Earlier this week, UK Music published its annual report on the economic impact of the British music industry, which contributed £6.7 billion to the UK economy in 2022 due to gross value added. The report also revealed that exports are at £4billion and employment is at 210,000. Lawrence Montgomery, UK Managing Director of Rough Trade, discusses the role of the independent music industry (stores, artists and venues) in such growth and how additional support is needed to sustain it.
How has the independent music industry contributed to this growth?
“The independent music industry is crucial to this growth. While we can’t speak for everyone, Rough Trade’s own growth in the last year is a testament to this.
“For example, earlier this year, UK reports revealed that record sales reached £116.8 million last year, and our vinyl sales grew by 34 percent vs 2021. As Rough Trade accounts for nearly 10 percent of the UK vinyl market, along with other indie retailers, the surge has seen the market share of indie record shops grow to 28 percent.
“As a result, we’ve seen increased footfall, online retail traffic and a 20 percent year-on-year sales growth in 2023. With more growth projected, this has allowed us to invest in more stores in cities that lack a great record shop.
“And, as a demonstration of customer demand, we’ve been able to put on 745 quality music events over the last year, hosted at our stores in London, Bristol and Nottingham, as well as our outstore venues.
“We were lucky enough to host Lewis Capaldi for four events at one of our outstore venues to celebrate the release of his latest record ‘Broken by Desire to be Heavenly Sent’, which generated over 4,500+ album sales.
“Similarly, we helped Jorja Smith celebrate the release of ‘Falling or Flying’, which generated 4,000+ album sales, including two nights at Outernet.
“Meanwhile, Bombay Bicycle Club joined us for seven events to celebrate the release of ‘My Big Day’, which included six in-store and one out-store event – four of which were karaoke shows that saw the band sign and play BBC classics with the artist as their backing band. This generated over 2,300 album sales.
“Our fans are at the heart of everything we do, and we strongly believe nothing beats the community between independent record stores and their customers.
“The independent music industry is crucial in taking artists from the big, main stages and placing them directly in front of the consumer.
“Seeing an artist play in a small capacity, space/record shop when they might solely be seen playing in front of 1000s gives fans a truly special experience they may not get anywhere else. Whether that’s seeing their favourite songs performed in a new or stripped-back way or just the same sweaty live gig, but in a space you’d never expect to see it take place in. These sorts of shows give the fan real value and solidify that in-store gigs at places like Rough Trade, with their live element, can’t be replicated or achieved anywhere else.
“Meanwhile, the signing element that tends to happen after these shows also gives the fans something special to take away with them and a memory that they get to keep after the show, like a signed album or photo with their favourite band/artist.
Why is more support needed to sustain this growth?
“While the recent study shows immense success overall, it does highlight issues surrounding the grassroots end of the market, such as financial pressures that could make this growth hard to sustain.
“For example, a recent statement from Music Venue Trust revealed at least 15.7 percent of independent music venues have closed in the last twelve months in the UK, with hundreds more facing similar fates unless action is taken to save them. This is due to a combination of factors – soaring costs for rent, bills, wages, insurance, equipment, staffing and even safety concerns.
“Without these venues, new talent and indie musicians will be limited in exposure, taking away key performance and networking opportunities, sources of income and ultimately their chances of breaking into the music industry. As such, the music industry is deprived of new talent, which means a massive loss for the independent music industry and, therefore, a reduced contribution to the economy going forward.
“Independent music stores like Rough Trade exist in harmony with grassroots venues, as the platform they give music artists drives demand for the release of their music in physical form, which drives sales and keeps us afloat.
“This is why we host regular ‘Rough Trade Recommends’ events at our store in East London to showcase around three up-and-coming artists. We’ve had the likes of Goat Girl, Shame and Pip Blom perform, and upcoming shows with Lowertown, Pushpin and headboy soon.
“And we recognise the importance of supporting local talent, too, with The Nottingham and Bristol stores putting on live events in their gig spaces weekly. One we’re particularly proud of is Arlo Parks’ first live show at Rough Trade Bristol before she signed to Transgressive.
“Additionally, we use our online platform to champion artists and new releases. On The Rise is a special curation of new music releases from emerging talent / a spotlight on fresh projects on the cusp of garnering wider praise. Notable artists featured in 2023 include Joanna Sternberg, Anjimile, Ethan P Flynn, Coach Party and The Last Dinner Party. All artists are supported with exclusive extras only available from Rough Trade, from bespoke vinyl pressings to alternate hand-drawn sleeves and Limited-Edition zines, and given dedicated editorial on our website, giving fans a personal overview of the artist/project.
“But while those in the independent music industry are doing the best they possibly can to help sustain the industry’s growth as a whole, to continue adding value to the economy, more support is needed from external factors.
“The independent music industry was valued at over $26.2 billion globally in 2022 and projected to grow, yet government and local funding remains low.
“Although it was recently announced that £5 million would be invested into independent spaces by the government, this will likely not be enough to save all venues, so further investment is needed to protect them and independent artists.
“Industry leaders have a responsibility to speak up and advocate for the independent music industry, to spread awareness of financial pressures to increase funding, help them stay afloat and sustain growth.”
Read the full UK Music Industry Report here