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What lies ahead for the music industry?

26th January 2016
Music and performance
At a time when the music industry has been rocked by the loss of some of its biggest names – David Bowie, Motorhead frontman Ian Fraser “Lemmy” Kilmister and Eagles guitarist Glenn Frey –  Solent has been taking a closer look at the future of the live music industry.

Welcoming an impressive panel of industry professionals, the University hosted ‘Live & Kicking’, a conference exploring some of the issues surrounding live music.

The panel of industry experts included (L-R): Mel Archer, Mark Ward, Roxy Robinson, Marcus O’Dair, Sophie Williams

Now in its third year the annual conference – organised by Johnny Hopkins, Senior Lecturer in Popular Music and Media Industries – provides a platform for a series of lively debates on the latest hot topics in the field of live music.

This year staff and students got to hear from and discuss issues with guests including: Mel Archer, Production and event manager (Bestival, Glastonbury); Mark Ward  runs (Moondust Events) and band member of Solar Wolf; Marcus O’Dair, music journalist (Guardian, Pitchford), academic and author; Roxy Robinson, gig promoter, festivals consultant (Kendall Calling, Beacons Festival), academic and author and band member of Grasscut; and Sophie Williams, music PR and band manager of The Charlatans.

Music PR in the age of social media

A passionate debate between the music journalists and PR professionals on the panel looked at the challenges and opportunities presented by social media. Sophie Williams, who manages The Charlatans, mentioned how she quite often found out what the band were up to from Tim Burgess’ posts on social media!

There was also discussion around how social media is democratising the media; giving people who didn’t necessarily have a voice through traditional media the opportunity to be heard and promote themselves, their ideas and their music.

(L-R) Roxy Robinson, Marcus O’Dair and Sophie Williams

Those attending discussed the perception by some that PR seems to be increasingly dominating the media. Do articles in music publications read more like press releases with no critical distance, objectivity or perspective?

The future of music festivals

With ticket prices increasing and smaller festivals struggling to keep afloat issues regarding festival costs, sponsorship and music integrity were the hot topics being discussed by the panel and the attendees.

There were some great discussions around counter culture festivals versus the more corporate ones and how important the music is now at these events. It was argued that festival pioneers, Glastonbury, bridged both styles and is still used as a blueprint for boutique festivals.

(L-R) Mel Archer and Mark Ward

With festivals more expensive and lasting longer it was argued that people want and expect more than just music now. Not everyone wants to sleep in a tent; they want higher spec facilities, a variety of arts activities and better amenities.

When it comes to the increasing cost of tickets it was pointed out that with people expecting more the overheads continue to rise meaning a smaller profit margin for the organisers. It was pointed out that, according to an article in the Guardian, a large portion of ticket revenue is spent on things other than the acts – power alone for a 10,000 capacity venue will cost from £60k-£100k; and last year the Isle of Wight festival spent £1 million on Police and security and £250k on building roads in the site car parks to stop vehicles getting stuck in the mud.


The extra expenses mean that festivals can’t function without sponsors but it was argued that they should be seen as a help rather than a hindrance with the event manager having the power to select sponsors that best fit with a festival’s identity and values.

Looking to the future, the panel recognised the growing interest in cashless events using the RFID wristband – used recently at Coachella Festival – but voiced the need for caution on becoming too technology dependent.

How can we save small live music venues?

Stand up and be counted! Was the call to action!

The conference discussed how the Government and the music industry could do more to safeguard the future of small music venues. In other European countries, like France and Italy, governments help subsidise these types of venues, recognising their importance for the future of the industry. The live music industry is currently worth £2.2 billion in the UK; the panel called for more of this money to be ploughed back into the grass roots infrastructure to support new talent and the smaller venues.


Fans can also help by lobbying their local MPs to put pressure on the government to do more to support these pivotal incubators of musical talent.

The conference also highlighted the need for the larger record labels to put more money into these venues. Without places like The Joiners in Southampton would bands like Oasis and the Vaccines have become so big and made so much money for their record labels?

Students attending the conference were also urged to help keep small venues alive by not just attending them but by  offering their skills and expertise to help run and maintain them; something that Solent students are already doing in the city – both on the technical and promotional side.

Following the conference, the students had the opportunity to network with the panellists, something which has proved useful in the past with many students given access to information and opportunities for work experience and internships.

(L-R) Sophie Williams and Johnny Hopkins

Pleased with the success of the conference Johnny Hopkins said: “Live & Kicking 2016 provided students with the opportunity to listen to the insights of a range of top music and media industries professionals. Importantly the students got involved in the debate and that synergy created some great proactive ideas for the future that could improve the live music industry. Let’s get out there and try and make them happen.”