Music

At least two grassroots music venues closing each week

New figures show we have seen the 'worst year' yet with 125 grassroots music venues closing and many of those that remain operating at a loss.

Fatboy Slim cheers at excited audience in grassroots music venue the Adelphi

Fatboy Slim performs at Hull's Adelphi. The grassroots venue saw their energy bills rise by 400% last year. Photo: courtesy of the Adephi

Two grassroots music venues are closing per week, according to new figures released by Music Venue Trust (MVT). In the last 12 months, 125 venues shut their doors for the last time. Of those that remain, 38% reported making a financial loss in 2023 despite seeing an increased demand for tickets.

MVT surveyed hundreds of UK grassroots music venues to give us the clearest picture yet of the crisis facing these vital cultural institutions. For the first time, their research shows the primary cause of venue closure was a lack of financial viability.

“2023 was the worst year for venue closures since Music Venue Trust launched 10 years ago,” said Beverley Whitrick, MVT’s chief operating officer. “We are still losing on average two venues a week and those that have survived are now so consumed by threats to their continued existence that they have no chance of overcoming without immediate help. 

“We have been warning of these consequences for the last six years, yet still the top end of the live music sector posts record profits while, with a few notable exceptions, turning a blind eye to those who discover, nurture and develop the artists that generate that revenue for them.”

The MVT annual report revealed that rents for grassroots music venues have increased by an average of 37.5%, while energy costs continue to soar.

To our regular readers, this sadly comes as little surprise. Every week, The Big Issue’s Venue Watch campaign spotlights some of the UK’s best places to see live music. Every one of the hardworking and talented people who run them tell us it’s getting harder to make ends meet.

Just last week, we published an appeal from east London venue Luna, saying they urgently need to raise £75,000 to survive. “This is not mismanagement; it’s the cumulative effect of economic recovery post-Covid, a soaring cost of living crisis and declining spend per head,” said business director Declan Walsh.

In November, Paul John Sarel, manager of Hull’s legendary Adelphi club, told us his energy bills had quadrupled in the last year. “We’re having to pay £800 electric instead of £200 electric every month. It’s like we’re having to work so much harder to get to zero,” he said.

In the very same month we spoke to Sarel, Live Nation Entertainment – the mega-promoter that owns Ticketmaster – posted its best ever quarter with $8.2 billion (£6.4 billion) in global revenue. For some at the top of the music ecosystem, times are booming. Massive tours from Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, Madonna and Elton John made it a record-breaking year for profits in the live music industry.

But at the other end of the scale, MVT’s shocking figures show UK grassroots venues had a profit margin of just 0.5% on a £501m turnover in 2023. Without a combination of grants and donations totalling £3.1m from MVT’s own Pipeline Investment Fund, Arts Council England and other bodies, the whole sector would have operated at a loss during this period.

Grassroots music venues employ more than 28,000 people across the UK. Last year, they staged over 187,000 events, with 1.7m individual artist performances attracting audience visits of over 23.5m.

As the primary source of research and development, MVT calculated these small venues subsidised the live music industry to the tune of £115m in 2023. That’s an increase of 45% over the previous 12 months.

Music Venue Trust CEO Mark Davyd said large venues and promoters have simply not acted fast enough to secure the future of UK music. He is now calling on all UK political parties to make a manifesto commitment to ensure that there is a contribution “from the most successful parts of our industry into the grassroots research and development carried out on their behalf”.

“Enough is enough, this report speaks for itself and we will not allow this to continue,” Davyd added. “We must either find a way to act collectively to get these venues and the artists who rely on them the financial support they need to survive or we will seek legislation to compel it.  

“It’s time to stop the excuses – we can no longer accept complacency from those in a position to help prevent the annihilation of our sector.”

Read the full Music Venue Trust annual report here.

Sign up to join The Big Issue’s Venue Watch campaign here.  

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