Music:Leeds ’ 2019 City Music Forum provokes deep discussion on Leeds’ music industry

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Music:Leeds want to create foundational change in the Leeds music industry, so the above quote from this year’s Forum will no longer be true. This requires a ground-up consideration of the obstacles facing the (abundant) musical talent in Leeds, and how these can be overcome.

Afternoon Agenda: A Look inside Leeds’ Music Industry

The 126 attendees present, from right across the music industry, tabled twelve important questions for discussion in the afternoon.

From “music tourism & leeds” to “combatting sexual harassment and violence at live events”, the agenda didn’t shy from the difficult debates that must be had in order to improve the city music scene’s vitality, and future-proof Leeds’ sound.

Three important topics broached were “Why is music in Leeds so white?”, “What’s the impact of falling investment in early arts education?” and “How can Leeds develop more music businesses?”

As a proactive and forward-thinking voice helping to steer and lead Leeds’ music industry, Music:Leeds encouraged deeper questioning, as well as suggested resolutions, in order to highlight some of the current obstacles to Leeds’ music industry being the best it could be and ways to surmount them.

Why is Music in Leeds so White?

This discussion debated whether high culture was being over-promoted, and questioned more deeply, where does race sit in music? Is the binary of Black / White music clear?

They discussed the issue of predominantly White spaces, and whether a genre divide was organisational and structural.

Access to market was considered an important factor, and avenues of promotion were considered as key tools for audience and performer diversification. They queried the parameters for funding. Leeds’ music scene was simplified as White = Indie, Black = Carnival scene, but so much talent lies outside of these stereotypes, and the discussion stretched into other questions, such as access to musical education. As well as intersections of race and genre, they identified socio-economic community/class as a factor in a lack of inter-genre diversity too.

Stickability: How can Leeds Develop More Music Businesses?

This was a really central discussion of the day, in which attendees discussed the need for greater support, knowledge and flexibility in funding for new music businesses. This particularly focussed in on involving premises (ie live music venues), and the inhibiting, prohibitive nature of high business rates.

It was recognised that a more effective supply chain, and the development of more professionals, would stimulate a wider range of sustainable opportunities within the city across many different music pathways, from education to big business. This was a point which was backed-up in many of the other break-out discussions across the afternoon.

What’s the Impact of Falling Investment in Early Arts education?

This discussion on funding, education & accessibility centred around the conclusion that a lack of investment in Arts education is a lack of investment in future audiences, and performers, from different backgrounds and demographics.

The statistics illustrate that 50% of wealthy families access private music education, compared to only 15% from state school. This shapes the performers and audiences of the future, and predicts a set ‘music’ demographic from a very young age.

They also discussed the shrinking music provision in schools. This changes the culture in schools, not just the qualifications kids come out with. The environment for music teachers, and shrinking opportunities, is now starting to be reflected in declining PGCE Music student numbers.

Music:Leeds Founder Samuel Nicholls (aka Whiskas):

“The breakout conversations held at this years' City Music Forum offered a fantastic insight into the feelings and drivers behind people involved in music in the city.

It gives us a great resource with which to focus our energies over our future activities, and reassures us that so much of the work we are involved in is needed - from supporting developing artists, creating role models and signposting to a wider range of activities, opportunities and events in the city.”

Other points of tabled discussion included:

  • The relationship between health and music

  • How can promoters (musicians’ biggest fans) be supported; how can facilities be

    opened up to showcase the music they love

  • Audience management - making safe space gigs, combatting groping, sexual

    harassment and violence at live events

  • Leeds music history

  • Music tourism & leeds

  • How to start a collective -from competition to collaboration

  • Access to live music for children and young people

  • Apprenticeships/training routes in music/music-related and creative skills

  • How do we stop our plans for music (in Leeds, and more broadly) from becoming

    simply a self-congratulatory exercise?

You can read our round-up of the day, with photos, video and comments from social media, at:

Thanks to Arts Council England, PRS Foundation, Leeds 2023, Leeds City Council, Leeds Town Hall, UK Music, Leeds Beckett University, Leeds College of Music, Leeds BID and Awesome Merchandise for their support in the event.

Sounding good together with Music:Leeds

  • New launch to coordinate, support, promote and develop Leeds’ music industry

  • Big speakers confirmed for City Music Forum (Leeds Town Hall, Tuesday 5th March)

  • Announcing Music:Leeds Launchpad


Music:Leeds is a new development body for the region, a not-for-profit organisation functioning as a single, centralised contact point. Supporting Leeds as a world-class city for culture, Music:Leeds will contribute to the city’s identity as a music hub, boost its international profile and attract visitors.

The organisation will coordinate music-based activity in the Leeds music sector, whatever the level, genre or pathway. Music:Leeds represents an opportunity for Leodians from all walks of life to access and engage with music.

Providing a new level of support for those invested in the Leeds music scene through commercial and community pathways, Music:Leeds will create networking opportunities, targeted projects, music events, advice for individuals, local organisations and businesses, and provide funding from national funders and music industry bodies.

Announcing: Music:Leeds' first City Music Forum

Music:Leeds will host the first of a series of City Music Forums on Tuesday 5th March at Leeds Town Hall, in coordination with Leeds City Council Arts, Venues and Events.

The City Music Forum will support the direction of Music:Leeds activity, and provide the opportunity for all stakeholders in the Leeds music scene to have their say,
offering feedback on important issues impacting the role and profile of music in the city. Attendees will be invited to propose items for discussion on the day.

This event follows a successful Town Hall event in November 2017 which attracted speakers from across Europe.

Confirmed speakers for 2019s City Music Forum include:

- Amy Lamé (Night Czar, London)
- Dr Matthias Rauch (Head of Cultural Urban Development, Mannheim Germany) - Tom Riordan (Chief Executive Leeds City Council)
- Ruth Pitt (Chair Leeds 2023)
- Kath Davies (Creative Economy Manager, Kirklees Council)
- Alan Miller (Chair, Night Time Industries Association)
- Oli Morris (Director of Education & Skills, UK Music)
- Claire Heap (Visitor Economy Manager, Visit Leeds)

You can find further details on speakers and register to attend the City Music Forum at:


Announcing: Music:Leeds' Launchpad

Music:Leeds' Launchpad will provide the opportunity for emerging artists in the Leeds and West Yorkshire area to benefit from industry advice, mentoring, creative development, performance opportunities, recording and public releases of their music. Kicking off with a new music commission as part of Leeds International Festival, artists/musicians and composers can find out more and apply for support at

Music:Leeds hopes to continue the branding of Leeds as an attractive city for young creatives, nurturing an environment which encourages graduates and those who have studied in the city settle here. This in turn provides economic and social benefits, further enriching Leeds’ cultural and creative industries to the benefit of the city for years to come.

Partner organisations collaborating on the artist platform Launchpad include: Leeds International Festival, Black Music Festival, JazzLeeds, Live At Leeds, Inner City Electronic, MAP Charity, Come Play With Me, Studio 12, DJ School UK, Chapel FM, World on our Doorstep, Sound and Music, Cloth Cat, South Asian Arts, Leeds Music Trust, Urban Development, Kycker, and Yorkshire Music Forum.


Music:Leeds is supported by Leeds 2023 & Leeds City Council, with public funding from the National Lottery through Arts Council England and additional support from UK Music, PRS Foundation, Leeds Beckett University, Leeds College of Music, Leeds BID and Awesome Merchandise.

Throughout 2019, Music:Leeds will be undertaking a number of projects to help support and grow music in the city, addressing inclusivity through Gender Equality initiatives and improving awareness of venue accessibility with partners Brighter Sound and Attitude is Everything .

A report based on the organisation's 2017-2018 mapping exercise will follow later in the year, alongside a new website, designed in collaboration with Leeds Inspired. These will improve signposting to all opportunities and music-related activity across the region.

Music:Leeds Director Whiskas/Sam Nicholls:
“It’s immensely exciting to unveil our plans and put them into action, with such a wide range of partners in the city, which is what Leeds should be leading on. The opportunities in the city to bring together professionals, the education sector and performers from different genres is truly incredible; I believe it’s something that Leeds can be proud of. We hope Music:Leeds provides the foundation for many incredible projects, and brilliant music to come.”

Ruth Pitt (Chair, Leeds 2023) says:
“Music:Leeds is an important milestone as the city gears up for our international cultural festival in 2023. Music is woven deep into the fabric of Leeds. It’s home to a strong, diverse and innovative music industry. By connecting and collaborating across genres, art forms and sectors, Music:Leeds will see engagement across all our communities so that local talent flourishes and our citizens can access a world-class cultural offer. We look forward to continuing to nurture, celebrate and showcase world-class talent on the international stage”.

Judith Blake (Leader, Leeds City Council) says:
“The establishment of Music:Leeds is an important step in promoting Leeds as a city of creators; a city which welcomes and nourishes talent and provides the necessary environment to learn, grow and develop in our thriving cultural and creative sector.

Music:Leeds has a real opportunity to capitalise on the talent and potential in the city to not only contribute to the city’s cultural narrative, identity and profile but to also ensure that Leeds is the best city in which to live, work, visit, play and create for years to come”.

Michael Dugher (CEO UK Music) says:
“Music makes a huge contribution to our culture and our economy. This brilliant initiative will be a great way of showcasing and strengthening the city’s vibrant and diverse music scene.

“UK Music is proud to be part of these plans and we hope it will be a springboard for many exciting future projects and collaborations. We want to help protect venues, promote talent, attract music tourists and boost the nighttime economy. Most importantly, we want to use this to ensure that every young person in Leeds and the surrounding areas has a chance to access music.”

Simon Rix (Kaiser Chiefs) says:
“The music scene in Leeds has always been something special; it’s a big city with lots of scenes and collectives. It’s great to see Music:Leeds launch, to help see the city fulfil its massive potential by supporting new talent coming through and making existing links more tangible and concrete. That’s together with other recent developments, such as the relocation of the Channel 4 headquarters to Leeds. This is another platform to help boost the city’s creative resources and provide a platform for galvanising the city’s creative industries musically and beyond.”

James Lyall (Managing Director, Awesome Merchandise) says:
“Leeds has been our home since our inception and has provided us with the roots we needed to thrive as a small business. We have been embedded in the vibrant local music & arts scene for over 13 years. Collaborating with artists, venues & organisations in Leeds has helped us build our company to a global level; we now export around 10% of our orders and have set up a new factory in the US, all underpinned by our 100-strong team in the UK, a huge proportion of which have come from the creative scene in the city.

Continuing to embrace and nurture the talent in Leeds will be key to developing our sector and we are super-excited to support Music:Leeds throughout.”

Alex Sobel (MP for Leeds North East, Vice-Chair All Party Parliamentary Group for Music):
“I am so pleased to hear about this new initiative. Music and arts are so important to our city, and providing opportunities and pathways for young people to play and learn can only benefit us all in the long term. I am also very encouraged to hear that Music:Leeds are working with the existing organisations throughout the city who do such great work in very difficult economic times for music and the arts. It is vital that every corner of Leeds benefits from access to music, and I look forward to seeing Music:Leeds further that aim.”

Oliver Bray (Acting Dean, School of Film, Music & Performing Arts, Leeds Beckett University) says:
“Our ground-breaking research and practice in music is a huge part of what makes the creative arts so special at our university. Leeds Beckett acknowledges the fundamental importance of culture and the arts as the lifeblood of our local and global communities. Our £80m investment in a new creative arts building in the centre of Leeds, which contains within it cutting-edge music facilities, demonstrates the strength of our commitment. We are proud that initiatives and partnerships such as Live At Leeds, Unconference and UK Live Music Census has allowed our academic staff to play the lead role in establishing Music:Leeds, and we look forward to supporting the valuable research and development opportunities the organisation will provide in the future.”

Gerry Godley (Principal, Leeds College of Music) says:
"We think the future for music in our city is collaborative, and Leeds College of Music is delighted to be part of this initiative, which builds on the powerful momentum and sense of community that has been a hallmark of our involvement with previous Music:Leeds events such as The Unconference. This activity, and the support that derives from them means a great deal to our students and provides them with a powerful insight into the industry that awaits them on graduation. Leeds College of Music Looks forward to a long and fruitful association with Music:Leeds."

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