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Politicians debate the future of the music industry

By | Published on Tuesday 4 May 2010

As previously reported, politicians from all three of the main political parties went head-to-head on Friday in a live debate on BBC 6music to discuss the future of the music industry.

The Conservative’s former Shadow Culture Media & Sport Secretary John Whittingdale, Labour’s Minister Of State For Culture & Tourism Margaret Hodge and the Liberal Democrats’ Culture, Media & Sport spokesman Don Foster appeared on the panel with UK Music head Feargal Sharkey.

Sharkey kick started proceedings by reiterating some key points from UK Music’s recently launched ‘Liberating Music’ report, which calls on the government to provide backing to those working in music in order to make the UK industry the biggest in the world. He said: “What for me is in rude health is the quality and the creativity of the artists.It’s something this county is famous for and we’re probably better than anyone else. The UK is the second largest source of repertoire. We think the government has a role to play in making sure that every young artist, musician, entrepreneur is getting every bit of support and every bit of encouragement”.

Margaret Hodge quickly countered that the Labour government had been doing just that for years, with over £300 million invested in music education, though Lib Dem Don Foster said that he didn’t feel enough was being done in schools, saying that “[music is] hampered by the overloaded national curriculum and I would like to free up the national curriculum so there is more opportunity for creativity”.

Hodge was then set on from all sides, with all three of the other panellists saying that live music had been harmed by Labour’s 2003 Licensing Act, which they all claimed had made it too expensive for small venues to stage live music.

Sharkey explained: “The real starting ground for our start up bands is in small venues and sadly the licensing legislation has hampered it and in small venues we’ve seen less live music and that has to be changed. It’s true that live music has been doing well but all that growth has been at the top end – festivals and big gigs. What we need is those little rooms in the backs of pubs, clubs and hotels where people like myself stood up for the first time at the age of seventeen thinking ‘I’ve got an idea for a tune’. Those venues are under threat. The British Beer & Pub Association tell me we’re losing 50 pubs like that a week”.

It’s worth noting, that the Liberal Democrats are the only one of the three main parties to address this in their manifesto, laying out exactly how they would change licensing laws, removing the need to apply for a license for venues with less than 200 capacity. Labour vaguely mention a review of the current rules in theirs, while the Conservative manifesto makes no reference to music licensing laws at all.

On the subject of illegal downloading, Hodge said that the government had been working with the music industry on ways to curb it, through the Digital Economy Act, as well as helping to find new business models. She said: “[The internet is] an opportunity as well as a threat.The opportunity is that many, many more people can listen to music. The threat is that creators may not get money for the music they have created”.

She continued: “We’ve worked with the industry to find new business models so they can make their money in different ways, whether it’s through live gigs bringing in advertising or many of the other experiments that are taking place at the moment. The other thing we’ve done is that we have, for the first time, introduced ways of how we are going to get tough with people who persistently download illegally”.

Both Whittingdale and Foster criticised the DEA as being “flawed” (despite the Tories helping it become law), Foster telling Hodge: “Some of it was rushed right at the end in terms of web blocking and I think we need to look at it again”.

The discussion also turned to ticket touting when one industry contributor, Festival Republic’s Melvin Benn, proposed that a price cap be placed on all tickets sold on the secondary market (or at least those sold through channels where monitoring prices is possible).

No firm answer was given by any member of the panel, though Foster said that there was a “legitimate need for a secondary market” for people who bought tickets to shows but were then genuinely unable to attend, while Whittingdale said that he didn’t think it was an issue that the government to intervene in, adding: “We’ve got to look at the number of tickets that any one individual is able to buy”.

You can listen to the full debate via the BBC iPlayer or by downloading the BBC 6music News podacst at