Scotland’s Music Industry

It’s no secret that 2023 was at times a challenging year, to say the least. For the creative industries this came at a great cost as funding and support was slashed, customers, consumers, and listeners were also facing the cost-of-living crisis and couldn’t indulge and support the arts like they might have previously done. For creatives working in the music industry some have just got back on their feet after Covid and are having to face up to the cuts totalling millions. With the chaotic U-turns in funding at creative Scotland the future is less than certain as this year’s budget remains unclear even though the government announced £100 million for the arts over the course of the next five years. Without a sufficient boost in funding industry leaders believe Scotland could seriously risk the collapse of our creative industries. Five years is too long to wait for the cash injection that is desperately needed in this current budget. The music and other creative industries are made of hardy stuff, they’ve had to endure a lot in the past and I’m sure it will withstand but what will be left of it, we are yet to see.

Yet there was much to celebrate in Scotland’s music industry in 2023 and much to look forward to in 2024, as certain aspects will change for the better, develop and grow, and artists will go from strength to strength.

One aspect of the music industry which is most definitely bouncing back from covid was music festivals. Last year saw a plethora of music festivals hosted in Scotland

Festivals still face challenges, not least the rising energy costs which have put a strain on many and as such we had to say goodbye to the likes of Doune the Rabbit Hole, the family friendly festival based in Stirling. But it was also a year where new festivals were born. The likes of Reeling festival burst onto the scene last year as the newest traditional music festival, held in Rouken Glen Park the event managed to pull a staggering 8000 people in its first year. It was a hit in 2023 as it championed new and up and coming Scottish artists, it’s a member of the Keychange pledge which means they are committed to having 50% of their line-up female, as well as their staff. An important aspect to festivals as the percentage of women included in line-ups is often staggeringly low. The Reeling festival will be back in 2024 and expanding to two stages, larger family areas and workshops for artists, not to mention an expanded line-up and commitment to reducing their carbon footprint.

The Reeling festival isn’t the only Scottish music festival which is also experiencing success. Summer sessions the string of concerts held through-out Scotland’s cities is set to expand to Stirling this year, with the likes of Tom Jones and Becky Hill already signed-up. The concerts are run by Glasgow based organisation DF concerts and Events which places itself as the 13th busiest promoter in Europe. The organisation was one of the first partners behind the likes of T in the Park and since 1994 has brought together Scottish crowds and some of the biggest acts in the world as well as championing the start of some of Scotland’s biggest artists careers. As a nation we love festivals, this is evident from the speed in which tickets are sold but this year festival goers have had to endure higher costs as the average festival ticket price increased. Yet we also started to question the sustainability of festivals. Bouncing along to your favourite artist pint in hand living in ignorance is no longer acceptable, we’re aware that these huge events do come at a cost. It was perhaps a welcomed sight that at BBC’s Big Weekend held in Dundee all food vendors had a sustainability rating at the front of their vans, making it clear to festival-goers how much of a carbon-footprint their burger really has. In the future it would be good to see only vendors who serve food with a low carbon footprint being invited.

And there is already an indication that maybe even this year we will see a fully sustainable festival in Scotland, what that will look like is yet to be determined. Dance group Massive Attack have lined-up a one day festival in Bristol this summer that is set to be 100% renewable, they hope this will prove as a prototype for the rest of the industry. It seems to already be working as those in the Scottish music industry wish to follow suit. Creative Carbon Scotland has come out in support of the idea, having launched their “Towards A Just And Green Music City” initiative with Glasgow University they are looking to decarbonise Glasgow’s music identity and has the backing of major players such as DF Concerts and Events. Hopefully this will mean 2024 will see a large push towards accountable and renewable music festivals which set the standard.

The Scottish music industry encompasses so much and it is so important that the industry is self-sufficient and that those wishing to pursue a career in it can look within Scotland for a support and most importantly a job. One of the good news stories within the industry comes from East Lothian in the form of a vinyl pressing factory. Seabass Vinyl is a family-run business headed by industry veteran Ronnie Gurr (former CEO of Scottish Music Industry Association). They are Scotland’s first ever vinyl pressing factory, which is a sector that has only grown in recent years. Seabass has its sights set on being the most sustainable vinyl pressing factory in the world. Their purpose-built plant generates 40% of it’s own daily energy use and looks to other renewable energies to supply the rest, they’ve heavily invested in equipment that uses less energy and also offer a 100% recycled vinyl option to their customers. Yet they’re also looking out for the artist, as the aim to boost Scottish artists and become an ally to musicians. They aim to offer fair pricing, short lead times and contribute in a positive way such as their partnership with Sound of Young Scotland Award. A organisation such as this could be the catalyst to an expanding music manufacturing sector with an eye for both quality and sustainability.

Last year was also a great year for many Scottish artists, one of those that is worth highlighting is the band Young Fathers. Their debut album is a Mercury prize winner and their critically acclaimed latest album ‘Heavy Heavy’ is winner of Scottish Album of the year and was listed as one of the top albums in 2023 by the likes of the Guardian. Their ecliectic sound is hard to nail down to one genre, just the way this group from Edinburgh want it. Some would put them between an alternative hip-hop and neo-soul but either way this group are set to expand the reach of their unique sound as 2024 will most likely be a big year for the group.

The Scottish music scene would be nothing without its cracking music venues, bringing that live experience to fans. Unfortunately, 2023 wasn’t kind to all venues and we had to say goodbye to some iconic fixtures, like 13th note in Glasgow. Marred by union disputes and there’s certainly a case for employer intimidation in this case, unfortunately it ended the venues long run as a live music venue playing host to many up-and-coming musicians in the centre of the city. Yet many venues have battled through covid, stayed afloat during the cost-of-living crisis and are diversifying in order to continue operating. Edinburgh Sneaky Pete’s has been in the city centre for over 15 years and has been branded one of the most influential grassroots live music venues in Scotland. Although it still holds true to it’s roots which made this place an institution it has adapted for the streaming age offering track previews on it’s website and social media. It has had a helping hand in launching some of Scotland’s best artists careers, but above all it provides all of those who grace it’s dancefloor with a great time. Other honourable mentions goes to Glasgow’s Barrowland ballroom. The rough and ready venue represents an area that has fought hard to remain relevant all the while staying true to their regulars and residents. Voted one of the best venues through-out the UK by top musicians this is an iconic venue with its neon sign and amazing acoustics.

Yet even the successful ones have to navigate dangerous water as their precious profit margins seem to be decreasing, the importance of these venues go further than just a great night out, they help to prop up industries and with it a lot of jobs. New grassroot music venues are not regular occurrences anymore, a plethora of red-tape, excoriate rents from private landlords, insurance costs sky-rocketing and hoops to jump through for local councils often make their establishment quite tricky.   

Here’s hoping that the Scottish music industry continues to be expand it’s original and creative sound, fans continue to see the value in live performances and those who hold the power when it comes to funding wake-up and realise worthiness of artists.

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