In June, the major record labels association BPI released a report detailing where British artists responsible for each of the top 300 albums in the U.K., in 2022, are from. The objective, it seems, is to demonstrate that great music comes from anywhere, despite the music industry being primarily based in London. The results demonstrate this. The analysis found that two-thirds of artists originated outside London, including 79% of the top rock artists. The top three cities were Liverpool, Glasgow and Manchester and most of Britain’s larger cities, including Birmingham and Newcastle also featured alongside smaller communities, like Hull and Norwich.
However, this research does not answer a more pressing question: Does it matter where an artist is from if their economic base and business is no longer there? For most on the list, their business is in London. For example, the report recognises that Paul McCartney is from Liverpool and Elvis Costello is from Birkenhead. Both artists, and their back catalogues, are owned by the artists whose businesses are based outside of where they are from. Moreover, each is signed to a multinational record label, and each of those (Universal, Warner and Sony) are owned by foreign firms whose domestic base is in London.
Looked at this way, the report could be seen as proof of local talent depreciation as much as arguing that talent develops everywhere. But what is on offer here is an opportunity. If commercially successful music originates from everywhere, it would make sense to ensure investment in growing this talent is as diverse as the places represented. But this isn’t the case in the U.K. It should be.
The U.K. is investing heavily in culture right now. But it lacks, deliberately at times, a joined-up approach that governs how it is allocated, managed and measured. First, the positive. From capital infrastructure such as the new Fire Station venue in Sunderland to the quadrennial City of Culture celebrations, communities up and down the country are investing in culture, in the widest sense of the word. Barrow in Furness, Chelmsford and Medway, for example, have recently invested in cultural strategies. Cultural Compacts – a sort of chamber of commerce for culture – have launched in 20 cities and the Cultural Recovery Fund has supported thousands of cultural venues and businesses.
However, this investment in culture, for the most part, has not been aligned with other investments the government is making, including in its town centres and high streets, tourism plans and most recent, levelling up. Here, investments in culture and most specifically in music have been patchwork and, in most cases, focus on single infrastructure projects because they are deemed shovel ready. The result is a missed opportunity, which is made clear in the BPI report. Few communities have developed a joined-up approach to music investment, often resorting to more general cultural goals that miss the specific requirements of each art form. As a result, this does not create substantive, long-term change in communities that encourages business to stay. When an artist reaches critical acclaim, often the facilities and infrastructure required to stay at home are not there. They are in London. So they leave.
However, this list, if analysed further, gives reason for optimism. There is a reason why the top three cities outside of London are Liverpool, Glasgow and Manchester. Each of those cities has, in their own way, invested in their music economies, through research, measurement, branding and direct infrastructure investment. Liverpool and Glasgow are UNESC
What is required is a repositioning and collaborative approach. By recognising the economic value future artists could deliver, levelling up applications, or future high street funds, should incorporate music specific projects into infrastructure revitalisation plans. Every former Debenhams and House of Fraser could become a music and cultural hub. But this requires a national music strategy that incorporates its benefits in all government investment programs. A recent announcement to provide £25 million for music hubs is welcome, but not recognising that each community, no matter its size, deserves a thriving music accelerator, recording facility, rehearsal space and grassroots music venue, for example, reduces the return on investment the music hub could deliver.
The proof that music is everywhere should compel us to recognise that music infrastructure should also be everywhere. Until that happens, London will continue to benefit more from the diverse talent with origins up and down the country.