'Is getting a music venue in central Oxford realistic?' Group hosted by Martin Andrews (musician Octavia Freud and MAO employee) BACKGROUND ISSUES - Following the recent closure of successful music venues in central Oxford, including The Cellar, The Wheatsheaf and The Hard of Hearing Centre there is now no longer a single designated music venue for live music performance in the centre of the city. Although these venues were successful in promoting the local music scene they were forced to close due to issues of property and landlord ownership and noise complaints and have not been replaced by any other central venues.Other venues such as Arts organisations and pubs do offer some one off live music performances in their spaces but these are not currently seen as designated venues for weekly gigs and are not set up primarily to meet the needs of gigging musicians or local music scene audiences as they do not have the same level of equipment, p.a sound, capacity or experience in running regular weekly music events.The Cellar and The Wheatsheaf were important because they were both designated music venues with quality music p.a systems and live mixing desks, experienced sound engineers, had a loyal music audience following, were respected by local musicians who performed there and crucially were able to offer a 150 person capacity space with regular weekly and weekend events. They were seen as key spaces for promoting emerging local acts in the city as they helped artists then go on to develop their sound, their following and career and gain experience before potentially performing at larger venues such as The Bullingdon and The O2 Academy. Without the use of these 150 capacity size venues emerging musicians now face the prospect of either playing in front of only 50 people crowds or potentially failing to develop by having to try and jump to 300-500 crowds in the larger venues. This is often impossible and stops their music developing.Having centrally based venues meant performers, audiences and magazine reviewers could easily attend gigs if based in the city, but more importantly they encouraged those based further away in surrounding Oxfordshire to perform and attend and city based economy benefitted. This was because people can access a single bus or train into the city centre, but have to get a second bus further across the city where other venues are based and cannot stay out late for gigs.In a city where property ownership is dominated by the University, private landlords, the local authority and public funded art organisations, local musicians are now struggling to get any opportunities to perform in the city following the closure of these successful venues and this is having an adverse impact on the music scene.Oxford has had a very good reputation for having an established music scene and history and this added a significant cultural cache for visitors to the city beyond the main attraction of the University. This cultural heritage is now under threat due to the limits to property ownership and usage in the city.As attendance of gigging crowds have struggled to get back to full capacity after Covid lockdown and the cost of living is having a major impact on the potential to make any money as a music venue, music performers now feel their plight is of little priority and they cannot compete against big business that gets first choice in having property in the city.Property ownership and usage in the city are focussed purely on financial needs of the University, private landlords and the local authority. They all own the vast amount of available property and all appear either to be contributing to the lack of spaces available for music performance (such as the recent closure of Fusion Arts Centre and the lack of a replacement venue by the local authority) and appear unable to make property become available again for artists to perform in the city.GROUP ATTENDEES - The group involved around 7 people, including an experienced Oxford based music promoter, a prominent music reviewer and magazine editor, a senior local councillor, a senior manager from a city based arts venue, an established local musician who performs regularly in Oxford, an experienced sound engineer who works across Oxford venues and a property developer. NEEDS OF ANY PROSPECTIVE CENTRAL MUSIC VENUE - Provide audience space for capacity of at least 100 people, but more likely 150-200 so artists can then move onto bigger venues and take their audience with them.Provide adequate ventilation to artists, workers and audiences to manage any risk of Covid infection in full capacity shared closed spaces.Provide adequate access, including parking options for artist unloads and audience attendance, particularly with the ongoing issues of LTN's and bus gates.Manage noise spillage to avoid noise complaints and be able to continue to trade.Provide quality in house P.A systemIn Town vs Gown debate be able to promote events to maximum audience numbers by being inclusive to both local music and University audiences.Set hire prices that are affordable for music promoters so they can then cover their own costs (artist fees, sound person, promotional material and time) from ticket sales.Allow music promoters to promote events via posters in the venue and on venue own websites.Public funded venues need to offer a reduced community hire for music promoters to increase the amount of events, increase use of their buildings and audience footfall and engagement.DIFFERENT SOLUTIONS TO EXPLORE - MODEL ONE: PUBLIC FUNDED ART VENUESAs there were two members of Modern Art Oxford present at the group discussion the potential for a public funded venue model, such as Modern Art Oxford being a partial solution was discussed.It should be noted MAO would not be able to solve the need for a city central stand alone music venue but it does offer some options for putting on gigs.Modern Art Oxford as a central arts venue has a history of putting on successful live music and DJ events in its basement, cafe and yard spaces for the last 15 years. The basement has a capacity of around 100 people. The Yard space has a capacity around 60 people. It has an in house vocal p.a in the basement and a permanent projector. MAO is currently being hired by local promoters Divine Schism to put on a series of gigs, it is currently hosting a series of its own music events called MAO lates. MAO has previously been used by a wide variety of promoters, including OCM, Young Women's Music Project and Irregular Folk. Promoters tend to use local sound engineers at their events. Unloading can be done into the yard space and there is parking at the Westgate. It currently does not have designed ventilation in the basement so has to balance managing sound leakage when doors are open for ventilation. Although MAO is not a stand alone music venue it would be possible to increase the amount of gigs at the arts venue depending on certain factors. This would be mainly around the affordability for more promoters to hire the venue. It may be possible to encourage more promoters to put on events at MAO if there was a 'community rate' for local promoters and musicians that went somewhere to preserving the musical and artistic heritage of the city. This rate would need to at least cover MAO's costs for staffing the building when events are being held. MAO is currently looking at its yearly budgets to see what scope it can play in increasing its events offer.One possible solution would be to initiate discussions between MAO and the local authority (who currently subsidise the rental of the building) to see if the council can offer some contribution to creating a 'community rate' to encourage more music promoters to use the building for events and therefore help with preserving the cultural heritage of the city.No one from The Old Fire Station (a similar capacity centrally based public funded arts venue) was present at this group so it was not possible to assess its viability to offer a similar partial solution to hosting regular gigs. It would be hoped any follow up meetings could explore the viability of OFS.MODEL TWO: CO-OP, COMMUNITY CENTRES, POP UPSAs no one from a co-op, community centre or pop up venues were present at the group discussion it was difficult to establish the viability of this option. However, it was noted a separate group discussion covered this topic so this is a signpost to another post. The group did discuss whether the success of these alternative venues showed that there were two schools of thought.First school of thought was that creating a permanent designated central Oxford venue is unrealistic and people with the interests of the live music scene are simply getting on with finding other solutions and putting on gigs in other spaces. Notable success stories have been Florence Park Community Centre that successfully hosts music events and has become a good source of gigs for local musicians by being very reasonable to hire, has a designated p.a and bar space and a loyal following and Common Ground in Jericho that operates a co-op. Neither are centrally located but promoters have put on successful music and comedy nights there. Second group of thought was however successful pop up, co-op or community spaces were outside of the city centre they still did not meet the real need for a designated music venue in the city that could host weekly gigs for 150 people. MODEL THREE: SMALLER VENUES OUTSIDE THE CITY CENTREThe group discussion acknowledged the reality that the lack of a central music venue has led to increased use and success of smaller above or below a pub venues for putting on regular gigs. Two examples are the room above the pub model at The Port Mahon near the popular Cowley road student area and the room below model at The Library pub on the Cowley road. This is in addition to the continuing use of the room above the Jericho Tavern in Jericho. None of these options are centrally located but they all provide good access for music promoters to offer emerging musicians gigs. MODEL FOUR: UNIVERSITY OR LOCAL AUTHORITY MUSIC VENUE:The group discussion looked at the possibility of the University music spaces being used for gigs. This included The Holywell Music Room and The Jacqueline du Pre building. It was felt although these are spaces for concerts they primarily serve the needs of classical music and do not offer a realistic solution to weekly rock, indie and DJ nights. The group felt it was important to find out if the University had any plans to develop a new art space in future, that could then be used for live music.The group was aware of the recent closure of Fusion Arts by the local authority on the grounds the land was needed for housing needs. Although the group did not challenge the local councillor who was present it was noted that he chose not to raise this issue or provide any details of if or when the local authority would be able to provide an alternative space in the city for live music. The local councillor was keen to state his support to the discussions around property ownership in Oxford and mentioned the possibility of some spaces becoming available in future (Osney meade). As the councillor had limited time the group felt that this would need to be followed up with the councillor to get more specific details of what was realistic and achievable. A follow up meeting with the councillor is seen as a priority.PRIVATE PROPERTY & LOCAL CAMPAIGN AND FUNDRAISING:The group included someone who described themselves as working in property but kept their role quite vague. Their opinion was that the issue is all about money and any solutions would either need to involve community funded spaces or significant fundraising. The campaign to save The Cellar. is one example. Unfortunately, as this venue still closed following some fundraising achieved, it seems even money does not lead to success. There were brief discussions about previous world famous Oxford musicians getting involved by either donating money or being a figurehead for a campaign. Some in the group felt this was not realistic. There was some interest in exploring if wealthy individuals, companies or sponsorship would be interested in funding a venue in return for being named by them, which is a strategy used by the University. NEXT STEPS:- Follow up discussions with MAO to see if they are able to offer an affordable 'community rate' for more music promoters to hire out the venue for central Oxford gigs.- Follow up discussions with the local authority to see if they could provide any additional funds to the existing funding they provide to Arts Venues to make sure their capacity to meet the need for more music events is met in their centrally located buildings.- Follow up discussions with the local councillor to get more time to discuss in detail the practicals of property ownership in the city, ways it could communicate any upcoming opportunities to either purchase or rent properties under their remit and it's plans to meet its obligations to provide public spaces for the performing arts and retain the cultural heritage of Oxford as a musical city that supports emerging artists.- Approach any stakeholders within the University that have any knowledge of the issues and would be prepared to engage in discussions at the next round of meetings. - Group members who were unable to attend the other relevant group discussions on community led venues and wider discussion on the need for a new larger venue to read these posts and follow up ideas that crossover at the next meeting.