UK Live Music Report Finds Discrimination Against Hip-Hop, Warns Public Against Using Viagogo

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A Union Jack flag flutters in front of the Elizabeth Tower, commonly known as Big Ben on Feb. 1, 2017 in London.

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee's "Report Into Live Music" is a "wake-up call for everyone who wants to safeguard live music," says UK Music CEO Michael Dugher.

Representatives of the British music industry have thrown their support behind a "landmark" report into the country's live music scene and described it as a "wake-up call" for the sector. 

Key findings in the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee's "Report Into Live Music," published Tuesday (Mar. 19), include a warning to the public not to buy or sell tickets through secondary ticketing site Viagogo, as well as evidence of discrimination against rap and hip-hop acts because of "unfounded" fears over licensing and safety. 

"While the image of music being a glamorous industry might be true for a minority of artists, the experiences of those working at the grassroots level tell a different story entirely," says the report, which details instances of local authorities shutting down gigs by British rappers at short notice.

Rapper ShaoDow told the committee -- made up of a cross-party selection of members of Parliament (MPs) -- that he had a London venue pull his show on the same day he was due to perform. "I was booked for a performance in a club and called them ahead of time to say, "I am on my way", and they said, "Oh, by the way, we were just listening to your music. You make Hip Hop". I said, "Yes", and he said, "Oh, we cannot do that here, we will lose our licence," the report quotes the artist saying.

In 2017, London's Metropolitan Police abolished its controversial "Form 696 Risk Assessment," which required promoters in the British capital to provide the name, address, date of birth and phone number for each artist performing. Critics argued that the practice was unfairly targeting grime, garage, hip-hop and R&B artists, but despite Form 696 being scrapped two years ago "institutionalised racism" continued to exist against certain artists, said Jane Beese, head of music at London venue the Roundhouse.

Urban music "is not being supported by local councils, by licensees," Beese told the committee, warning that prejudice against grime or hip-hop acts is "hindering that scene rather than allowing it to flourish."

In response, the committee called upon the government to develop guidance for licensing authorities, the police and music venues on how to manage risks that ensures "urban music acts are not unfairly targeted."

In the world of secondary ticketing, Viagogo was, once again, subject to strong criticism with the report's authors slamming the Switzerland-based company as an untrustworthy operator with a long "history of resisting compliance, court orders and parliamentary scrutiny, and flouting consumer law."

Referencing Viagogo's repeated failure to comply with British laws around selling tickets, the committee urged the Competition and Markets Authority --  which is currently preparing legal action against Viagogo -- to act "promptly and decisively" to bring the site in line with regulations. Until that happens, MPs advised music fans not to buy or sell tickets on the platform.  

The report also recommends giving secondary ticket buyers a quicker and easier process to resolve disputes and questions the effectiveness of legislation passed last year banning the use of bots to harvest tickets. It additionally criticizes Google for placing Viagogo at the top of its search results for concert tickets. 

"It is time for companies such as Google to take more responsibility and act against such advertising, or else be considered to be knowingly making money out of fraudulent selling," notes the comprehensive 55-page report.

Other recommendations include the establishment of a task force to support grassroots talent, following a raft of small venue closures across the U.K. 

Between 2007 and 2016, rising costs and declining revenues saw 35 percent of music venues in the U.K. close their doors, according to Music Venue Trust figures, with London's Marquee, 12 Bar Club and Madame Jojos among the most high-profile losses. 

Examining the reasons behind those closures, the report says the government had "not acted promptly enough to stem the tide" and said that without enough small and grassroots venues for artists to hone their craft the U.K. music scene will suffer. Preventative measures cited include a review of business tax rates for music venues and an increase in tax relief schemes for venues that stage live music.

The report also found that jobs in the U.K. live sector may be under threat after Britain leaves the European Union and that Brexit could potentially restrict British musicians' ability to tour. 

Another area the committee looked into was the dominance of big global companies like Live Nation in the live music industry. Citing research by the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF), which states Live Nation controls 20 percent of U.K. festivals over 5,000-capacity, the report highlights the competitive advantage that it has over smaller promoters or venues when booking artists. 

"The complaint we hear privately from a growing number of AIF members is about the collateral damage caused by the imposition of hugely restrictive exclusivity deals," says a written submission by AIF. "By their nature, these deals are anti-competitive, restraining when and where even the smallest artist can perform and significantly diminishing the pool of talent that non-Live Nation promoters can draw upon."   

Meanwhile, Tom Gray, singer with British band Gomez, said the fact that the major labels also own the major publishing companies had a detrimental impact on musicians' negotiating power when striking deals. 

In response to those concerns, the committee asked the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to consider conducting a review of the music business "to assess whether competition in the market is working effectively for both consumers and those working in the industry." 

AIF CEO Paul Reed said he hoped to see the committee's recommendation acted upon swiftly by the CMA and backed the MPs' findings.

UK Music CEO Michael Dugher also welcomed what he called a "landmark" report and backed the committee's recommendations to tackle discrimination against urban acts, provide more support for grassroots venues and take tougher measures against Viagogo.  

"They have really listened to the live music industry, which contributes around £1 billion a year to the U.K. economy, and their report is a real wake-up call for everyone who wants to safeguard live music," said Dugher. 

"We urgently need help to nurture the music industry's talent pipeline if we are to continue producing world-leading superstars like Adele and Ed Sheeran," he added.   

Those sentiments were echoed by FanFair Alliance's Adam Webb, who called for the government to take immediate action against Viagogo. 

"Despite the huge consumer harm caused by Viagogo's practices, and despite the best efforts of the Competition & Markets Authority and other regulators, the site has continued to operate in clear disregard of the law," he stated, arguing for Viagogo to be temporarily blocked in the U.K. and for Google to cut off its advertising while the CMA pursues its current legal action. 

Responding to the DCMS Committee report, Viagogo said it provides "an invaluable service to U.K. consumers by giving them access to events in the U.K. and all over the world." 

A spokesperson for the company went on to say that only 1 percent of its ticket sales per year result in any issue for its customers and in those cases, "the overwhelming majority of cases are due to the unfair and potentially illegal restrictions" from event organizers.