Live music attendance in the UK reached an all-time high in 2022, with 37 million people going to shows over the course of the year.
While the major touring acts and large stadiums and arenas continue to generate healthy numbers, the news comes amid an ongoing crisis for grassroots music venues in the UK.
The findings come from the annual This is Music report by UK Music, the umbrella organisation that represents the British music industry. They concluded that the industry generated a total export revenue of £4 billion.
“2022 was packed with live shows, including rescheduled dates from 2020 and 2021 in addition to newly announced shows for 2022,” the report states. “Demand for stadiums was so high, venue operators, promoters, and agents had to be flexible with routing – in some cases, sourcing alternatives. Wembley Stadium hosted a record 16 concerts in 2022, up from 14 concerts in 2019.”
The Music Venue Trust (MVT) told NME in September that 67 venues had closed up to that point this year, with a further 90 working with the organisation’s Emergency Response. It is expected that roughly half of those are also likely to close before the end of 2023, meaning that a total of 10 per cent of the country’s grassroots venues will have folded this year alone.
MVT CEO Mark Davyd told NME that grassroots venues were facing a perfect storm of the energy crisis, the cost of living crisis, landlords putting rents up, and how as “a sector that’s never had debts before” it is still catching up with its collective post-COVID £90million debt.
Davyd echoed the MVT’s warning from earlier this year, that the entire live music industry was headed “over a cliff edge” without government action or without eight of the UK’s new large arenas to “contribute to the security of the wider music ecosystem by investing a percentage of every ticket they sell into the grassroots music ecosystem”.
“There are more big concerts going on and people are paying more money for tickets than they ever have,” Davyd told NME. “This is the best year for live music in the UK in terms of gross receipts that there’s ever going to be. It’s not possible to make an argument that this can be accompanied by 100 venues closing down, cutting down access to live music for communities and cutting off the talent pipeline for artists that’ll never get to play.
“These two things aren’t compatible, and no one can tell me that it’s acceptable for the top-end of the industry to be turning in these massive gross receipts from these huge tours in stadiums and arenas while a venue 15 miles down the road is closing down because it doesn’t have the £10,000 it needs.”
“It sounds like there’s a lot of focus on providing spaces for the real high-end of the music industry,” the band’s frontman Rou Reynolds told NME. “There are a lot of new arenas on the way, while at the same time there is no support whatsoever for the grassroots circuit. There’s a very clear link between small venues and big venues – especially in the terms of providing new artists with a space to find their way in the industry and find their audience.”
In October, at the MVT’s Venues Day event, Enter Shikari drummer Rob Rolfe said: “Let’s put on more gigs, let’s bring people together, let’s offer a platform for musicians, let’s show the Tory government and the landlord c**ts that our culture of live music is not for sale.”
“We will not be replaced by another block of fucking flats. They keep cramming more and more people into our towns and cities but take away the very places for us to get together, to communicate, to socialise. No wonder we’re becoming more isolated. No, fuck off! Get your hands off our spaces.”
UK Music’s report also noted that rising costs are becoming a greater problem for UK festivals too. “According to the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF), costs are up 30%, but ticket prices have only risen by 12-15%,” they wrote. “This increases the risk for festival promoters, and one in six independent festivals did not survive the pandemic.”
UK Music interim CEO Tom Kiehl stated that the music industry needs further government assistance if it is to continue to compete globally.
“The UK music industry and its exports have grown beyond doubt to hit new heights, which is fantastic news in terms of our sector’s contribution to jobs and the economy,” he says. “However, the competition for international markets is intensifying rapidly. The UK’s competitors are increasingly well funded and can often count on far more support from their governments.
“South Korea, Australia and Canada have invested heavily in music and cultural export offices to help grow their overseas markets. The UK has several successful export schemes, such as the Music Export Growth Scheme and the International Showcase Fund.
“However, we need far more support – otherwise we risk the UK being left behind in the global music race and that would be a bitter blow for music industry and a missed opportunity to grow our export market.”