'Budget cuts are the biggest challenge facing the live sector in 2017,' say industry experts

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Budget cuts are one of the biggest challenges facing the live industry in 2017, according to a group of industry professionals interviewed in the latest edition PSNLive.

Job security and lack of investment were also cited as problems, as part of a series of exclusive interviews with engineers, sound designers and PRs, looking at the position of the live sector right now.

Revenue problems in the music industry as a whole have had an effect on cuts in the live sector, yet gigs are still expected to make money on reduced budgets, says FOH engineer Ben Hammond.

He explains: “Since music has essentially become a worthless commodity at the hands of illegal downloading, an entire industry has had to carry on existing, but entirely reinvent their revenue streams. Touring now has to feed so many more mouths than it did before. This means the budget is being spread so thinly, everything is an argument to get what you need.”

The knock-on effect on big changes in the music industry was echoed by the Roundhouse’s head of music Jane Beese. She comments: “[Some of the biggest challenges are] the depletion of nurturing infrastructures for emerging artists, the fact that no-one understands the concept of paying for music anymore and the monopolies of festival and venue ownership.”

As well as festival ownership potentially affecting healthy competition in the live market, the wide range of festivals on offer to the British public is also impacting on the production budget. Stage manager John Saxby explains: "The saturation of festivals within the UK [is a problem]. This has thinned the numbers on most festivals, as whole heavily impacting the budget for production."

Richard Vivian, an acoustic consultant specialising in music and entertainment noise control, also finds budget cuts are impacting on the day job. Vivian has to work closely with government officers, environmental health officers and licensing officers in his work – but “budget cuts, early retirement of skilled staff and lack of investment in training mean that sometimes decisions are made by inexperienced officers who do not properly engage with my client, or me as a noise expert. “When that leads to refusals for developments, enforcement action, or prosecution, the stakes are high,” he adds.

Booking agent Jules de Lettre stressed the importance of live experts to musicians today: “Artists need live agents more so than ever as live has become such an important part of their careers. Having that knowledge, experience and expertise is invaluable to most music artists with serious careers ahead of them.

“As a result we feel that our position and what we bring to the table is invaluable and not easily challenged. Every business faces potential challenges and ours revolve mostly around competition in the UK market and global touring deals.”

Sound designer Bobby Aitken has spoken out about the industry “reasserting its creative identity”.

Aitken comments: “Until fairly recently, any review of an amplified concert or a piece of theatre would comment on the ‘sound’ of the performance. Nowadays critics seldom mention sound – particularly good sound.

We have to be very careful not to allow our art to ever be perceived as simply a service

Bobby Aitken

“I think this is due, in part, to the incredible success of technological innovation in our sector. Advanced control systems and on-line loudspeaker coverage tools have made achieving a good, workman-like sound the norm. Nowadays shows generally sound fine. However, I sometimes feel that while we’ve been congratulating ourselves on our ability to provide even coverage and high coherence we may have taken out eye off the ball.

“Recently the lighting, video and set designers have made huge creative leaps forward with stunning, imaginative looks that make audiences gasp and critics take notice," he says. "I think our biggest challenge is to reassert our creative identity. We have to be very careful not to allow our art to ever be perceived as simply a service."

Read the full-length Q&As, plus loads more analysis of the live sector right now, in the latest issue of PSNLive. Read it online here or subscribe to the print edition here.

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