The Music Venue Trust (MVT) have said that grassroots venues in the UK are heading for “disaster” without intervention as more venues face closure – repeating the call for large arenas to invest back into the grassroots.

Speaking on a panel about the future of grassroots music at Manchester’s inaugural ‘Beyond The Music‘ conference on Friday (October 13), Mark Davyd, CEO of MVT, said over the last 12 months, “127 music venues of the grassroots type have stopped programming live music or closed down entirely” – something he described as a “fucking disaster” – despite the fact 2023 has been “the best year in history for live music receipts” with the industry making over £765million in 2022.

Davyd, who was speaking on a panel alongside representatives from Manchester’s AO Arena, Manchester’s Co-op Live, MIF/Factory International and Rachael Flaszczak, Managing Director of The Snug – a venue that was recently saved by MVT under its new ownership scheme – said “it’s completely unacceptable that our music industry is letting music collapse underneath it while it’s making the maximum amount of money it’s ever made in the history of music.”

He continued: “That is ridiculous. It’s totally unacceptable to me. It’s unacceptable to our communities.”

Back in January, a report from the MVT indicated that grassroots venues in the UK were “going over a cliff” – shutting off the pipeline of future talent without urgent government action and investment from new large arenas. The MVT subsequently wrote an open letter to Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, and spoke to NME about how the situation was “as dire as it can be” with the UK set to lose 10 per cent of its grassroots gig spaces in 2023. It came as calls grew for the “major leagues” of the music industry and larger venues to do more to pay into the ecosystem and save them.

Speaking to representatives from arenas, including Gary Rosen from Co-op live, a new Manchester venue that will become the UK’s biggest arena when it opens next year, Davyd pointed out how adding a small fee to arena tickets could make a life-changing difference to grassroots venues in the UK – and could prove critical to their long-term survival.

“If [Co-op Live] were to give the £2.70 service fees [they now have] on some of the 23,000 tickets they’re likely to sell, it could raise £62,700 on just one night. If you’re planning to do 120 shows a year, that raises £7.4million. Just two shows could buy [venues like] The Snug out of your facility fee alone.”

Grassroots music conference Beyond the Music
(L-R) Laura Kelly, Gemma Vaughan, Rachael Flaszczak, Gary Roden and Mark David – CREDIT: Omar Balaa

Flaszczak spoke about how “life-changing” it was when MVT bought her grassroots venue The Snug this year. The #OwnOurVenues initiative was first was first announced in May, following the news that legendary gig spaces like North London’s Nambucca and Sheffield’s Leadmill were closing their doors or under threat, respectively.

Having been backed by Ed Sheeran, the scheme aims to secure the long-term futures of such venues by directly tackling the issue of ownership. The campaign has been likened to a National Trust for venues.

“The Snug was in danger of closing down forever,” Flaszczak continued. “It was due to our landlord wanting to sell the property…we’d have been forced to close the doors or just change the business completely.

“We went to Music Venues Trust and we were accepted. MVT now own the building which means that we’re safe forever. We’ve got a nice long cultural lease. It will be business as usual, we’ll carry on what we’re doing, booking new bands and giving that platform for grassroots music to thrive.”

Flaszczak said she thought it was important that “big arenas” played their part in the music industry ecosystem too by helping grassroots venues more.

“We’re like the classroom for the bands,” she said, “but we haven’t seen any funding from the big arenas and we haven’t been spoken to by any of these arenas. We don’t know how we can help them or how they can help us.”

Davyd went on to say that all it would take is “a pound on an arena ticket” to make a difference. “If we can’t work the economic model now to put that in the fund so that artists can [train], so that venues like Rachel’s have actually got a future, then we’ve lost the plot,” he said, to applause from the audience in attendance.

Gemma Vaughan from Manchester’s AO arena said she didn’t think areas had done enough in the past to help grassroots venues and said there must be a commitment to change.

“I don’t think that large scale arenas have done enough to support grassroots venues. I think that we have probably sat quite arrogantly on the periphery and looked at our talent pipeline and the fact that we have international touring productions wheeling and wheeling out.”

She continued: “What we see when it comes to talent procurement and the talent lifecycle is that we do get natural stoppages. There are only a [small] number of artists that can headline festival stages now. Unless we work tirelessly to support grassroots musicians through the infrastructure that we have, then we will see more of those natural stoppages continue to happen.

“We have to support grassroots venues and musicians to help to feed our talent pipeline. We need to make sure that that kind of music economy continues to kind of recycle itself. We are planning to do a lot. Have we done enough so far? Definitely not.”

Grassroots conference beyond the music
Conference attendees at Beyond the Music – CREDIT: Omar Balaa

Her comments were echoed by Gary Rosen from Co-op Live who added that “the conversation and the planning around how we support the ecosystem has started.”

He continued: “We also have obviously a lot of shared work to do. You know, we all need to get people out of their houses. We all need to get people off of Netflix, out of virtual reality and, and enjoying kind of, you know, the experience of live [music].”

He said arenas need to come up with a “compelling plan” and both “inform the debate and support in multiple ways, whether it be the financial side, expertise, knowledge, sharing, collaboration [and] commercial opportunities to raise funds collectively.”

On Davyd’s idea of adding a fee to tickets to help, he said it was “complex” adding that there are “a lot of different stakeholders where the money goes and where it gets separated out…it’s not just ourselves – it’s the promoter, it’s the artist and other things connected.” He said Co-op live were committed to “having a conversation in terms of how things look going forward” with MVT and “trying to work a way through.”

Manchester’s AO Arena meanwhile, are looking at becoming the first arena in the ASM group to follow in Ticketmaster’s footsteps and trial a new system where audiences can opt in to donating money to help on what Davyd called a “grassroots levy”, something that could also be matched by the arena.

Vaughan explained: “One thing that we’re currently discussing is the additional opt-in to donate £1.50 when transacting, and we’ll look to match that. We definitely are committed to the opt-in for the audience member. We are just going through a bit of a process at the moment in how we make that work in the UK business. I’m going to trial it in Manchester and hopefully wheel it out across the rest of the businesses.”

Enter Shikari
Enter Shikari – CREDIT: Getty

Davyd said he “applauded” the idea and was “really pleased” the discussions are now taking place. He also went on to speak about artists like Enter Shikari, who recently announced a new 2024 arena tour in support of Music Venue Trust. £1 from each ticket sale will be donated to the Music Venue Trust in each city the band will be touring through. The idea was spurred by the band’s incentive to give back to the local venues which continue to support them throughout their careers.

Similarly, Halifax Piece Hall also announced a scheme to support grassroots music venues in Calderdale borough through MVT’s Pipeline Investment Fund (PIF). The Music Venue Trust (MVT) recently signed a ground-breaking agreement with The Piece Hall as well as promoters Cuffe and Taylor that will now give fans who attend concerts at the hall an option to add a donation to MVT when purchasing tickets through Ticketmaster.

Davyd went on to say it was now important that everyone in the industry came together “to get the job done”.

“Enter Shikari are an example of how easy this is to do. They phoned all the promoters and said, ‘We want one pound of average ticket to go to grassroots venues’. And all the promoters said, ‘Yes’ – that’s how long it took. It wasn’t more complicated.

“The biggest thing that we could all do now is to walk out of this and go back to our artists and our managers and our promoters and say, ‘Let’s stop pointing at each other and just get this done.'”

Speaking to NME after the panel, Davyd said more events like Beyond the Music conference are needed to get industry professionals from “across the board” together and talking. “I think you could feel in that room that people in that room were genuinely a little bit angry,” he said. “It’s not good to be out there saying, ‘Isn’t this brilliant, a £365million arena’ – that’s 3650 Snugs that you could have built or opened instead.”

Speaking about the arena’s commitment to adding an opt-in to support grassroots venues to ticket sales, Davyd added: “I’m heartened by it but I’m going to say kind words butter no parsnips. We need to see action. We’re kind of past the point at which we needed to see action, because otherwise it’s just more kind words while venues are closing down.”

Enter Shikari will give the welcome address at this year’s Venues Day held by MVT, with Steve Lamacq hosting a panel with DCMS Select Committee MPs. The event will take place at London’s Fireworks Factory on Tuesday October 17. Tickets are available here.

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