Music Venue Trust report finds grassroots events still below pre-pandemic levels

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The Music Venue Trust (MVT)’s annual report has revealed that while its members staged 177,000 events last year, it was still a decrease of 16.7% compared to pre-pandemic levels. 

MVT represents almost 1,000 grassroots venues in the UK and a survey of 960 of those found that there were also 565,000 individual performances, and together with the 177,000 events, welcomed almost 22 million visitors.

This was still a 16.7% decrease on 2019 as venues continue to operate as leanly as possible during the current economic crisis.

The decrease also saw the number of events staged per week in individual venues fall from 4.2 in 2019 to 3.5 in 2022. Only 1.97 of those were identified as ticketed live music shows.

MVT’s report showed that in 2022, the average grassroots music venue capacity was 308, of which 40% was utilised per event, translating to an average 124 audience members per event.

This is a decrease of 11% compared to 2019 where the average capacity was 51%. The total income from those events was over £500m (€570m/$617m) but venues reported an average profit margin of 0.2%, resulting in the subsidising of live music performances by roughly £79m last year.

Mark Davyd, chief executive of Music Venue Trust, said: “Obviously we are pleased to highlight the fact that Grassroots Music Venues contribute over half a billion pounds to the UK economy and to emphasise their enormous impact on the cultural life of our country; but it is also necessary to reiterate the precarious financial position that much of the sector still finds themselves in – the current economics no longer stack up.

“We need urgent action from the government on all these factors as well as a full review of VAT on ticket sales. In short, we need a coherent long-term economic plan that recognises the importance of what our members do and gives them a chance to keep nurturing up and coming artists and contributing to their local communities.”

Davyd added: “It doesn’t make any sense for the government to continue to tax what is clearly research and development. We don’t penalise any other industry like this and we need to stop putting barriers in the way of risk taking and investment in new British talent. The spiralling cost of energy bills, rents, excessive & anti-competitive business rates, and other overheads, combined with the effects that the cost of living crisis is having on the disposable income of our audiences, means that venues are operating on razor thin margins and in many cases struggling to survive.

“We cannot go on building more and more arenas with no plan of how to fill the stages they create in five, ten or twenty years time and without these new facilities playing their part in helping protect the grassroots eco-system. The threat is real: we need more from the music industry and we need it now, otherwise what is currently a crisis will soon become a terminal decline for venues, their staff, artists and audiences.”

Following the survey, MVT is calling on the UK Government and the wider music industry to help support the grassroots venue sector. In particular, the VAT applied to venue ticket sales was highlighted, which is viewed as an ongoing barrier to profitability.

MVT is calling for VAT to be reduced to the average European level of 5% or removed entirely. Additionally, MVT is calling for a thorough review of current business rates, and that all new arenas opening in the UK contribute to the security of the wider music eco-system by investing a percentage of every ticket sold.

In particular, the Trust has issued a direct request to the City of Manchester, The Mayor of Manchester Andy Burnham, Manchester City Council and all Manchester MPs to ask that the new 23,500-capacity Co-op Live arena opening later this year pledges a commitment to this initiative.