A lot has been said in recent years about the health of the grass roots music scene in the UK. Figures suggest that for the first time since 2007 there are some signs of recovery, following a decade of closures which saw overall numbers of venues reduced by around 40 per cent.

With established artists, promotors, venue owners and now politicians expressing their views about the impact this may have on our cities, culture and economics, it has become something of a hot topic.

According to the Music venue trust, a charity formed in 2014 to tackle issues facing the industry, the music business in the UK is estimated to be worth £3.8 bn annually, with live music equating to £1.6 bn of that total.

In London alone it is said to be worth £91.8m while supporting over 2,000 jobs, as well as being as being an important tourist attraction. There is a definite economical as well as a cultural argument to assess the current situation.

LONDON, 2016, AUGUST 28: People dancing to music at public outdoor street festival. Credit: jgolby / Shutterstock, Inc.
LONDON, 2016, AUGUST 28: People dancing to music at public outdoor street festival. Credit: jgolby / Shutterstock, Inc.

As a nation with a rich and proud tradition of musical exports, concerns on how that could continue to be, without the spawning grounds from which so many new musical styles and artists were conceived and developed are rightly held.

Concerns echoed by government in the form of the rescue plan for London’s grassroots music venues. The plan aims to assess what steps can be taken to support small venues, working alongside councils and property developers, who are often portrayed as the villains of the piece, accused of favouring new residential developments over the needs of licensed premises.

Examples of these potential steps include the mayor of London’s proposal to implement an agent of change policy, which has seen some success in other major cities around the world, as well the appointment of a night zsar.

London, England - 11 December 2016: People walking in front of Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club in Frith Street, Soho, London. Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club is a prominent jazz club which has operated since 1959. credit: DrimaFilm / Shutterstock, Inc.
London, England – 11 December 2016: People walking in front of Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in Frith Street, Soho, London. Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club is a prominent jazz club which has operated since 1959. credit: DrimaFilm / Shutterstock, Inc.

But are there other reasons for this decline. I spoke to Scott Adcock, operations manager for Rose Pubs, who own and run a number of music venues across the country and instead of placing all the blame on developers or councilors, he cited new technology, and changes in youth culture as having an equal impact.

With budding musicians now able to record music at home to upload and share online, coupled with ever improving home entertainment from TV and gaming, as well as social media and even dating apps, young people have less need to go to live shows to be entertained, hang out with friends or meet that special someone.

Young people today on average are also drinking less than previous generations, pertaining to a more health conscious approach to alcohol. With the average spend of a gig goer said to be £6.70 per show and alcoholic drinks being the main, if not sole revenue stream available, you can start to see why they might struggle to cope with rising running costs and a drop in attendance.

Only time will tell what the future holds for the small venue and the role it plays, will government intervention be too little too late, will the next generation of music lovers buck the trends of the current one, and what really is at stake, we will have to wait and see.

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