Bold new strategy being developed to secure Bristol’s grassroots music scene

January 4, 2024

After a successful roundtable, Bristol City Council is continuing its discussions with industry experts into new proposals to support Bristol’s vibrant music sector. Further work will be carried out alongside key partners including the Arts Council to assess the potential of Bristol’s music sector participating in a ticket levy.

A Bristol City Council led roundtable has laid the groundwork for a potential lifeline for the city’s prestigious, yet increasingly precarious grassroots music sector. The discussion, chaired by Bristol’s Night Time Economy Advisor, Carly Heath, was attended by over 70 experts representing essential keystones of the Bristol music and cultural scenes, including venue owners, promoters, festival organisers, and performers. This was a strong One City approach from across Bristol including the Musicians Union, Night Time Industries Association, Music Venues Trust and West of England Combined Authority.

Commenting on the discussion, Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol, said:

“Bristol’s Night Time Economy is an essential pillar of our city’s economy and culture, and we remain a pioneering destination for independent music.
“The challenging national picture highlights the hardship that local venues, organisers, and artists have been through recently, though we have thankfully avoided such closures in Bristol.
“We are proud of our city’s music scene, especially the possibilities that it provides for local talent to succeed in a thriving night time economy. The pioneering initiative shown in this report could provide a viable plan for the future.
“It’s clear that, together, we have more work to do, and I look forward to continuing to support the industry, who have worked tirelessly to put our city’s music scene on the map.”

More support needed

While many Bristol venues remain resilient in the face of declining sales and mass closures, industry figures present at the discussion laid bare the stark realities that venues across the country continue to face.

Between 2020 and 2023, the UK lost close to a third of its nightclubs, with independent venues at particular risk of closure. And while Bristol’s night time industry has stood strong, it faces mounting financial obstacles. A survey released in conjunction with the roundtable also noted that75% of small music venues have received no public funding from the Arts Council, further compounding difficulties.

Attendees made specific mention of the city’s exciting grassroots music scene and the challenges that this sector faces. They emphasised the importance of grassroots music and its contribution to the wider cultural value of Bristol, with the night-time cultural and leisure sector alone supporting over 22,700 jobs.

Considering these challenges, there was widespread agreement that more support was necessary.

An exciting proposal

In a bid to further support this essential cultural touchstone, industry figures have put forward a proposal to support Bristol’s vibrant music scene through a ‘Grassroots Music Fund.’

Under the proposed plan, and with support from participating local music venues, a ticket levy system at the point of sale would be collected into a central funding pot and distributed via a grant, potentially offering struggling venues across the city an invaluable financial lifeline.

The fund, which would represent a minor levy of 1-3% on all music tickets sold across the city, would have a particular focus on three ‘pillars’ of the grassroots movement: venues, events and music making. These pillars were deemed by roundtable attendees to represent essential tenets of the local music industry, not only recognising the need to support physical venues, but the individuals, activities and performances that bring them to life.

While the proposal is still in its initial stages, industry figures struck a positive tone during the meeting, citing increased sustainability, discovery of local talent, and the potential to bolster Bristol’s position as a pioneering cultural and music hub as key benefits to the plan.

Carly Heath was equally excited about the proposal, praising the funding initiative as an exciting potential step towards a more equitable and robust music sector and reaffirming the council’s “unwavering support for the talent of our creative community.”

“As a city, our music industry punches way above its weight. Our artists, venues, promoters, festivals, and audiences appreciate home-grown talent. Bristol music is more than just a sound, it’s a community.

“The future of music in Bristol deserves a collective conversation on sustainable solutions to funding, with the ambition for Bristol to continue to be a world leader in innovative and inclusive music scenes for generations to come.”

The Grassroots Music Fund initiative will now enter an extensive feasibility study to best ascertain its benefits and drawbacks. including economic modelling of the proposal. These preliminary steps offer avital industry-led light at the end of the tunnel for Bristol’s unique music sector.

Read the findings, discussions and recommendations from the roundtable below: