Live Music Exchange: a resource for music policy making

Live Music Exchange (LMX) is a resource used by the UK live music sector. It was originally created to disseminate research findings from an AHRC funded project (2008-2011) on the history, economics, and sociology of the live music sector in the UK. However, members of LMX have since gone on to lead projects on topics including the cultural value of live music (2013-2014), the ecology of live music (2015), and the measurement of live music activity in British cities (2015-present). LMX is currently comprised of research staff based at the University of Edinburgh (Matt Brennan, Simon Frith, and Emma Webster), the University of Glasgow (Martin Cloonan), and the University of Newcastle (Adam Behr).

LMX has had an impact on the UK’s music policymaking process through the provision of relevant data and data analysis and by improving communication between the sector's stakeholders. It has had an impact at both the local and national level, improving the quality and reach of policy discussion. By June 2016, it also organized 5 policy events across the UK with over 200 participants.

Key findings of the initial AHRC project are that:

  • the economic and cultural importance of live music was underestimated by both academic researchers and policy makers, who tended to focus on the recording industry and copyright issues;
  • the value of live music could not be understood simply in terms of cost: cultural factors were equally important in determining live music promoters' abilities to sustain a business;
  • the health of the live sector, particularly over time, depended on a balance of different kinds of promoter (enthusiast, state, commercial) and types of venue (in terms of both size and audience experience);
  • the activity of local government in terms of regulation, licensing and the interpretation of national legislation had a significant impact on the health of the live music sector in different cities and UK regions.

Key findings of the “Pub to Stadium” AHRC project on the ecology of music venues are that:

  • the weakest point of the live music ecology at present is the small to medium independent venues.  
  • policymakers need to pay more heed to the economic and cultural contribution of smaller venues. Local regimes often focus their attention on major developments whose key beneficiaries are larger businesses.   
  • greater harmonisation of regulatory regimes and their implementation across the UK will benefit independent and major operators alike.   
  • the need for a more ‘joined up’ approach across council services is widely acknowledged but not always fully implemented.    
  • competition between cities drives investment in infrastructural projects, yet one of the side effects of such regeneration can be a more difficult environment for venues without the commercial or political wherewithal to adapt quickly to ‘gentrification’.
  •  it is these smaller spaces that provide both performance and social spaces for rising acts. They feed into an area’s ‘local character’ – its musical history – in a way that makes them difficult to replace.

In 2015, members the LMX research team conducted a live music census pilot study in the city of Edinburgh, the first of its kind in Europe, and produced a set of three key recommendations for the Edinburgh City Council to address challenges faced by music venues in the city:

  • Change the inaudibility clause to ‘nuisance’ or decibel-level (through negotiation with Licensing Board).
  • Adopt the ‘agent of change’ principle as guidance for informing planning decisions around venues and advising residents, and work towards its enactment by the Scottish Parliament in law.
  • Ensure any refresh of the city council’s cultural policy recognises both the economic and cultural value of live music to the city, and promise to do what it can to protect small to medium capacity music venues in particular in this challenging climate.

In 2016, members of the LMX research team were awarded an AHRC Standard Grant to develop capacity and research tools so that other cities in the UK could conduct live music censuses.