What is the UK live music census?

The UK’s first ever national live music census took place in 2017: for 24 hours from noon on Thursday 9th March 2017, an army of volunteers in cities across the country went out and about to live music events across Glasgow, Newcastle-Gateshead, Oxford, Leeds, Southampton and Brighton (and 1st June in Liverpool), from lone buskers to massed choirs, from pub gigs to arena concerts. A nationwide online survey for musicians, venues, promoters and audiences was online from March until June.

The intention was to help measure live music’s cultural and economic value, discover what challenges the sector is facing, and inform policy to help it flourish.

The UK Live Music Census was organised by researchers from the Live Music Exchange research group, a collaboration across the universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Newcastle, and the University of Turku in Finland. In 2015, the same researchers organised a pilot Census in Edinburgh, inspired by work in Melbourne by Dobe Newton in 2012. It covers all genres and takes a broad definition of live music to include events featuring DJs.


We are now analysing the data and writing up a report to be published in February 2018. Follow us on social media for regular announcements about what we’ve found out so far.

If you would like to carry out your own local live music census, download the free Live Music Census Toolkit from February 2018.

Live Music Census Toolkit coming soon!


Why are we doing a Live Music Census?

Live music is popular across the UK, and has become increasingly important to the music industries, overtaking recording revenues in 2008. Yet recent years have been difficult for venues. These challenges are felt particularly keenly by the smaller venues, clubs and pubs which provide for local musicians and audiences, and which serve as the training ground for future headline acts.

There is widespread interest in the live music sector, and there have been numerous reports assessing its value produced by industry organisations, policy bodies and the charity sector. Nevertheless, there is still a gap in our knowledge about the specific relationship between the value of live music on the one hand and the current challenges facing venues across the UK on the other.

Accounts of live music activity vary according to where they have been produced, by whom, and by what method. This variation can make it difficult to make meaningful comparisons across cities, and across different types of music and different types of venue.

Our project will address these issues directly. The UK Live Music Census will be a collaboration between music industry organisations, policy bodies and leading academic live music researchers. Working with key personnel in the live music sector, and building on the project team’s pilot study of a census of live music in Edinburgh, we will provide the first account of live music in the UK that covers the full range of venues and that includes all types of musical activity – from amateur to top-flight professional.

What are we going to do?

The UK Live Music Census uses two methods. The first is the national online surveys which are for audiences, musicians, venues and promoters and are open until 31st May. We need people across the UK to fill these in so that we can build a national picture of live music activity. A key element of our data gathering will be these larger surveys so we sincerely hope that as many venues, promoters, and audiences and musicians as possible across the UK fill in the surveys.

The second method is the snapshot censuses, which will give us rich data about particular cities, including Glasgow, Newcastle-Gateshead, Oxford (all covered by our core funding), Brighton, Leeds, Liverpool and Southampton. Our affiliates at the British and Irish of Modern Music Institute (BIMM) in Brighton, Leeds Beckett University, University of Liverpool/Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts/Liverpool John Moores University and Southampton Solent University will be running Censuses in those cities. These snapshot censuses were organised by universities and researchers based in each of these cities which demonstrated capacity to organise the volunteers needed to carry out research on the snapshot census date of 9th March 2017 (Liverpool’s Census is on 1st June 2017).

What do we hope to achieve?

Our previous research shows that the way that different local councils deal with live music and venue licensing can have a profound effect on live music provision, but also that it is difficult for them to make informed decisions given the variety of approaches used in previous reports.

By bringing together representatives of the music industry, policymakers and academics to help to design the surveys and promote them nationwide, this project will assist all of us by providing a method and framework we can all agree on for assessing the scope and value of live music in the UK. This will be a huge step forward for all concerned in working to safeguard and develop the cultural and economic well-being of this most valuable facet of local character in towns and cities across the country.


Matt Brennan

Dr Matt Brennan

Principal Investigator

University of Edinburgh

Matt’s current research focuses on the music industries - and live music in particular - and the social history of the drum kit and drummers.

Martin Cloonan

Professor Martin Cloonan


University of Turku, Finland (previously University of Glasgow)

Professor Martin Cloonan is Director of the Turku Insitute for Advanced Studies (TIAS, www.utu.fi/tias) at the University of Turku, Finland. His research interests include the politics of popular music and issues concerning regulation, censorship and freedom of expression.

Adam Behr

Dr Adam Behr


Newcastle University

Adam’s research covers the politics and sociology of music, particularly popular music, and the music industries.

Emma Webster

Dr Emma Webster

Research Associate / Visiting Researcher

University of Edinburgh / Oxford Brookes University

Emma’s research interests are in live music and festivals, and about which she has also written reports for the live music and festivals industries.

Project Partners

The Musicians’ Union (MU) is a globally-respected organisation which represents over 30,000 musicians working in all sectors of the music business.

Music Venue Trust is a charity created in January 2014 that exists to protect, secure & develop UK Grassroots Live Music Venues.

UK Music

UK Music is a campaigning and lobbying group, which represents every part of the UK recorded and live music industry.

The project also has a broad advisory board with significant international representation from academic, industry and policy spheres


Live Music Resources

Membership organisations for musicians

Attitude Is Everything – charity which works to improve Deaf and disabled people’s access to live music by working in partnership with audiences, artists and the music industry
British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (BASCA) – supports and protects the professional interests of songwriters, composers and lyricists of all genres
Equity – trade union representing artists from across the entire spectrum of arts and entertainment
Featured Artists Coalition – campaigns for the protection of UK performers’ and musicians’ rights
Incorporated Society of Musicians – professional association for musicians: performers, composers, teachers and more
Making Music – association of amateur and semi-professional musicians including choirs and orchestra
Musicians’ Union – trade union which represents musicians working on all sectors of the music business
Phonographic Performance Limited (PPL) – collects and distributes money on behalf of performers and record companies for the use of their recorded music
PRS for Music (MCPS + PRS) – collects and distributes money on behalf of songwriters, composers and music publishers, for the use of their musical compositions and lyrics

Funding Bodies for Live Music

Arts Council England – the national development agency for the arts in England, providing funding for a range of arts activities
Arts Council of Northern Ireland – as above, for Northern Ireland
Arts Council Wales – as above, for Wales
Big Lottery Fund – gives grants to organisations in the UK to help improve their communities
Music Export Growth Scheme (MEGS) – BPI (British Phonographic Industry) / UKTI (UK Trade & Investment) – supports emerging artists, bands, DJs, performers, etc. that have had their first success in the UK and are ready to try and break into an overseas market
British Council
Creative Europe Desk UK – funding for collaborative projects in media and culture
Creative Scotland – the national development agency for the arts in Scotland
Help Musicians UK – independent UK charity for professional musicians of all genres, from starting out through to retirement
The Prince’s Trust – help for young people to train, learn or help get a job
PRS for Music Foundation – the UK’s leading charitable funder of new music and talent
Youth Music – young persons music charity set up in 1999 to promote music making opportunities and to provide advice to those with the least access

Information for Venues and Promoters

Attitude Is Everything – charity which works to improve Deaf and disabled people’s access to live music by working in partnership with audiences, artists and the music industry
Julie’s Bicycle – not-for-profit organisation working with the arts and creative industries to make environmental sustainability a core component of their work
Music Venues Alliance – a free-to-join, informal association of Grassroots Music Venues and other organisations/individuals who are passionate about this part of the music industry and have pledged their support to the work of the Music Venue Trust.
Music Venue Trust – charity that aims to protect, support and improve independent live music venues in the UK


Definition of a Live Music Event

We appreciate that there will be some grey areas as to what constitutes a live music event but, after consultation with stakeholders, we agreed on the following definition for the UK Live Music Census:

A live music event is one which musicians (including DJs) provide music for audiences and dancers gathering in public places where the music is the principal purpose of that gathering.

For a live music activity where the purpose is less clear—a singer in a restaurant or a DJ in a nightclub, for example—it was included in the Census if the event is advertised as a live music event (e.g. jazz at the Ashmolean Restaurant) and/or the performer is named (e.g. Carl Cox at Fabric).

It is also worth bearing in mind that a live music event, by its nature, needs:-

  • a place in which to happen
  • performers
  • an audience
  • a catalyst — someone or something to bring these things together; and
  • appropriate technology to enable the event to happen, e.g. instruments, microphones.[1]

Hence the live music activity in question should also have these five elements.

Finally, does the event pass the ‘elephant test’, i.e. would the promoter/organiser, audience, and/or performer consider it to be a live music event?

[1] See Frith, Simon (2012) ‘Live Music 101 #1 – The Materialist Approach to Live Music – Simon Frith’, Live Music Exchange, 2 July. http://livemusicexchange.org/blog/live-music-101-1-the-materialist-approach-to-live-music-simon-frith/

Notes on Live Music Venue Types

The following list of venue types should cover the majority of venues used for live music although bear in mind that there will be grey areas. The list was devised and developed for the UK Live Music Census but you may need to adjust it depending on your location. Bear in mind, however, that using the same categories allows for more substantive comparisons across censuses. Some venues will have more than one function but you should consider the primary function of the venue where possible.

  • Arena (5,000-20,000): large, covered, multi-purpose arena or conference centre
  • Arts centre (200-2,000): multi-arts, multi-purpose venue
  • Bar, pub with music (20-100): main focus is alcohol sales with occasional music
  • Church/place of worship: place of worship which hosts live music events beyond its regular services
  • Concert hall/auditorium (200-3,000): dedicated music venue, mainly seated gigs
  • Hotel or function room
  • Large music venue (651-5,000): dedicated music venue, mainly standing gigs
  • Large nightclub (>500): dedicated nightclub, mainly for dancing
  • Medium music venue (351-650): dedicated music venue, mainly standing gigs
  • Outdoor (greenspace), e.g. parks used for festivals
  • Outdoor (urban), e.g. particular sites used regularly by buskers
  • Restaurant/café with music (20-100): main focus is food with occasional music
  • Small music venue (<350): dedicated music venue, mainly standing gigs[2]
  • Small nightclub (<500): dedicated nightclub, mainly for dancing
  • Social club/community centre/village hall/sports hall: meeting place, generally formed around a common interest, occupation, activity or location
  • Stadium (5,000-100,000): large, usually uncovered, main purpose usually for sports
  • Student union/university building
  • Theatre/opera house (500-2,500): mainly theatre with some live music/opera
  • Other (20-1,000): venues which are used for live music occasionally and do not fit into the above categories

[2] Also see Music Venue Trust’s work for further detail on small, medium, and large music venues in Mayor of London’s Music Venues Taskforce (2015) London’s grassroots music venues rescue plan. https://www.london.gov.uk/what-we-do/arts-and-culture/arts-and-culture-publications/london-grassroots-music-venues-rescue-plan

Promoter-artist deals

The following is a list of the type of deals which may be made between artist and promoter/venues:-

  • Pay-to-play – artist pays the promoter/venue to perform
  • Ticket allocation – promoter organises show and artist is expected to sell tickets
  • Self-promotion – artist sells tickets and takes the risk on the show
  • Free – no monetary payment but artist may receive expenses
  • In-kind – artist receives a non-monetary ‘payment’
  • Busking – paid by donation
  • Promoter-artist split – promoter takes door proceeds, recuperates costs of gig, splits remainder with the artist
  • Profit minus guarantee – if no profit, the artist still gets guaranteed fee, but if profit, then promoter deducts guarantee and pays artist the balance
  • Flat fee – the artist receives a guaranteed set amount of money no matter how many people attend
  • Guaranteed fee plus profit – the artist takes a percentage of the profit on top of the guaranteed fee
  • Salaried – e.g. as part of an ensemble


From February 2018, you will be able to download the Live Music Census Toolkit so that you can carry out a census in your home town – this will include among other things a ‘how to’ guide, timeline, checklists, glossary, a guide on how to gather listings data, plus templates for press releases and funding applications. Check back in February to download your free guide or contact us via the form below.


Note that the opinions expressed represent only the interviewee, not the UK Live Music Census as a whole, or any other hosting or associated institutions.

Ricky Bates, Venue operator/booker, The Joiners, Southampton

Guto Brychan, Chief Executive, Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff

Tom Caulker, Proprietor, World Headquarters Club, Newcastle (acceptance speech for an Honorary Doctorate from Newcastle University in November 2017.  The degree was awarded in a special ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the award of an Honorary Doctor of Civil Law degree to Dr Martin Luther King Jr.)

Chris Cusack, Events/Venue Manager, BLOC+, Glasgow

Michael Farrell, Promoter, Letham Nights

E.W. Harris, Musician, New York

Victoria Larkin, Deputy Director, Oxford Contemporary Music

Joe Maryanji, Marketing, Promotions, Events and Bookings Manager at The Jacaranda, Liverpool

Richard McCallion, Bar Manager, The American Bar, Belfast

Alistair McDonald, Chase Park Festival, Gateshead

Ronan Munro, Editor, Nightshift magazine, Oxford

Razor, Musician, London/Brighton

Chelsea Rixson, Managing Director, Brighton Music Office

Emma Rule, Musicians Against Homelessnes

Gavin Sharp, Chief Executive, Inner City Music (owner/operator of Band on the Wall)

Paul Smith, Manager, The Three Tuns, Gateshead

Ian Stephenson, Musician, Newcastle-Gateshead



Emma Webster on BBC Radio Oxford with Sophie Law (01/09/17 – 12mins, 24 secs in)

Adam Behr on BBC Introducing in the North East with Nick Roberts (11/03/17 – 1 hour, 21mins, 30 secs in)

Adam Behr on BBC Radio Kent, Dominic King Show (10/03/17 – 1 hours, 33mins, 35 secs in)

Matt Brennan on BBC Breakfast (BBC One, 10/03/17 – 46 mins in)

Matt Brennan on Radio 4’s Today programme (BBC Radio 4, 10/03/17 – 1 hr 47 mins in)

Matt Brennan on Good Morning Scotland (BBC Radio Scotland, 10/03/17 – 1 hr 57 mins in)

How big is live music really? (BBC News, 10/03/17)

Martin Cloonan on the Stephen Jardine Programme (BBC Radio Scotland, 10/03/17 – 1 hr 31 mins in)

Adam Behr on Good Morning Wales (BBC Radio Wales, 10/03/17 – 2 hrs 24 mins in)

Emma Webster on Howard Bentham / Charles Nove Sits In (BBC Radio Oxford, 10/03/17 – 1 hr 37 mins in)

First ever live music census to be carried out across UK (The Irish News, 09/03/17)

Adam Behr on Gilly Hope’s show (BBC Radio Newcastle, 09/03/17 – 32 mins in)

Adam Behr on Lisa Shaw’s show (BBC Radio Newcastle, 09/03/17 – 1 hr 10 mins in)

Working to prevent the death of live music venues (Channel Four News, 09/03/17)

When did you last hear live music? Stand up and be counted (The Guardian, 08/03/17)

The UK’s rich musical heritage is threatened by a live music culture under pressure (The Conversation, 08/03/17)


Click here for more press coverage of the UK Live Music Census