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.