 9800 people, said the Birmingham Live Music Project

BLMP researchers claim Birmingham had a variety of live music venue types, ‘ranging from social and student clubs, all the way to large music venues like the Genting Area, but the most predominant are bars, pubs and small venues which take up 56% of the 197 venues in the area.

Pictured at The 1975’s Genting Arena concert

Lyle Bignon, founder of Birmingham Music Coalition, believes now is the time for business and political leaders to support music venues before it is too late. 

Bignon said: “2020 was without a doubt the most challenging year on record for the live music sector, and it’s crucial that much more collective value is placed on the contemporary, popular and commercial music by the region if it is to survive this unprecedented challenge.”

Post-pandemic, the Music Venue Trust, who represent various grassroots venues, have stated these venues remain in financial trouble, due to debts incurred during the lockdown.

MVT Chief Executive, Mark Davyd said: “The grassroots music venues sector is more than £90 million in debt. Trying to get that paid off last year was a struggle, and it likely won’t be done this year, it might not even be done until 2024 or 2025 if things keep going as they are.

“The average debt they’re emerging with is around £80,000-£120,000 per venue – some are in much more significant debt than that.”

The BLMP researchers have also stated that these grassroots venues have only been able to accommodate a limited amount of audiences due to some distancing measures still being in place. 

“Applying mandatory social distancing measures to indoor spaces significantly reduces the capacity of many grassroots music venues, in some cases down to as little as 25%,” said the BLMP researchers. 

“For most new and established premises that primarily exist by presenting and promoting live music, imminent closures have posed a serious threat to the future of the fabric of regional music scenes.”

Bignon said that through repeated calls for support and protection from industry bodies, thousands of major venues and festivals were partly answered by the Government through COVID financial assistance programmes like the Self Employment Income Support Scheme and Culture Recovery Fund.

However, small artists and independent venues that rely on live music for the majority of their income have had major problems.  

“Many of these grassroots venues primarily exist to support a new generation of upcoming artists, so losing them in the future is a big risk,” Bignon added.

Manny and the Coloured Sky, an upcoming singer/songwriter, who knows all too well about the struggles of not being able to perform during the pandemic, claims that the cancellation of live shows has been an obstacle for him.

“A huge worry of mine was that I couldn’t really make sure my audience stayed with me over the pandemic, and even still now – as my music online hasn’t always been in abundance, so there isn’t much for them to keep listening to, to remember me,” Manny said.

Manny said he relied on performing live shows hugely as it helped him gather and build an audience of listeners.

Courtesy of Manny

Manny added: “I got to see first-hand how important these grassroots music venues were for artists like me who couldn’t yet get the opportunity to play in these big-time arenas or stadiums.

“Gigging has always been a passion of mine as much as creating music is, as it’s that chance to be able to bring songs to life in a venue full of people, as well as one of the most special ways to connect with fans.

“Independent music venues are not only crucial in giving upcoming artists a limelight to shine in, but they have also been the starting point for many artists to grow into big names so the possibility of losing them for good is a scary thought.”

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