Hollyrood regulates rock

Well, not quite. But amid some fanfare this month, the Cross Party Group for Scotland’s Contemporary Music Industry (Live Music Section) will launch a code of conduct for promoters, venues, musicians, artists and performers.

Politics and the performing arts have a fairly uneasy relationship, whether it’s the Scottish Arts Council’s often-controversial funding decisions or the Executive’s recent and bizarre claims that Franz Ferdinand and Ian Rankin were living proof of how great its cultural strategy was (both Franz and Rankin became successful by signing deals with English companies, because with a few notable exceptions there are bugger-all record labels or book publishers in Scotland). And now, the Exec is moving into the field of live music.

It’s utterly toothless, of course: the code is voluntary and doesn’t come with any sticks to beat code-breakers. Not that the exec should have such sticks, I hasten to add: by all means prosecute venues whose wiring is lethal, but that’s really as far as politicians should go. So what does the code actually mean?

It’s something of a mixed bag. Promoters and venues must follow health and safety (which they have to anyway – it’s the law), be insured, carry out risk assessments, provide contracts in writing, “communicate to audiences copyright awareness” – eh? – pay VAT and talk to the taxman about foreign performers.

Musicians must ensure “on stage behaviour complies with health and safety regulations, smoking bans, venue policies and procedures and that no harm is caused to venue staff or audiences” – that’s Scots GG Allins ruled out then – “be aware of which taxes should be paid and by whom” and assist in “maximising the revenue potential of the event”.

Rock!

OK, I’m being a tad cynical. There are some good things here: proper contracts for gigs, a commitment for promoters to actually pay artists instead of perpetuating the pay to play system and so on – although as far as I can tell, the code doesn’t actually prohibit pay to play, which exploits young musicians. However, what I don’t understand is what the code will actually change. What, exactly, is the point?

Scotland has always had something of a two-tier music scene. The top tier is where the decent promoters, venues and musicians are, and the bottom is where the naive swim with the cynical and the clueless. The bottom tier is where you’ll find the battles of the bands, the pay to play gigs, the audiences consisting entirely of blood relatives, the industry showcases whose connection with the industry is not so much dubious as non-existent, the bands with no discernible talent who think they’re Oasis and deserve to be treated as such on their very first gig.

If a band deals with the top tier they’ll be treated well; if they deal with the lower tier they’ll be treated badly, ripped off… all the usual things you’d expect in an industry where anyone can call themself an expert and take advantage of young, naive musicians’ ambition and ego.

What I don’t see is how a voluntary code of conduct will change any of that. The sort of promoters and venues who’ll sign up for the code, more or less, are the sort of promoters and venues who don’t shaft bands anyway; the sort of bands who’ll be playing those venues are the sort of bands who’ve escaped from the lower tier and won’t knowingly be shafted any more.

As 2manycontrols wrote on the Jockrock messageboard, Scotland’s infamous music forum:

so what exactly does the code achieve then? We’re still going to have one set of rules for one set of bands/artists, and another for the rest. Which is how it is just now anyway. As it stands, if you are a good band and draw a crowd, you dont have to take ticket deals, and get away with asking or being offered a fee. the rest play ticket deals and p2p… so whats going to change exactly?

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