live music industry

‘If COVID hadn’t stopped European touring, Brexit would have’: Inside UK’s first live music industry body

LIVE CEO Greg Parmely has spoken to Audio Media International about forming the UK’s first ever live music industry body and how the group plans to tackle the long-term effects of COVID-19 and Brexit.

Named LIVE (Live music industry, venue and entertainment) the industry body officially launched last week and will serve as a collective voice for the UK’s live music industry ecosystem. Its memberships consists of 3,150 companies, over 4,000 artists and 2,000 backstage workers.

The organisation’s immediate focus is on dealing with the implications of the pandemic and Brexit on the future of the industry. It will also work to address issues including sustainability and diversity across the industry.

Here, Parmley outlines his vision for LIVE and the steps that must be taken by government to secure the live music industry’s future…

When did you decide to launch LIVE? And what are your ambitions for the organisation?
We’ve been operating for about eight months, insofar as we’ve been lobbying and campaigning on behalf of the sector with regards to coronavirus, so this has been a case of formalising what was there for a little while. It’s long overdue that the UK’s live music industry has a representative single voice and body to promote its aims and campaign on its behalf. It’s a really positive step that the industry has finally come together and put this together.

Why has it taken so long?
A lot of the member association that are part of LIVE were involved with UK Music and the UK Live Music Group, which performed a similar function but on a less intensive level. There was a general representation but nothing public facing or official. The great thing about the live industry is that it’s made up of a completely disparate array of creative and unique individuals but pulling them all together under one banner was always going to be a task.

What are your first priorities in addressing the pandemic?
There is keeping the reduced rate cultural VAT on tickets to five per cent, which is in line with DCMS select committee recommendations. We had a campaign a couple of weeks ago called Keep VAT at 5% or #KeepVATat5%, which picked up a lot of traction and will hopefully play some role in convincing the charter to extend the cut that’s already in place so that the industry can actually benefit from it. The irony is that the VAT rate got reduced last year but we sold very few tickets, so we’re asking for an extension of that support mechanism so that it has some real benefit to the industry.

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Obviously insurance is key, so there is a government backed insurance scheme that will allow shows to reopen and festivals to happen as and when it’s safe to do so. Beyond that it’s about ongoing support measures. Furlough ends at the end of April, which has been hugely welcomed, but there’s a big gap coming between the end of the current support measures that are in place and when the industry is going to be up and running again.

We’re fully expecting today’s (Monday, February 22) announcement from the Prime Minister to include information about when pubs, restaurants and schools will reopen, but we expect live events to be the last to reopen. We really want some clarity on when we can start to plan to come back, which has been sorely missing. The planning cycle of festivals is so long that it’s not going to be any use to us if we get to July and the government says we can have outdoor events. It’s not a long enough time frame, so we need to know soon what the reopening plan looks like.

The other major issue facing the industry is Brexit. What are your plans for dealing with that?
Brexit clearly poses massive challenges, both for artist touring from Europe but more so for UK artists touring Europe. There’s a very dark irony that if it wasn’t for coronavirus having stopped all European touring Brexit would have done the same anyway. Part of what we’re doing with LIVE is launching various subgroups. There’s one called Live Touring, which is working hard with the Department of Transport, DCMS, DIT and other bodies to fully identify the problems and then solve them. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes.

What are LIVE’s aims beyond COVID and Brexit?
This isn’t a short-term project, so there’s lots for us to get into, whether its sustainability, industry-wide diversity, specific groups we want to set up for venues and artists. There’s lots in the pipeline.

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