“From authorities responsible for regulation and support (public authorities) to organisations representing the interests of the music industry (non-state actors), there are many people involved in shaping the regional music ecosystem
The music industry in Birmingham and the wider West Midlands area is a complex ecosystem that involves a wide range of stakeholders (Rozbicka et al. 2022; Live Music Project – BLMP+). From authorities responsible for regulation and support (public authorities) to organisations representing the interests of the music industry (non-state actors), there are many people involved in shaping the regional music ecosystem. One of the opportunities and challenges facing the industry is its fragmentation. To address this issue, to understand “Who is who?”, we highlight here some of the crucial organisations playing a role in advancing the music and cultural industry in Birmingham.
Cultural and leisure venues (including live music venues) in Birmingham lie within a complicated political landscape. While the private sector is the dominant force regarding constraints such as rent and competition, the City Council occupies the lead position in terms of placemaking and policy at a local level and West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) at the regional level. Birmingham City Council (BCC) act as decision-making authority supporting the culture sector in Birmingham. While local Councillors have input on a number of relevant policies (i.e. Birmingham Cultural Strategy 2016-2019, Birmingham Development Plan) and may represent residents and businesses in committees, the ultimate responsibility for the designing of this policy is led by executive and power is delegated to the Cabinet Member for Digital, Culture, Heritage and Tourism. This member has the ultimate oversight on the delivery of tourism plans, and the management of government grants and economic opportunities to develop offerings. The Councillor is supported by BCC’s non-partisan management structure, advising on potential implications of political decisions (headed by Strategic Director of City Operations) and BCC Cultural Development Service responsible for commissioning the Council investments in support of arts and museums in Birmingham. These play a key role in shaping the city’s cultural landscape and implementing policies and initiatives that foster creativity and cultural engagement. The above hold statutory powers for planning and licensing, which – while does not impact direct individual musicians – is of considerable relevance to venues.
Birmingham is also located within the remit of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), set up to improve the region’s economy. Combined authorities, such as the WMCA, are able to apply for Government investment and are entitled to a consolidated, long-term budget. Within this structure, two sections are of the greatest relevance for the live music industry: (1) Culture and (2) Economic Delivery, Skills and Communities Directorate. Designated Councillors are given portfolio oversight over these areas, with the Portfolio for Culture and Digital led by Dudley and the Portfolio for Economy Growth with the Economic Growth Board overseen by Wolverhampton. Both Authority Leaders help to provide the oversight of the policy driven by the Senior Policy Officer for Culture and Senior Policy Officer for Night-Time Economy. Those in turn attend: the Cultural Leadership Board, and Economic Delivery Board, which are responsible for strategic initiatives, to promote collaboration, and drive positive change in the regional cultural and music ecosystem.
As within the BCC, the same for WMCA, live music industries are classified under multiple portfolios, it means that there are multiple routes for policy and investment to be pursued. Within their roles, both authorities support and promote the local and regional culture and night-time economy, including the music industry, by developing and driving policies and initiatives that drive growth and sustainability. On the other hand, when combining BCC and WMCA functions, business owners have multiple layers of political representation to navigate when understanding investment and grant opportunities. In addition, the West Midlands Growth Company provides significant support to the sector, as it heads up the Tourism and Visitor Economy portfolio for the region, attracting significant domestic and foreign direct investment, and providing advertisement and information about local venues.
The landscape of public bodies is completed by the Arts Council England (ACE), an executive non-departmental body, sponsored by the UK Department for Culture, Media and Sport. ACE is a national organisation that champions, develops, and invests in artistic and cultural experiences across the country. Being the UK’s largest funder and supporter of the arts, the organisation plays an essential role in the growth and sustainability of Birmingham’s music industry. Through various funding programs, Arts Council England supports local musicians, venues, and music organisations, enabling them to develop their creative potential and engage with audiences. By providing resources (including the Culture Recovery Fund during the Covid pandemic; BLMP Dec 2020) and guidance, ACE contributes to the long-term success of Birmingham’s music scene, enriching the cultural fabric of the city and fostering artistic excellence.
Night-Time Economy Champion and Advisor – the middle ground
The middle ground between public authorities and industry representatives is occupied by two complementary roles. Birmingham City Council appointed their first Night-Time Economy Champion in November 2022. In April 2023, WMCA announced a similar post, Night-Time Economy Advisor, for the whole West Midlands. Being voluntary roles, the Champion and the Advisor focus on working closely with councils, businesses and other stakeholders to support and promote the city’s and region’s vibrant nightlife. Both roles are taken by individuals who represent the interests of a wide sector of the industry, but at the same time are not part of the public authorities. Both roles are complimentary, while there is a degree of overlap, the clear definitions and procedures for consultations are established.
Non-state actors – direct representation of industry interests
An interest representation of local music industry is organized in a less tier way than the public bodies, boosting only regional and national level organizations covering various portfolios. A collective voice for cultural organisations across the West Midlands is Culture Central. Their support extends to various cultural practitioners who work together to develop the cultural and creative sector in the region. Their mission is to create a more sustainable, diverse and innovative cultural sector that can drive economic growth and social change. Additionally, Culture Central is one of the key supported organisations by the Arts Council in the West Midlands. In 2020, Culture Central launched the West Midlands Culture Response Unit (WMCRU). The initiative was a direct response to the pandemic with a focus on ensuring the viability and recovery of the cultural sector in the region post-Covid19. The initiative was largely welcomed by stakeholders and received support from organisations such as Birmingham Commonwealth Games 2022, Arts Council England and Coventry City of Culture.
More industry-specific is the West Midlands Music Board (WMMB). Launched in June 2021, WMMB is an independent body aiming at representing the interest of the broad spectrum of music industries (i.e. not only live performance) across the whole West Midland region. The Board is backed up by B:Music, the organisation collectively operating the Symphony Hall and Town Hall, and headed by its CEO Nick Reed. A complementary role is played by the Birmingham Music Network (BMN) established in 2000, uniting some of the independent music organizations in the city and West Midlands more broadly. However, the focus here is more on networking opportunities, encouraging creative partnerships, and promotion of the regional music industry.
Beyond the local and mostly regional actors, there is a number of national-level representative bodies, that are relevant for Birmingham-based professionals and venues: Musicians’ Union (with a regional office in Jewellery Quarter), Music Venue Trust, and the Night Time Industry Association. The Musician’s Union is a key organisation representing musicians, working to protect their rights and provide professional support. The union offers valuable resources, such as legal advice, career development opportunities, and insurance. By advocating for fair working conditions and championing musicians’ interests, the Musicians’ Union plays a vital role in fostering a sustainable and supportive environment for artists nationwide.The Music Venue Trust is a UK-wide charity dedicated to protecting, securing, and improving the nation’s grassroots music venues. Championing the vital role these venues play in nurturing emerging talent and fostering vibrant communities, the trust offers strategic support and resources to ensure venues’ survival and success. The Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) represents the interests of night-time economy businesses. The organisation supports the NTE by developing initiatives that advocate for favourable government policies and providing advice and resources, for the value and importance of night-time economy businesses. In addition to the MU, MVT, and NTIA, other representative bodies such as the Association of Independent Music (AIM) and the Music Publishers Guild (MPG) have also partnered to support the music industry (semi-) professionals. AIM represents the interests of independent music companies, offering assistance in areas like business development and networking, while MPG advocates for music publishers, promoting their role within the industry and fostering collaboration.
These organisations collectively address the challenges faced by musicians, venues, publishers and managers ultimately working together to strengthen the entire music ecosystem. It is however important to distinguish between local/regional actors (i.e. Culture Central, WMMA, BMN) that primarily lobby local and regional actors (BCC and WMCA), from those that normally would prioritise the national-level public authorities (i.e. MU, MVT and NTIA, further supported by a coalition of these – LIVE, UK Music, Music Managers Forum, Featured Artists Coalition approaching Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport).
Worthy shouts to…!
While there is a diversity of public bodies and industry-specific organizations, when it comes to Birmingham there are two additional notable mentions important for the local music industry. Headed by Jez Collins, the Birmingham Music Archive (BMA) is a collection of Birmingham City’s musical history and heritage. This extensive online archive showcases the stories, memories, and memorabilia of Birmingham’s music scene, preserving its rich legacy for future generations. BMA’s mission is to document and share the city’s diverse musical culture, celebrating the achievements of local artists and the significance of iconic venues and events.
Further, championing the local music industry of Birmingham, the Birmingham Music Awards celebrates the best of the city’s musical talent and shines a spotlight on emerging and established artists, music entrepreneurs and organisations. Their annual awards ceremony honours outstanding achievements in various categories, from best music act to best managers, promoters and more recognizing the creative energy that fuels Birmingham’s thriving music scene. Birmingham’s and West Midlands’ music ecosystem is a vibrant and dynamic landscape consisting of various key players, including local authorities, representative bodies, and cultural organisations, all working towards fostering growth, innovation, and sustainability in the industry. By identifying and understanding the roles of these stakeholders, we can better address the challenges faced by the industry, such as fragmentation and limited access to resources. Collaboration, shared resources, and a commitment to nurturing talent and supporting grassroots venues are essential ingredients for a thriving music scene. As we move forward, it is crucial to continue fostering partnerships and encouraging cooperation among the key players, enabling Birmingham’s music ecosystem to flourish and create a lasting impact on the city’s cultural fabric and beyond.