Live Music Playbour: a Piece of the Puzzle

Gillon, Leslie orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-2428-1866 (2020) Live Music Playbour: a Piece of the Puzzle. In: The Future of Live Music. Bloomsbury Publishing, New York. ISBN 9781501355882

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There are two apparently contradictory trends in the live music industry in the UK. One trend is the continuing growth of revenues from live music and increased ticket sales for concerts and music festivals. The UK Music’s survey of 2017 reported that audience numbers had reached its highest ever level of 30.9 million, having risen by 3.2 million since 2015. In the UK and internationally, revenues from live music has overtaken revenues from recorded music.

However, the same report also found that, due to rising property values and strict licencing laws, smaller live music venues are increasingly threatened with closure and it reported a sharp fall in revenues from that part of the sector. This presents a challenge to a music industry that has always relied on these smaller venues to produce new talent and content: for example, the highly successful musician Ed Sheeran developed his act and honed his skills performing by extensively on the small venue circuit, often in pubs and small clubs. In many ways, these small venues can be thought of as representing the research and development area of the British music industry.

There has been discussion in recent years of the role of what Julian Kücklich has called playbour in the games industry and Terranova Tiziana has identified as free labour in the wider digital economy. This is the phenomena of consumers of digital products, particularly computer games, participating in the development of digital contents without receiving any financial reward. Christian Fuchs has argued that within a capitalist economic system this ‘free labour’ is a form of exploitation. This chapter considers the applicability of these terms to the work of those who work without pay, promoting and supporting small-scale events within the live music industry.

The chapter examines this question through a case study of The Puzzle Hall, a very small but significant live music venue, which operated in Sowerby Bridge, a small town in the North of England. The venue was one of a number owned by a pub company or 'pubco', which made the decision to close it down some years ago. Now however the venue has now been purchased through a crowdfunding campaign, by a group made up of former customers and so is owned by the audience it once served. The group plans to reopen The Puzzle Hall as a not-for-profit community music venue. The project has involved a large number of participants being willing not only to contribute to the funds for the purchase of the venue, but also prepared to commit to work on the project without pay. This case study opens up questions about the different ways in which such ‘free labour’ can be characterised; as indicative of the exploitative nature of the industry or as an example of non-hierarchical mutualism in action.

Ellis-Peterson, Hannah (2017) ‘UK music industry gets boost from 12% rise in audiences at live events’ The Guardian 9/7/17

Fuchs, Christian. (2014). Digital Labour and Karl Marx. New York: Routledge.

Kücklich, Julian (2005) ‘Precarious playbour: Modders and the digital games industry.’ The Fibraculture Journal

O’Connor. Roisin (2016) ‘First UK live music census warns of threats to small venues’ The Independent 17/2/18

Terranova, Tiziana, (2000) ‘Free Labour: Producing Culture for the Digital Economy’ Social Text, 63

Duke University Press

UK Music Measuring Music 2017 Report

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