Music venues are hubs for entrepreneurship. Cities should support them

London's Denmark Street: a whole music quarter, on its way out. Image: Getty.

In 2014, according to CAMRA, pubs were closing at a rate of 31 per week. This is actually down, from over 50 per week in previous years – but nonetheless it reveals that our leisure habits are changing to a lifestyle that requires less local pubs to cater to our needs.

It isn’t just pubs, though. Over the last 12 months, over 30 music venues have closed down for a variety of reasons – from increased rents, to noise complaints, to redevelopment. In some cases, they went because they were in pubs that closed, such as The Grosvenor in Stockwell, which has been repurposed by Golfate, an Isle of Man property developer. We have seen the loss of the Freebutt and The Blind Tiger in Brighton, the 200 Club in Newport, the Kazimier in Liverpool, and Madame Jo Jo’s, The Buffalo Bar and every venue on Denmark Street in London.

Each closed for different reasons – but with less music venues than pubs, the problems felt by those who use them has been more acute. In response, the Greater London Authority has created the Mayor of Greater London’s Live Music Task Force to work with councils to incorporate venues into the debate around planning, land values, regeneration and the city’s cultural make-up; other councils have created funding structures around venues, such as The Waterfront in Norwich.  

Every article I have read that calls on us to support small venues makes a similar argument: if small venues disappear, developing artists have no outlet to practice their craft and increase their audience – or customer – base.

But I want to make a different case. My argument is that venues should be provided with the same support through our local authorities and governance structure as innovation hubs or cluster development structures. Because this is what a venue is: it is a hub for entrepreneurship, cross discipline innovation and business development. It is a place when Britain’s IP is developing, its businesses are trading and new products are being introduced, song by song.

If one breaks a successful, modern venue down into its component parts, the music is one spoke in a larger wheel: they don’t just create businesses in the creative sector, but also in technology and IP. Take Under The Bridge in Fulham, a venue housed inside Stamford Bridge Football Stadium, that houses an in-house LED screen, state-of-the-art speakers and live streaming capabilities. All the artists that use the space have access to that technology, spurning cross-disciplinary innovation and new ideas, not only for the product manufacturers, but also for the musical copyright holders, the bands.

Or take another example, my local pub in Forest Gate, The Wanstead Tap. By day it hosts day care services, yoga classes and birthdays; in the evening it puts on folk concerts, film screenings and dinner parties. Here is a venue that is cross-pollinating a number of creative sectors, offering incubation support to childcare, hospitality, film and, as always, music.

We do not look at venues as innovation hubs. One reason is that the term has yet to be properly defined (so says Oxford University); when used, it’s usually focused on the manufacturing of a product, be it an app or a new piece of technology.

But venues are not manufacturing sites – they are testing areas. New songs are trialled, that could become the most important three minutes of IP in an entire sector. The technology to support that ecosystem – from the lights and sound to the equipment hire, make-up of the stage, fridges, ticketing systems and so on – is all being tested, too. Each of these variables houses its own innovative sector – and each are combined in a venue.

And yet, in Britain, venues are closing.

In France and Germany, the state offers them capital for restoration and management capacities. I don’t believe that public funding is the answer here, but we must take more time to understand why we develop spaces – because this argument is not being aired each time a venue closes its doors.

We rely on innovation, the testing of new ideas and risk-taking in our business community. Yet we are closing the places that best service this for not only the music sector, but also a number of other, too. Let’s change this debate.

Shain Shapiro is the managing director of Sound Diplomacy, the world's leading music market development agency.

The first Music Cities Convention will be held in Brighton on 13 May



Here’s how Henry Ford and IKEA could provide the key to solving the housing crisis

A flatpack house designed by architectural firm Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners, on display at the Royal Academy, London, in 2013. Image: Getty.

For many people, the housing market is not a welcoming place. The rungs of the property ladder seem to get further and further out of reach. There are loud calls to build hundreds of thousands of new homes (and equally loud demands that they’re not built in anyone’s back yard).

If there was ever a time to introduce mass-produced affordable housing, surely that time is now.

The benefits of mass production have been well known since Henry Ford’s car factories made the Model T back in 1908. It was only made in one colour, black, for economic reasons. Not because it was the cheapest colour of paint, but because it was the colour that dried the quickest.

This allowed the production line to operate at faster, more cost effective, speeds. And ultimately, it meant the product could be sold at a more attractive cost to the customer.

This approach, where processes are tested to achieve increasingly efficient production costs, is yet to filter properly into the construction of houses. This makes sense in a way, as not everybody wants exactly the same type of house.

Historically, affordable mass-produced housing removed a large amount of customisations, to ensure final costs were controlled. But there is another way. Builders and architects have the ability to create housing that allows a level of flexibility and customisation, yet also achieves the goal of affordability.

Back in 2006, the “BoKlok” approach to affordable housing was launched to great acclaim in the UK. Literally translated from Swedish, the term means “live smart”. Originally created from a collaboration between flat-pack favourite IKEA and Swedish construction giant Skanska, the BoKlok housing approach was to allow for selected customisation to maximise individuality and choice for the customers. But at the same time, it ensured that larger house building components were duplicated or mass-produced, to bring down the overall costs.

Standard elements – wall panels, doors, windows – were made in large numbers to bring the elemental costs down. This approach ensured the costs were controlled from the initial sketch ideas through to the final design choices offered to the customers. The kitchens and bathrooms were designed to be flexible in terms of adding additional units. Draw and cupboard fronts interchangeable. Small options that provided flexibility, but did not impact on overall affordability.

It’s a simple approach that has worked very well. More than 10,000 BoKlok houses have now been built, mainly in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, with a small number in the UK.

But it is only part of the architectural equation. The affordable housing market is vital, but the cost of making these homes more adaptable is rarely considered.

Flexibility is key. The needs of a house’s inhabitants change. Families can grow (and shrink) and require more room, so the costs of moving house reappear. One clever response to this, in BoKlok homes, has been to allow “built in” flexibility.

Loft living

This flexibility could include a loft space that already has flooring and a built in cupboard on a lower floor which can be simply dismantled and replaced with a “flat-pack style” staircase that can be purchased and installed with minimal disruption to the existing fabric.

Weeks of builders removing walls, plastering and upheaval are replaced by a trip to the IKEA store to purchase the staircase and the booking of a subcontractor to fit it. The original design accounted for this “future option” and is built into the core of the house.

The best approach to new affordable housing should consider combinations of factors that look at design, materials and processes that have yet to be widely used in the affordable housing market.

And the construction sector needs to look over its shoulder at other market places – especially the one that Henry Ford dominated over a century ago. Today’s car manufacturers offer customised options in everything from colour to wheel size, interior gadgets to different kinds of headlamp. These options have all been accounted for in the construction and costing of each model.

The ConversationThey share a similar design “platform”, and by doing so, considerably reduce the overall cost of the base model. The benefit is quicker production with the added benefit of a cost model that allows for customisation to be included. It is a method the construction sector should adopt to produce housing where quality and affordability live happily together.

David Morton, Associate Professor in Architecture and Built Environment, Northumbria University, Newcastle.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.