Mill Hill Music Complex has been running for 35 years. In this time we’ve seen huge changes in the music industry. Consider some of the changes which have occurred in this time. When we opened our doors, there were four TV channels, with Top of the Pops and The Old Grey Whistle test being the only regular shows where you could actually see bands. The whole Punk/New Wave movement was built with airplay based more or less solely on the John Peel show on Radio 1 at 10pm. Record labels ruled the roost and if you wanted to listen to music, you had to buy 7 or 12 inch vinyl records. There were three major national weekly music papers. These were the NME, which was the mag for hipsters, Melody Maker, which was the mag for Muso’s and Sounds which was the mag for teenyboppers. A good review in NME could get your band a record deal. There was a thriving pub and club music scene. The concept of “pay to play” hadn’t been invented and promoters booked bands because they were good, not because they brought their mates. If you were in a half decent band, you felt you had a chance of making a decent living as a musician. If you got a record deal, you’d expect the label to develop you and not drop you if your first single tanked.
Fast forward 35 years. No one in the UK has a clue how many TV channels there are, or even how many dedicated music channels there are. The nearest thing to a National TV show that can break bands is Jools Holland. There are untold internet radio stations playing all manner of sub genre’s of music. Record labels are struggling to survive and most get by on royalties from back catalogs. Only the NME remains of the “music press” and that is a minority publication. Getting a review in NME is simply something to tweet or put on your facebook page. Music pubs which actually pay bands are few and far between and it seems no one goes to watch a band playing originals “on spec” anymore. Every musician I know, apart from those in established acts, is struggling to make ends meet. Which begs the question…
Is it possible to make money out of being involved in music these days?
I was pondering this question and it occurred to me that there us musicians are generating huge amounts of money. The trouble is that not a penny of it comes back to the us. Who makes the money? The internet ISP’s and other technology companies. Back in 1989 a British Computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee, proposed a system of exchanging information using computer systems. It was originally designed for exchanging scientific papers, but it was soon realised that all manner of other things could be exchanged and shared. This was called the World Wide Web and within a short period, we all started using it.
Today life without the internet or web would seem unimaginable. We buy holidays online, have email accounts and watch all manner of TV shows, listen to radio shows etc on the web. But what made it into this integral part of life in 2014. The answer is that music drove this. Some of the earliest users of the web were sharing music on it. Sites such as Youtube have generated huge interest in the web and built up the skills of whole generations of users.
This has generated huge amounts of cash for the internet companies, but not a penny comes back the way of musicians. We share clips and tracks all the time, with Youtube, Twitter and Facebook being the current flavour of the month. Whilst many musicians play along with this, hoping to get some exposure, the ISP’s are raking it in. Can you imagine if there was no music on the Web? I firmly believe that if this was the case, it would still primarily be used for exchanging scientific papers and articles.
In Germany, the issue of tape piracy was addressed by a “tape levy”. This money was fed back to musicians, with the money being distributed towards those at the bottom of the tree more than the top. The UK is second only to the USA in creative arts. The music industry has generated huge revenues for the UK taxman and yet nothing is ever done to support our community. From the marine offences act in the 1960’s when governments banned pirate stations and attempted to control what we listen to, to the present day, popular music is viewed with disdain by the establishment.
The bottom line is that because musicians have no effective lobbying organisation and no-one to speak for the industry at the top table, the grassroots is being strangled. The biggest attack was inadvertent. It was the banning of smoking in pubs and clubs. Since this legislation, thousands of pubs and clubs, the lifeblood of the music community have disappeared. It is getting to the stage where there is virtually no where for bands to play.
So what can be done?
I believe that there should be a levy on ISP’s and anyone who makes money from internet content. This should be fed back into the wider music community and used to support venues and other organisations which give musicians a chance to ply their trade. Near Mill Hill we have the Arts Depot, a potentially world class venue, but this gives no support for up and coming local artists. It could be a seed bed for local musicians and bands, but is just not interested.
I would like to see grants for pubs and clubs to improve facilities for bands and subsidies for up and coming bands for gigging and recording. I would like to see this paid for by an ISP creativity tax. To put a band together is expensive. Rehearsals cost money, instruments cost money and doing gigs cost money. It will be suicidal for the UK economy if young musicians are priced out of the business. Ultimately the ISP’s would make even more money, if a new generation of creative people can be developed.
Mill Hill Music Complex are starting a campaign to get a fair deal for up and coming musicians and proper support for those of us who have put the UK at the forefront of the World music industry. We can’t do it alone, please support us.