Licensing

detail photo of a pint of beer being poured behind a bar

© iStockphoto.com/naphtalina

Licensing policies place restrictions on music scenes and sites and the activities and events involved.

In New York for example, repressive legislation was introduced in 1926 to restrict spaces for live music performance in the city, which meant that clubs and other venues had to get a licence if they wanted to stage such performances. These so-called 'cabaret laws' were ostensibly introduced as a means of tackling links between clubs, drugs and organised crime, because during the Prohibition era (1920-1933) US nightclubs were often controlled by people involved in such crime. However the Cabaret Laws continued to operate right up until the 1990s, and in practice they kept New York's jazz scene out of middle class neighbourhoods of the city. This is clearly illustrated by Paul Chevigny (2004) in his book entitled 'Gigs'. As a lawyer Chevigny successfully represented the case of jazz musicians who suffered from the effects of these laws and were concerned to oppose them.

In Britain a new entertainment licensing act was introduced in 2005. Bars, clubs, restaurants and other venues in Liverpool and elsewhere need to be licensed specifically as entertainment venues if they are to stage live music, even if the performance is not amplified and involves just one musician. This over-rides the previous 'two-in-a-bar' rule allowing one or two performers in liquor-licensed venues.

According to the British government this entertainment act was introduced in order to maintain public order and control noise. Opponents of the act argue however that it discriminates against music and music scenes because it allows venues to loudly broadcast sporting events on big television screens yet a live acoustic performance by one musician is not allowed. Since pubs and bars now compete with the sale of cheap alcohol by supermarkets, it may be far more tempting to show football matches on big screens at no cost than pay a licence so that singers can enjoy 'open mic' nights. Since 2005 it has also been possible for people in Britain aged 18 or over to drink on licensed premises at any time, and for any length of time, during a 24-hour period.

It may be too soon to tell what impact these laws have had on music scenes. In Liverpool however, many musicians are concerned that they will lead to a decrease in opportunities to make live music, which is likely to have long term effects on the emergence and development of many local music scenes.

Pubs and bars have played an important role in the development of these scenes. They are places where people talk about music and meet like-minded people, thereby developing their music contacts. They are also places that often host live music performances. A reduction in these kinds of music venues would mean that up-and-coming rock bands lose a vital arena in which to develop their skills as well as central gathering places for local rock scenes. For the folk scene the problem may be far greater because folk clubs and performances have long been based in pubs.