Deep Dive into the growth, trends and economic state of indie music in 2023 with Rough Trade UK’s MD, Lawrence Montgomery

Shortly after the recent publication of UK Music’s annual report on the British music industry and its economic impact Lawrence Montgomery, Rough Trade’s UK MD, sat down with Record of the Day to discuss the fine print. and what these figures mean for independent artists and the rest of the industry. 

Read the entire comprehensive report from This is Music, here.

RotD: How has the independent music industry contributed to this growth?

LM:“The independent music industry is crucial to this growth. While we can’t speak for everyone, Rough Trade’s own growth in the last year is a testament to this. For example, earlier this year, UK reports revealed that record sales reached £116.8 million last year, and our vinyl sales grew by 34 percent vs 2021. As Rough Trade accounts for nearly 10 percent of the UK vinyl market, along with other indie retailers, the surge has seen the market share of indie record shops grow to 28 percent.

“As a result, we’ve seen increased footfall, online retail traffic, and a 20 percent year-on-year sales growth in 2023. With more growth projected, this has allowed us to invest in more stores in cities that lack a great record shop.

“Our fans are at the heart of everything we do, and we strongly believe nothing beats the community between independent record stores and their customers.

“The independent music industry is crucial in taking artists from the big, main stages and placing them directly in front of the consumer.

“Seeing an artist play in a small capacity, space/record shop, when they might solely be seen playing in front of 1000s gives fans a truly special experience they may not get anywhere else. Whether that’s seeing their favourite songs performed in a new or stripped-back way or just the same sweaty live gig, but in a space you’d never expect to see it take place in. These sorts of shows give the fans real value and solidify that in-store gigs at places like Rough Trade, with their live element, can’t be replicated or achieved anywhere else.

RotD: Why is more support needed to sustain this growth?

LM: “While the recent study shows immense success overall, it does highlight issues surrounding the grassroots end of the market, such as financial pressures that could make this growth hard to sustain.

“For example, a recent statement from Music Venue Trust revealed at least 15.7 percent of independent music venues have closed in the last twelve months in the UK, with hundreds more facing similar fates unless action is taken to save them. This is due to a combination of factors – soaring costs for rent, bills, wages, insurance, equipment, staffing, and even safety concerns.

“Without these venues, new talent and indie musicians will be limited in exposure, taking away key performance and networking opportunities, sources of income, and ultimately their chances of breaking into the music industry. As such, the music industry is deprived of new talent, which means a massive loss for the independent music industry and, therefore, a reduced contribution to the economy going forward.

“But while those in the independent music industry are doing the best they possibly can to help sustain the industry’s growth as a whole, to continue adding value to the economy, more support is needed from external factors.

“The independent music industry was valued at over $26.2 billion globally in 2022 and projected to grow, yet government and local funding remains low. Although it was recently announced that £5 million would be invested into independent spaces by the government, this will likely not be enough to save all venues, so further investment is needed to protect them and independent artists.

“Industry leaders have a responsibility to speak up and advocate for the independent music industry, to spread awareness of financial pressures to increase funding, help them stay afloat and sustain growth.”

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