Solidarity in numbers: how to tap into your local music scene

Blog by Jamie Hamilton under Live, Recording & Production

Last week, we were excited to attend the sold-out 105th Un-Convention held at NIAMOS Centre in Hulme, Manchester. As well as topical discussions on the challenges that coronavirus COVID-19 and Brexit (more on that later) could create in the UK music industry, there was a strong focus on community building and networking. None more so than in the Thursday afternoon panel, 'Developing Regional Music Scenes'.

The panel follows on from the launch of the Regional Music Scenes Network. Over the past 10 years, Un-convention has worked with countless music professionals and organisations, hosting conferences and panels across the UK. With the Regional Music Scenes Network, they are looking to take their approach of supporting local music scenes one step further. Supported by Arts Council England, they have brought together promoters, regional networks, venues and other organisations to discuss the current state of music scenes in both rural and urban areas. Taking into account strengths and weaknesses in each of the scenes and broader trends from recent years, the network has identified the most pressing issues for regional music scenes in order to develop the ideas to tackle them.

Organising A Local Scene
A recurring theme in the conversation was the importance of organisation and cooperation in a local scene. Time constraints can make this seemingly simple step feel near-impossible, and collaboration isn’t always easy to foster between venues and businesses from the same area that may view each other as rivals. The panel provided evidence that these initial stumbling blocks are far from insurmountable. Come Play With Me Label Manager, Scott Lewis, cited the success of Music:Leeds, founded to engage the scene in the city and act as a centralised point to support, develop, grow and promote local music. They run projects, events, workshops, create networking opportunities, and signpost openings for artists in the region - such as funding or live opportunities.

There has been a similar success story up the road in York, where venues range from small pubs to large capacity venues such as the York Barbican. Chris Sherrington, co-owner of York's Fulford Arms hears a broad range of voices from within the local scene, which is a positive but can make working together more challenging. The recent founding of York Music Venues Network is already driving positive change in the city.

Chris has also seen successful events in York arise from collaboration with the city’s university. Encouraging a local university or college to use small, local venues for events, or to promote relevant shows to a student audience can be particularly effective in encouraging plurality in a local scene.

Of course, all this activity is great news for bands from the area. If, as an artist, you can express interest in helping to build a scene, this fosters connections with other local creatives that can go a long way to furthering your career.

The 'B' Word
With Aston University’s Dr Patryja Rozbicka on the panel, there was always going to be a bit of Brexit chat on the agenda. She has been heavily involved in a research project examining how the live music sector in the UK will respond to the outcomes of the Brexit process, using the city of Birmingham as a case study. Patryja was keen to deliver a positive message. She hopes that by examining the possibility of the negative impact of Brexit, coping responses can be put in place to overcome any future challenges.

The study has found that the consequences of Brexit will be broader than anticipated. A significant concern is that fewer artists and productions will travel to the UK from Europe, decreasing music tourism and making cultural exchanges more difficult. The festival industry is also expected to be negatively impacted - especially in the short-term - as the potential costs of running large-scale events spiral. The additional administrative costs of Brexit is likely to have a disproportionate impact for independent UK-based artists, promoters and festivals. While larger operations should have the resources to deal with such costs, it is likely to prove more of a challenge for those with tighter budgets.

There will be adjustment times for the industry, so getting prepared early is key.

Festivals and Initiatives
Another panelist at the forefront of exciting developments in their city's music scene is Sarah Morgan, Director of The Tin Music & Arts Centre, based in Coventry's Canal Basin. The 150 capacity venue acts as an artistic hub, as well as cooperating with other venues around the city. Their events aim to influence Coventry’s musical community by booking established and international acts alongside local, homegrown talent. There are a dwindling number of music venues in Coventry, which makes The Tin Music & Arts very important to the area. The centre also provides training and support to budding promoters, offering guidance on approaching artists and costing events.

Coventry is the UK City of Culture for 2021, which has helped to generate some extra interest in the area and led to fresh approaches by promoters from across the country to put on shows in the city. Previous City of Culture award-winners - Derry in 2013 and Hull in 2017 - have seen genuine benefits from the title, long after the planned events have ended. Hull's status as the UK City of Culture attracted more than five million people to the city, £220 million of investment and 800 new jobs.

Annual festivals can also have a big impact on a music scene throughout the rest of the year, acting as a catalyst for people getting involved in the arts, particularly young people. FOCUS Wales is an international multi-venue showcase festival taking place in Wrexham, North Wales, with a view to promoting emerging Welsh talent, alongside a selection of the best new acts from across the globe. FOCUS Wales 2020 will mark the festival's 10th edition, and will welcome over 15,000 people to the town. Programme manager, Sarah Jones, highlighted other ways that the festival rejuvenates the town, including utilising disused shops on the Wrexham high street as performance spaces during the festival.

This re-purposing of local spaces is a common theme in the fantastic work of East Street Arts. The permanent or temporary reimagining of public space can create a real buzz and have a snowball effect on the local scene in general.

Final Word
If you're part of a music scene, getting organised is essential. Seek out any existing collectives in your area, and if these are hard to come by - start your own! The more aspects of the community that become associated with a project, the more likely it is for other local venues, promoters and businesses to show interest in involvement. Local newspapers and radio stations are often happy to cover music and arts in a given area, and may even get involved with the organisation, sponsorship and coverage of an event.

Promoters, venues and bands also shouldn’t be scared of approaching councils and local authorities with creative ideas. Building these sorts of relationships can be key in cultivating cultural initiatives that will be positive for the area.

Further tests remain in building bridges between towns and cities, which will allow for artists from smaller areas to move onto larger, more prestigious venues. There is also the opposite challenge of encouraging established acts to veer from the traditional tour path to sustain the grassroots venues off the beaten track. Music Venue Trust continues its work in promoting the interests of the UK's music venues but in business rates and Brexit, there are more obstacles ahead.

The Regional Music Scenes Network is still in its development stages and is keen to receive insight from as many music scenes as possible. If you’re interested in getting involved, contact [email protected] to stay in touch.


How emerging bands and artists can involved in their regional music scene


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