Thursday 29 October 2015

Save London Music Campaign - Why it matters

The UK economic miracle appears to be grinding to a halt. Recent figures show that previous forecasts for growth were far too optimistic. However there is one area which is surging ahead. This is the Creative sector. The Guardian reports that this sector was up 5.9% on the previous three months. My own studio business has seen growth of over 100% since 2012, so you may say "why do we need a campaign to Save London Music if it's doing so well?".

There are several reasons. The figures include areas such as filmmaking, which are booming. Producers come to the UK because it is a great place to make movies.  The technical facilities and expertise are unmatched and wheras in the USA different regional centres have different strengths, there is virtually nothing you can't find in the UK and especially in London. However tokeep ahead of the game, you need a constant influx of new talent. The government has decided in its wisdom that going to University will become hellishly expensive and will saddle students with massive debts in the form of loans. If you are a student and you are faced with a life of debt, would you take a chance on a degree in a creative field, or would you hedge your bets and go for a field that seemingly guarantees an income, such as law, economics or accountancy? Twenty years ago, my nephew was about to finish his A levels. I took him for a beer and we discussed what he wanted to do. He was thinking of doing an art foundation course and was worried that this may not lead anywhere. It was a one year course and I thought it was a brilliant idea. I advised him to ignore anyone who said "What sort of a job will that ever get you (and there were a fair few)". He went on to become an animator and his latest work, The Clangers, has been nominated for a BAFTA. That is why I was delighted last year when my Daughter started a foundation course and that she's doing a fine art degree this year. I believe we need creative people. I just find it sad that so many people are so blinkered. Without these people, there would be no booming film and music sector. It is vital that we campaign to get rid of student fees ASAP, but that really is another campaign! What is clear though is that if we strangle creativity and artistic courses, the sector will die. It seems perverse that George Osborne is prepared to give tax breaks to the rich producers of films, whilst imposing a huge tax burden on the people who do the work in the sector (I believe that is what a student loan is). If in ten years time there are no talented young artistically minded people coming through, all the tax breaks in the world won't save the UK film industry.

Sadly the Guardian talks a lot about the film industry and fails to mention music. Here are few keyfacts from the BPI

  • UK acts account for over 1 in 7 of albums sold world-wide in 2014
  • 5 of top 10 best-selling artist albums globally are by home-grown talent
  • UK albums and singles generate approx. $2.75 billion in world sales in 2014
  • UK artists accounted for 13.7 per cent of artist albums sold around the world.The global retail value of British recorded music is estimated at around $2.75 billion in 2014
  • British artists dominated at home with over half of all UK Official Chart album sales (53.5 per cent) and enjoyed major share gains in key global markets, including the US, Canada, Australia, Italy and Sweden
UK Artists Share of Global Music Sales: 2010 – 2014
2010       2011       2012       2013     2014
11.8%    12.6%    13.3%    13.0%    13.7%    source: BPI

Again these figures look robust. However, it usually takes years for artists to reach the stage in their career where they can meaningfully contribute to such figures. The megastars who make global hits are long past the stage where they need to play at the Dog and Duck in Egham. What the #SaveLondonMusic campaign is trying to do is to safeguard our future. It is the small and medium sized venues that are getting hit hard. No artist can start by selling out Wembley stadium. They have to start in a local pub or club, develop their craft, move to medium sied venues, do support tours, build a profile. They need to rehearse in small, local studios. Only when they have built up a suitable reportoire of songs can they even start to think about gigging and developing a career. Without local studios, this simply won't happen. This is why the destruction of venues is  a huge issue. We won't see the effect for several years, but if new artsist can't develop live performing skills, we will see an ageing artist base and declining interest from young people.

As I mentioned above, I run a studio and our turnover has doubled since 2012. Why? There are two reasons. The first is that we invested heavily in building a new studio complex, purpose built for the modern musicians needs. The second is that greedy Landlords have decimated the opposition. To build a studio is an extremely expensive and complex business. we spent over a million pounds on our new complex. We did this because we realised that the number of studios was shrinking and we were in a unique position. We are just about reaching the time when we are starting to see a payback.

Another huge problem we had was that no bank is interested in lending a business like us money. They don't understand what we do, they don't want to understand either. When we tried to borrow the money, we were told that our business case didn't stack up. When we said "how can that be, because it shows a profit" the banks replied "Your current trading levels do not support that". Do you think that if you double your capicity (which was fully utilised then), improve the facilities beyond recognition and give a far better,safer and more user friendly environment you will get the same level of custom? Well the banks did. As a result, I had to cash in personal investments and self fund. In the long run, that has worked very well for me. The studio is only in debt to me! No one else to explain anything to. However most studio owners are not in such a position. They are begotten to Landlords, who are cashing in all over London, to sell to developers. So although our business is doing well as a result, the bigger picture is alarming. The bottom line is that it is virtually impossible to start a new studio up and the existing ones are under pressure. If there are no local studios for up and coming artists to get their set together, then it will be the death of the UK music scene.

As I mentioned above, young people are urged to study subjects like Law, Accountancy and Economics, so they will get a good job. There is one piece of the picture missing. This is that none of these subjects generate wealth. Creative industries generate huge income for the UK. Economists, Lawyers and Accountants simply piggyback on wealth creating creative and manufacturing businesses. The UK used to be the workshop of the world, now we make nothing. If we throw away our music industry so casually, then where will the UK generate its prosperity?

We are launching our #SaveLondonMusic campaign on Friday 6th November at the Fiddlers Elbow in Camden Town. Please come down and support us. CLICK HERE for the campaign website and CLICK HERE for details of the event.

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