About the project

This is a website to disseminate the research outcomes of a three-year joint research project (2008-2011) between the University of Edinburgh and the University of Glasgow, which was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.' A description of the project's original aims can be found below.

The aim of the project is to get a better understanding of the live music sector in the UK.  The research is concerned with all kinds of musical event (from orchestral and chamber music concerts to stadium shows and rock festivals, from rap and reggae gigs to acoustic and jazz club nights).  It will explore live music phenomenologically, as a social event and aesthetic experience, and institutionally, as something produced in the context of legal and state regulations and economic and marketing strategies.  But it will do so from a particular perspective, that of the promoters, venue managers and impresarios who bring live music to the public.  The research will address the following questions:

  • How is the live music business in the UK presently organised and how has it changed over the last 50 years?
  • How do promoters understand the live music experience that they seek to persuade audiences to enjoy?
  • What values are attached to live music by its various publics?
  • How does live music fit into the overall organisation of various music worlds, on the one hand, and the leisure economy, on the other?
  • What are the effects of state regulation and policy on the promotion of live music?

This is a deliberately ambitious project.  For music makers and listeners alike the live music experience defines the value and pleasure of music, and yet it is a neglected area of academic research.   Our purpose is to address this neglect.

Some might ask why the project focuses on contemporary live performance from the perspective of the promoter.  We have chosen this approach for two reasons.  First, although music historians (such as William Weber, Cyril Ehrlich, Simon McVeigh, Peter Bailey, James Nott) have drawn attention to the role of concert promoters, theatre owners and dancehall managers in the shaping of both classical and popular music culture, live music promoters have been neglected in studies of UK music since the 1950s.  Accounts of ‘the music industry’ are almost always accounts of the record industry (Williamson and Cloonan 2007).  There are relevant memoirs (eg Donovan 1981; Drummond 2000) and journalistic histories of the major festivals (eg Laing and Newman 1994; McKay 2000).   But there is no academic work on contemporary promoters, agents or venues.   Our research is designed first of all, then, to fill a significant gap in the scholarly knowledge of recent music history.  It begins from the premise that if it is promoters who, in the end, decide what live music is available to be heard when, where and in what sort of environment, then such promoters are in the best position to make sense of the various cultural, social, political, geographical and market forces that shape the UK’s music worlds.

In short, we hope to gain an understanding of the meaning of live music for its promoters.   They, after all, are people who go into a risky enterprise because of their musical beliefs, whether in jazz or rock, classical or traditional performers, early music or the avant-garde.  To understand live music from promoters’ perspective is to get a better understanding of the contemporary music business, the UK’s music culture, and what it is that audiences want and get from the musical experience.  And such an understanding is of importance not just to music scholars but also to commercial interests and policy makers in the field.  The state has always had an ambiguous attitude to live music, being concerned, on the one hand, to regulate public musical gatherings for reasons of health and safety and for fear of criminal and immoral activity and, on the other hand, to promote musical events for cultural, political and economic reasons.  This ambiguity has shaped UK music policy for at least 50 years (Clarke 1982).  Local authorities have both promoted live music events and venues in the cause of job creation, tourism and multiculturalism and restricted live music events and venues for fear of nuisance, noise and drug abuse (consider, for example, the history of the Notting Hill Carnival).   A similar ambiguity was evident in the work of the UK government’s Live Music Forum.  This is the context in which we expect our research to have policy as well as scholarly significance.

That said, the impetus for this project is academic.  We want to fill a significant gap in the scholarly knowledge and understanding of contemporary British musical culture; we want to challenge and refine existing record-industry based accounts of music as a creative industry; we want to explore the insights that come from analysing all kinds of music together (rather than assuming that classical and popular music must be treated separately); and we want to supplement psychological work with a study of music as a social experience.


  • Bailey, P. ed.(1986) Music Hall. the Business of Pleasure (Open University Press)
  • Clarke, M (1982): The Politics of Pop Festivals
  • Donovan, K (1981): The Place
  • Drummond, J (2000): Tainted By Experience: A Life in the Arts
  • Ehrlich, Cyril (1985) The Music Profession in Britain since the 18th century
  • Laing, D and Newman, R (1994): Thirty Years of the Cambridge Folk Festival
  • McKay, G. (2000): Glastonbury: A Very English Fair
  • McVeigh, S (1993)  Concert Life in London from Mozart to Haydn  (Cambridge University Press)
  • Nott, J (2002) Music for the People: Popular Music and Dance in Interwar Britain (Oxford University Press)
  • Peterson, RA (1990): ‘Why 1955?’ Popular Music 9 (1).
  • Sanjek, R. and D. (1991): American Popular Music Business in the Twentieth Century
  • Weber, W (1975) Music and the Middle Class. The Social Structure of Concert Life in London, Paris and Vienna (Croom Helm)
  • Williamson, J and Cloonan, M (2007): ‘Rethinking “the music industry”’, Popular Music 26 (2)