Live music is popular across the UK, and has become increasingly important to the music industries, overtaking recording revenues in 2008. Yet recent years have been difficult for venues, particularly smaller venues, such as clubs and pubs, which provide for local musicians and audiences.

Live Music Exchange (LMX) is a resource used by the UK live music sector, originally to share research findings from an AHRC funded project (2008-2011) on the history, economics, and sociology of the UK live music sector. Its members 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).

The project has had an impact on the UK’s music policy-making 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, LMX had organised five policy events across the UK with over 200 participants, and in spring 2017 held the UK's first national live music census.

First phase

The initial AHRC-funded project found 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

Pub to Stadium

The “Pub to Stadium” project on the ecology of music venues, also funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), found 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.

Live Music Census

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 City of Edinburgh 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 similar studies. The first UK Live Music Census took place in spring 2017, covering all types of venues and musical activity, from amateur to top-flight professional.

The UK Live Music Census used two methods, the first of which comprised national online surveys for audiences, musicians, venues and promoters to build a national picture of live music activity. The second method was a series of snapshot censuses, giving the team rich data about particular cities, including Glasgow, Newcastle and Oxford (all covered by our core funding), and Brighton, Leeds, and Southampton (using affiliate researchers). 

Would you like to get involved in research at ECA?

We are always looking for research partners and participants. If you are interested in getting involved in research at Edinburgh College of Art, please contact our Research, Knowledge Exchange and Outreach (RKEO) Office by emailing ECA.rkeo@ed.ac.uk or telephoning +44 (0)131 650 2835.

We also offer a range of research-led postgraduate programmes. Find out more.


Related people