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The live music business in Ireland creates a huge number of jobs and makes a massive contribution to the Irish economy, at local, regional and national levels. So says a major new report, entitled Let’s Celebrate.

LIVE IRELAND

A recent report on the value of the live entertainment industry to the Irish economy confirmed something that Hot Press has been saying for a long time – and that many of us in the local music industry already instinctively knew. Namely, that the live entertainment business is of massive importance to the nation, not only culturally but economically.

It’s the first time such a forensic analysis of the live sector has been undertaken and the results make for compelling reading. Entitled, Let’s Celebrate, this very well-presented, groundbreaking, glossy report, was written by Justin Green and carried out by BOP Consulting – a team of London-based economic consultants, who specialise in the creative and cultural sector. The report comprehensively examines live entertainment in Ireland across the full range of events ticketed by Ticketmaster, and analyses the impact of these events on the local and national economy.

The facts and figures which emerge are staggeringly impressive – and should serve as a wake-up call, particularly to those in Government and in policy-making generally, who have historically been loathe to acknowledge the major contribution made by music and other live events to the overall economy.

SCALE OF THE INDUSTRY

Let’s Celebrate looks at a 12-month period between March 2015 and February 2016 – a snapshot in time covering the major live events of that year. It reveals, for example, that over four million people attended Ticketmaster events on the island of Ireland, generating €1.7bn of “net additional revenue” and €669m of net additional gross value in the process. In plain English, in addition to what was lavished on tickets, these figures took into account money spent as part of attendees’ trips (food, drink, merchandise, accommodation, transport and so on).

The report also found that an estimated 3.7m bed-nights were generated, emphasising the crucial importance of music and entertainment to the hospitality and tourism sectors here. 433,666 attendees at events south of the border came from outside the Republic of Ireland. All of this activity created over 11,000 additional jobs within the island-wide economy; and for every single €1 spent on a ticket, an additional €6.06m of revenue was generated within the wider economy.

It is fascinating too that participants were asked to consider what they would have done, if the live event they attended had not occurred. In the vast majority of cases, they stated that they would have stayed at home – or found another live entertainment event to go to. It was confirmation both that Irish people really do love live music and entertainment; and that live events inspire spending that would otherwise not occur at all.

The fact that these figures were based solely on Ticketmaster events, which account for less than 50% of the live market, gives a clear indication that the scale of the industry, and its overall impact, are considerably greater than set out in the report – possibly by as much as an additional 100%.

The Let’s Celebrate report points out, for example, that the annual Galway Arts Festival (which this year features among others the legendary Brian Wilson performing Pet Sounds) attracts attendances of 200,000 – which is a hugely impressive number by any measure.

The bottom line is that attending live music events – whether concerts, festivals, theatrical performances, comedy gigs, pub-sessions, or even listening to buskers on the street – is something we Irish love to do. It’s in the blood coursing through our veins and we do it as often as we can, wherever we can, both indoors and in the great wide open.

This penchant for celebratory live music events hasn’t gone unnoticed in the wider music world either and all major acts now include Ireland on their touring schedule – and that’s despite the fact that we’re an island nation, with the added logistical difficulties of getting here, when compared with say, mainland Europe or the USA. Obviously visitors to these shores add to the gaiety of the nation considerably by getting into the live swing of things – but the trigger for all of this is that Irish people attend music events at a higher rate per capita than just about any other country in the world.

To give just one example – last year on his The River tour, Bruce Springsteen performed four shows in the entire UK. He did two shows here, where the population is less than a tenth of the size. And those two shows were not in his usual Dublin haunt of the RDS, where the capacity is about 30,000. They were in the much larger scale Croke Park, where he played before an estimated 160,000 fans over two nights! That is an extraordinary number of people, in a country with a total population of 4.6 million.


Bruce Springsteen:
a love affair with Ireland that is mutual

Bono: taking 3Arena by storm
during the iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE tour

A HAPPENING CITY

It’s not an accident then, that world-beating acts of the calibre of the aforementioned Springsteen, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Neil Young, REM, Hall & Oates, the late David Bowie – along with Irish artists U2, Van Morrison, The Corrs, Christy Moore, The Frames and dozens more – have chosen to record live albums and/or concert DVDs in Ireland. These international bands and artists know instinctively that the Irish date on any world tour is almost guaranteed to be special, and if they are going to capture the performance for posterity, this is the place to do it.

Added to that is the fact that facilities and the technical crews here are as good, if not better, than anywhere in the world, with the requisite expertise and skills to handle anything that even the most exacting artist can throw at them.

In addition, Ireland in 2017 can boast a world class live entartainment infrastructure that is unrecognisable from just a few short decades ago. Venues such as the 3Arena, the Olympia Theatre (which was named Hot Press Live Venue of the Year last week), Vicar Street, Bord Gais Energy Theatre, the National Concert Hall, the Gaiety Theatre and the Helix together ensure that the capital has venues to suit all levels and styles of music. Not that any of this can be taken for granted. You don’t get quality facilities without a significant level of investment and there are associated risks. Along the way, venue owners and promoters have had to put their money where their mouths are. But they have done this and made it work.

In addition, there are dozens of venues – from the legendary Whelan’s, which Ed Sheeran chose for his intimate VH1 Special gig – though places like The Academy and the ever-excellent Grand Social, which thrive in their own right. And that’s before we even begin to mention the scores of smaller pub venues on almost every street in the city centre. Dublin is a happening city right now.

Of course, anyone who thinks that music is just about what happens in the capital city has got it completely wrong. Indeed, a vibrant live scene around the country is absolutely vital for Irish musicians and bands, if they are to be able to earn a living from their craft. Well, the good news is that there has been a great upsurge in activity across the country recently.

The IMRO Venue of the Year Awards, held last week, underlined the importance of having first class live venues right in every corner of the nation. Winner of the prestigious IMRO Live Music Venue of the Year award, the National Opera House in Wexford is one such facility, acting as a hub for a whole range of cultural activities in the south-east. For the venue’s marketing manager, Tracy Ryan, the emphasis is always on the experience audiences have when they come to the theatre.

“It’s a state of the art venue opened in 2008,” Tracy explains, “and it’s considered one of the best small opera houses in the world. It has won a lot of architectural and design awards, which reflects the time, thought and care that went into the planning. And we have brilliant audiences here in Wexford, as well as people who come from the southeast and increasingly from the entire country to see events here.” The venue, which boasts a capacity of 800, hosts all kinds of music, including classical, choral, folk, country and rock. “We do absolutely everything musically”, says Ryan. “In addition, we host comedy, theatre and family events – we cater for every kind of act that would tour in other regional theatres. We had Lisa Hannigan and Wallis Bird recently for example.”

Both are real Hot Press favourites. And we see that Mary Black, The Fureys, An Evening with Michael Harding and Rebecca O’Connor as Tina Turner are among the forthcoming attractions – all of which deserve a visit.

EXCELLENT LOCAL VENUES

Of course, festivals in Ireland come in all shapes and sizes, from big events such as Electric Picnic and Longitude to more “boutique” festivals such as Body & Soul, Castlepalooza, Indiependence and Donegal’s Sea Sessions, to name just a handful. Indeed Sea Sessions, which successfully mixes music and surfing, has become one of the country’s most celebrated events, attracting people from all over the world to the south of Donegal in search of adventure and good times. And that’s exactly what they get...

What’s more, many of these festivals take place in rural parts of the country, bringing much needed economic benefits. Even a relatively small place like Dingle is now world-renowned as a centre of musical creativity and discovery, thanks to the success of Other Voices. Ostensibly a music-based TV showcase, it has now grown to be a multi-faceted live event that punches well above its weight. Elsewhere, an event such as the Kilkenny Roots festival, which celebrates 20 years in existence this year, has provided a launchpad for numerous careers in the Americana genre. In the past, it has featured some of the earliest Irish shows by the likes of Ryan Adams, Ray Lamontagne and, more recently, Grammy-winner Sturgill Simpson. It is the existence of excellent local venues like The Set Theatre, Watergate Theatre, Cleere’s Bar, Kyteler’s Inn, Paris Texas and more, that make events like this, and the superb Kilkenny Tradfest, possible.


Donegal’s Sea Sessions

Niall Stokes and Justin Green
at the IMRO Live Music Venue Awards

FACTS AND FIGURES

Make no mistake, however, regular local music events are as important a contributor to the big picture. All around the country, there are venues, theatres, arts centres, hotels and pubs, where live music happens all year round. It’s no exaggeration whatsoever to state that almost every town and village in Ireland has some kind of festival or event that involves live entertainment of one sort or another.

The pubs and bars are unquestionably the true bedrock of local live music. In these hallowed places, gigs, sessions and open-mic nights – some of them free of charge – take place, providing a never-ending supply of live music for locals and tourists alike.

“It has been an outstanding year for live music in Ireland,” Hot Press editor Niall Stokes said, speaking at the IMRO Live Music Venue Awards. “That is, of course, true in relation to what is happening in the big venues, like The Olympia Theatre, which has just been refurbished with spectacular results, and at festivals – which are so important to the ongoing health of Irish music.

“But from the point of view of working Irish musicians, it is really encouraging also to see the emergence of venues in smaller towns around the country, where they can go and gig – and both find an audience and earn their wages. Which is why I am so pleased to have presented awards tonight to Mike The Pies in Listowel and Boyle’s of Slane.

“It is the hard work and dedication of the people who make things happen in excellent venues, theatres and bars like these – and countless others around the country – that make all the difference. Long may they flourish.”

This is the crucial message, which Hot Press has been hammering home at every opportunity over the years. Whether it is Mike The Pies in Listowel; Boyle’s in Slane; Monroe’s or Róisín Dubh in Galway; Claremorris Town Hall; the Spirit Store in Dundalk; INEC in Killarney; Coughlan’s in Cork; the Set Theatre in Kilkenny; Hawks Well Theatre in Sligo; Matt Molloy’s in Westport; An Grianán Theatre in Letterkenny; Central Arts in Waterford; Dolan’s in Limerick or the Glór Theatre in Ennis, it is the bookers and the promoters, who make things happen all over Ireland, to whom musicians owe a huge debt of thinks.

But not only musicians. The importance of Justin Green’s Let’s Celebrate report and the implications of what it reveals should not go unnoticed, least of all by Government and State agencies. It is their job to support, maintain and foster industries that create jobs, generate revenue (and therefore taxes) and attract tourists. Well, everyone involved in live music and entertainment has the ammunition now. The facts and figures are there for all to see in Let’s Celebrate.

Everyone in Ireland owes the live music and entertainment sector a vote of thanks. The truth is that we do this thing better in Ireland than anywhere else. In the context, the live entertainment industry needs to be literally placed centre stage when it comes to any discussion about national or regional economic development. After all, our future depends on it!