This week, UK Music, the representative body for the entire UK music industry, published its second annual economic study looking at music’s contribution to UK plc. Using data from 2013, this showed British music growing at an astonishing rate of 9% per annum - with an army of songwriters, artists, publishers, labels, gigs and festivals contributing some £3.8bn to the UK economy and employing more than 111,000 people.
This research was preceded by some even more eye-catching numbers released by the Office for Disability Issues (part of the Department of Work & Pensions) in late August, revealing that high street businesses across the UK could receive a £212bn boost if they proactively attracted more disabled customers and their families. Because of a lack of accessibility, said the Department, 1 in 5 shops, hotels and other retail outlets could effectively be turning away the lucrative ‘purple pound’.
While “shopping” was cited by disabled respondents as the most inaccessible everyday activity they faced, it was followed in second place by the experience of attending the theatre, cinema and concerts.
Attitude is Everything, the charity of which I am CEO, campaigns for improved access to live music for Deaf and disabled people and so we have an interest in both these debates.
On the music side, we know there is an almost insatiable demand from disabled people in this country to watch live performances. According to Government data, over 3m disabled adults attend a festival or gig each year. Disabled audiences attending “rock and pop” concerts increased by more than 32% between 2007/08 and 2011/12 and, in total, disabled people make up 15% of England’s entire live music attendance. In short, we constitute a major slice of the gig-going music-loving community.
The positive economic impact to the live music businesses that partner with Attitude is Everything is also crystal clear.
At Latitude Festival, who we have worked with since 2009, disabled ticket sales have tripled over the past 5 years. At the Academy Music Group - which operates 14 venues across the UK - ticket sales to disabled customers increased by 33% between 2012 and 2013. Meanwhile, at Reading Festival in 2013, the 900 fans who stayed on the accessible campsite spent an estimated £187,000. A 100% increase on the previous year.
Implementing improved access policies is not necessarily expensive, and is not limited to large scale events. Providing clear information online, accessible ticketing, staff training and free tickets for personal assistants are all simple ways in which live music businesses can attract a faithful audience of disabled fans.
In the first place, having friendly employees who understand the barriers that Deaf and disabled music fans face is absolutely vital. Over the years, Attitude is Everything has trained more than 5,000 music industry staff in disability awareness. Without getting all Kevin Costner about it, if you improve things then disabled audiences will come. And then they’ll come back. And then they’ll come back again. Probably with their friends.
Fortunately, such a sense of inclusivity resonates with many in the music business, and with artists in particular. In June 2014, Attitude is Everything launched a campaign called #MusicWithoutBarriers encouraging more venues and festivals to sign up to our Charter of Best Practice - and from which we gained a real groundswell of support from a wide range of musicians including Stevie Wonder, Alt-J, Belle & Sebastian, Franz Ferdinand, Robert Wyatt, Enter Shikari, Frank Turner, The Cure, Chvrches and Mystery Jets all of whom encouraged their fans to sign up and spread the word.
These artists, all small businesses in their own right, instinctively get it. However, with so many compelling imperatives for UK businesses to improve their access, the £212bn question remains: why are so many others still resistant to change?
Ironically, when Government previously attempted to tackle this conundrum, their own consultants suggested that a lack of awareness of the business opportunity that disabled customers entail was mostly to blame; along with misconceptions and discomfort with the idea of “disability” and “fear of getting it wrong”.
They also concluded that communication was vital. And that informing businesses of the benefits of improved access should focus on the economic upsides, rather than moralising. To quote the report in full:
"The view was that what is needed is a set of facts and business arguments that present 'the case for focusing on the disabled consumer'. It was felt SMEs would respond to 'economic arguments' and in particular business benefits expressed in monetary terms such as increases in revenues, profits, business volumes. Moral or social equality arguments would be less effective or even result in businesses losing interest."
From Attitude is Everything’s position, I believe we are already building a pretty damn solid body of facts and business arguments. There is a way to go, of course, but disabled fans are making a massive contribution to the success of the UK music industry. With a bit more forward thinking, with a bit more understanding, I see no reason why what we are achieving in partnership with venues and festivals cannot be replicated further afield.