Live music events give £1bn kick to UK economy

Live music gives us more than just a good time. Its beat is driving tourism and jobs too...

by Dave Waller
Last Updated: 03 Jun 2011

Live music events generated £1.4bn for the UK economy in 2009, according to industry body UK Music, almost all of which was spent outside the actual event in local businesses such as hotels and restaurants. It reckons that’s sustaining the equivalent of 19,700 jobs.

This is surely music to the Government’s ears. When times are tough and you’ve started scrabbling round for anything that can earn you a few quid, it’s sensible to play to your strengths. And music is one of those things for which the UK still has a decent rep: almost a fifth of that spend came from overseas tourists, who parted with 25% more than non-music tourists. So with the sound of ringing tills mixing with the nation’s grime raps and emo chords, UK Music is now pushing the government to implement a live-music tourism strategy to boost numbers.

‘The role of music in terms of creating jobs, in terms of sustaining businesses and in terms of attracting visitors to all regions of this country comes over loud and clear,’ said Feargal Sharkey, chief executive of UK Music. Yes, the Feargal Sharkey.

Sharkey reckons the government should take the industry’s current popularity and turn it up to 11, by dealing with concerns over the UK’s visa system (which can cause problems for visiting acts) and working with the industry to build a reliable system for selling on unwanted gig tickets.

It’s all good in theory, and we’re happy to blow our whistles in support. But a separate report suggests that, after 10 years of successive growth, the appeal of live music is actually on the wane. According to Chris Carey, economist at PRS for Music, the rights collecting body, the UK’s live music revenues dropped by 6.7% last year (having increased by 9.4% in 2009 and 13% in 2008). Even the big names are suffering: Bon Jovi failed to sell out their arena tour last year, and tickets for Paul McCartney’s Hyde Park gig last summer were floating about at less than face value.  

So is live music another former strength that’s now set to desert us? Not yet, thankfully. Things will pick up again when Take That get back on tour with Robbie Williams (at least, Carey cites this as a major contributor to a return in fortunes). ‘Our opinion is that live is cooling to a more sustainable growth level,’ he said.

And it could be worse – we could be Europe, where arena music gigs suffered a 16% drop in attendances. So it seems the Government could learn a lot by listening to Feargal Sharkey. Bet you didn’t think we’d be saying that 30 years ago. But a good GDP boost is hard to find…

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