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How to save grass roots venues? Music industry insiders discuss

Mark Davyd is the Founder and CEO of the Music Venue Trust which was created in January 2014 to protect the UK live music network by securing the long-term future of iconic Grassroots Music Venues such as Hull Adelphi, Exeter Cavern, Southampton Joiners, The 100 Club, Band on the Wall, Tunbridge Wells Forum among many, many others.

Glenn Max, Founder and Artistic Director of Convergence Festival catches up with Mark to chat about the state of grass roots music venues in the UK.

Mark Davyd of Music Venues Trust has passionately and intelligently - and at personal risk - taken on all that threatens the 'great cultural tradition of the gig'. Along with his Strategic Director Beverly Whitrick and a handful of other hardworking people he has taken this battle to the London Mayor, into Parliament, and beyond. He is a straight-talking, progressive thinker with his feet firlmly on the ground - except when he's being lifted over the heads of the crowd at a gig. I’ve seen evidence of this. Music Venues Trust hosts Venues Day at the Roundhouse on Wednesday 17 October 2018 (details announced via musicvenuetrust.com). You should attend if you'd like to support live music in your city.

Glenn Max: Is there a case to be made across the industry for a corrective measure to be initiated that would take stress off the venues? What might that measure look like?
Mark Davyd:
Yes. And the surprising thing about all this is that every single one of those major players in the music industry already knows what it is and accepts it, but not everywhere. For example, in France, GMVs receive operational support from: Le ministère de la Culture et de la Communication, Le ministère de la Ville, de la Jeunesse et des Sports, Le ministère de la Justice L’Union Européenne - Lifelong Learning Programme and La SACEM. Le CNV - Centre National de la chanson des Variétés et du jazz – administers two schemes by which a levy is paid by all live music events and distributed to Grassroots Music Venues. That's right - when they are in France, all the major players, promoters, agents, managers, everyone, already accept a live music levy that re-distributes to grassroots music venues. If you’re presenting a concert by Adele in France, you've budgeted for the deduction and accept it’s going to happen. 
Glenn: Is there a way of talking about agents percentage without setting them off on a defensive counter-attack and making enemies with them for life?
It's very difficult for a single person, a booker, venue or promoter, to speak up about the reality of what's happening at grassroots music venues level. That's why we created a separate entity in Music Venue Trust that has no vested financial interest, can listen to everyone and tell people about it in a neutral tone of voice. Even within that framework, venues under our banner find it difficult to speak truthfully about what is going on - there's an obsession with success which makes any admission of possible failure a taboo.

Glenn: Is there a way to get managers, artists or labels to discuss the fact that agencies are taking more than their share out of the deal?
Yes. But is there a way to get labels to consider that their model is to allow GMVs to invest to build an artist and then they reap any rewards? Or to get artists to appreciate that the hummus they just threw at the wall is money they could have put in their pocket. The whole thing needs a rethink, and everyone needs to be part of it.

Glenn: Concert promoters take a great financial risk every time they put on an event. Managers spend their lives and income devoted to helping artists' build a career. Venues take a huge liability risk, face skyrocketing rents, and increased costs just to put on a 90-120 minute live event. Record labels build careers with sound and steady investment in production and marketing. So, what do tour agents invest? What do agents bring to the fragile eco-system of a gig? How do we measure and insure that a percentage of an agency's annual income from live music goes into a legal defence fund, or a sound-proofing fund or a refurbishment fund for venues?  
We are having some success with this but it's too limited and a real response is urgently needed. Everyone in the music industry is a stakeholder in the sustainability of grassroots music venues. It's taking a long time for that message to sink in.

Glenn: How would you approach an agent to discuss this issue?
Even parking my own attempts underneath the charity of MVT I have one agency which does not book shows into Tunbridge Wells Forum any more because they feel I am 'anti-agent' and should be excluded from the club despite the team down there explaining clearly that I am not involved in the day-to-day booking or management. And despite me explaining quite patiently that this isn't about agents, or managers, or labels, or promoters, it's about everyone. So my advice to any one as a venue that wants to talk about this is to talk to MVT and we will keep trying to frame a message that shows a positive path forward for venues and agents and all the other stakeholders.

Glenn: Can we build a united front and hold a conference to specifically address this?
Venues Day is the forum to do this. But it is hard work and there's no point in pretending that we've really got to grips with it yet. This year's event is on Wednesday 17 October. I'd love to see a panel called "Time to burn the whole thing down and start again? What the fuck is going on?" but I suspect it would be difficult to get panelists. Talking realistically about the fundamental flaws in the economics and what we can do about them is a tough piece of work.



Music + Art + Technology
9 March - 4 April 2018