Will the 2012 London Olympics Really Boost The U.K. Music Industry?
Will the 2012 London Olympics Really Boost The U.K. Music Industry?

The London 2012 Festival, the UK's biggest-ever nationwide festival, falls under the auspicies of the Cultural Olympiad and will include music events.

Though much of the musical contents of the opening and closing ceremonies are still shrouded in secrecy (though Blur were just announced for the closing ceremonies), one thing is clear: the 2012 Olympics will put a few U.K musicians on the map, but for most musicians -- not so much...

The London 2012 Olympic Games takes place from July 27 until Aug. 12 and will be watched by an estimated 4 billion viewers worldwide, according to LOCOG, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

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The Olympic Development Agency (ODA) budget for building the venues and infrastructure is £9.3 billion (about $14.7 billion), which has been raised from public money. The London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) budget for staging the Games, putting on the sport and ceremonies and delivering the education programme is £2 billion ($3.2 billion) and this has been raised from private funds (ticket sales, sponsorship, merchandise and licensing).

So will the U.K 's music industry see any of this back?

The official line is that it will, with more than 16 million people involved in the events of the Cultural Olympiad. This includes the London 2012 Festival, the UK's biggest-ever nationwide festival, which takes place from June 21 until Sept. 9, the last day of the London 2012 Paralympic Games. It features commissions in all aspects of arts and culture over more than 1,000 events (around 100 of these are specifically music), many of which are free to attend.

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The Cultural Olympiad has received total funding of £97.6 million ($155 million) and also includes the British Telecom-sponsored River of Music, which takes place from 21-22 July on six stages along the River Thames and features artists from the world 's major continents (which thus far includes American pop band Scissor Sisters, trumpeter and composer Wynton Marsalis and Grammy-Award-winning Beninoise singer Angelique Kidjo). There's also a weekend of free music events as part of Music Nation, on March 3 and 4 in 45 UK locations with more than 65,000 tickets available.

So far, so free, but the huge viewing figures could be great news for the likes of British singer-songwriter Guy Garvey, frontman of pop band Elbow (Fiction), winners of the prestigious 2008 Nationwide Mercury Prize. Elbow have written the BBC's theme music, a six-minute track to be played across all the channel's coverage throughout the Games. The song, "First Steps," features The London Community Gospel Choir, alongside a few specially-chosen amateurs as well as the London Symphony Orchestra and looks set to be one of the most played tracks of the year.

Garvey, who describes the piece as, "rousing and anthemic and unashamedly joyful" thinks the opportunity is an amazing one. "I keep thinking," he says, "this piece is going to be featured on grandad's Olympic cycling video in years to come." Elsewhere, British producer and Amy Winehouse collaborator Mark Ronson has recorded the theme for Coca-Cola 's global TV adverts with different artists (including songbird Jesse J) to be launched in March this year.

Universal Music has been signed up to write, record and publish music (across all artists and genres) for the Games, in the first deal of its kind by an Olympic organizer working exclusively to release London 2012-branded music, including compilation albums. The London Philharmonic Orchestra has also recorded 205 anthems for the medal ceremonies, with arrangements from British cellist and conductor Philip Sheppard. These aren 't available to purchase though an app is in development.

And for once, composers seem to be benefiting from public spend. New Music 20x12 is a UK-wide commissioning programme of 20 new 12-minute pieces inspired by the Olympics. These pieces are being premiered throughout this year, broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and available for download.

Composer and accordionist Howard Skempton is one of the chosen recipients for his piece, "Wild Bells To A Wild Sky", written for the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers in partnership with music production company Third Ear. He says, "I've met a challenge that would not otherwise have come my way so it matters not a jot whether my career has been affected. The ringers for whom I wrote the piece plan to perform it all over the place so I am pleased." However, he adds, "it's difficult to be confident that the Olympics will benefit the music industry. Nothing can compensate for the diversion of funding."

Horace Trubridge, assistant general secretary of the Musicians Union, which represents over 30,000 musicians working in the U.K. music industry, feels that the Olympics is guilty of jumping on existing musical activities and slapping its label on it. He says, "We were assured by ministers that money that was being diverted from the Arts Council would pay dividends for the arts and culture community. We are still trying to find evidence of that. Most of what we have been able to identify has been small community groups and amateur stuff, lots around the visual arts and not much music at all."

The official line is that Underworld are the only musical artists to be directly contracted by LOCOG, though the number of musicians directly benefiting from pockets of funding is difficult to collate.

David Jones is a director of Serious, the music producers behind the River Of Dreams event. He says. "Who it really benefits are adventurous musicians exploring new ways of doing things. I can't see how it will benefit the average jobbing musician but, to be honest, why should it? The Olympics should be a place where amazing things happen." Serious is paying its artists from British Telecom sponsorship, LOCOG funding and other international sources and, says Jones, "it's breaking down the perception that funding and commercial activity live in separate zones."

HMV 's head of press, Gennaro Castaldo is optimistic about the Games' retail legacy. He says, "All the indications are that they could well provide a welcome boost for the UK music business, especially given the heavyweight participation of the likes of Universal Music. The world's focus will be on the country. From a retail perspective we would certainly expect it to deliver some benefits, especially in London among tourists and nationally if there is a feel good factor from a great Team GB performance, though outside of the Capital we will all need to guard against consumers 'switching off ' until the games are over."