Wednesday 1 July 2015

Do we really want to see the UK music scene die?

Creative industries contribute £8 million per hour to the UK economy. That is a huse amount of money. You would think that with this in mind the govt would be taking some sort of measures to protect and enhance these industries. Perhaps our greatest contribution as a nation is in the field of popular music. I am not going to name all of the great an innovative British bands over the years, because the list would be to long but if take one from each era of the last century, the Shadows from the 50s, the Beatles from the 60's, Bowie from the 70's, The Happy Mondays from the 80's an Blur from the 90's, in 2000's I have to choose an old customer of Mill Hill Music COmplexAmy Winehouse. These give just a flavour of the richness of our musical heritage.

If you then consider just how important some of the songs written in the UK have been. To me, there is perhaps no piece of music more important than "Free Nelson Mandela" by the Specials. This anthem, gave a sountrack to a movement that ended one of the most obnoxious regimes on the planet. Of course 99.9% of UK music isn't about chaning the world. When I nip into the Bridge Tavern and put Rebel Rebel or 20th Century Boy on the jukebox, I simply do it to lift my mood. Millions of us use music in the same way, for many it gets us through the day.

The point about these songs is that they are original material. As a member of a band and a songwriter, I know just how difficult it is to put a band together playing a set of original material. Firstly you have to write a set of say 14 songs. For each song I've played in a set, I've written about 5. Each one takes approx 8 hours work for me to get a rough arrangement. I then present it to the band and on average it takes 2 hours for us to get the song right. Maybe one our of two I present, we eventually reject. I am lucky as I own my own studio, so this is free for me. If I was paying, to simply get one song would cost 4 hours studio time with the band (after I've worked it out at home). If you say an average studio session in a budget studio is £10 per hour, this means a song costs £40 worth of studio time to arrange. A set of 15 songs would cost £600. Then add another 3-4 rehearsals to get the set together as a cohesive unit - Say £100. Then there is your equipment to play the gig. My Fender strat cost £1,000. My Peavey Amp cost £250 (and I get it trade). My drummer spent £750 on his kit and cymbals.

If we gig at a local pub, we need a PA, to hire this costs approx £90. If we have to hire a van, ad another £100. So if we played in Birmingham using our own PA, with petrol, we'd need to get approx £250 just to cover the costs. The trouble is that if you play original material and you are unknown, then you wont get paid a penny at most gigs. It is different if you have released material and have a following, but even then at the start it is difficult.

It used to be the case that record labels woul hear talented musicians and give them development budgets to get a set together an to support early gigs, but with the advent of "free music", we almost never see this anymore at the studio. Few labels have the cash and less have the will.  There is safe money in established stars and old hits. Even on a local level, the only bands I know making money are Tribute acts and covers bands.

Of course, the music industry has changed. Nothing stays the same forever, but unless we are to see the UK lose its place as a leaing light of the world music scene, something needs to be done to encourage creativity. There are a few things that could easily be done.

1. A music levy on Internet ISP's to fund grants for young, unsigned acts to assist with studio time.
2. Tax breaks for individuals and companies that give grants/assistance/bursaries to young musicians.
3. Grants for local music venues for soundproofing to ensure that there are local venues for artists to play.
4. Tax breaks on musical equipment & PA systems - ie zero VAT rating on instruments.
5. A guaranteed quota of airtime for unsigned artists on National radio (ie 1 tune per hour on Radio 1 etc and shows such as Garry Crowley BBC London show, written into the charter).
6. A provision in the Local Government act requiring Councils to assist with funding etc for local festivals etc.
7. Give UK record companies tax breaks on development budgets for artists

 All of these things would help regenerate the UK industry. In the medium and long term, this would bring in far more cash to the UK economy than the cost of the meagre tax breaks etc. It is clear the UK music industry has no interest in promoting new talent. The time has come for the govenrment to give the industry some help and encouragement.

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