Changing perceptions of the night-time industry

In the last five years, the nightclub scene has decreased by £200m in value, with 25% of clubs closing their doors in the past decade. Yet the night-time economy is the UK’s fifth-biggest industry, and its valuable contribution to communities across the country should not be underestimated.

As we’ve discussed in previous reports, the night-time economy is comprised of many different sectors including hospitality, health, live entertainment and much more. Basically, any business or organisation that operates beyond 6pm is classified as part of the night-time economy. This economy is certainly growing, thanks to a number of initiatives and the ongoing commitment from the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA). But yet licensed premises such as nightclubs, pubs and bars still face an element of prejudice and preconception.

We spoke to leading DJ Lisa Rose-Wyatt (AKA Lisa Lashes) and Managing Director of Lisa Lashes School of Music Deborah Hewitt, to find out their views on the future of the night-time industry. Written in collaboration with them, this article explores how Lisa Lashes School of Music is breaking down barriers, nurturing untapped talent and connecting the future leaders of our night-time economy.

Discovering a new way to engage with the night-time industry

Lisa Lashes School of Music (LLSOM) began life as a series of workshops for young people in the Lisa’s hometown of Leicester. When Deborah Hewitt, now the school’s Managing Director, saw the impact the workshop had on her own son, she was inspired.

“We travelled four hours to and from the first taster session and the difference between those two journeys was staggering. It was incredible to see my son so engaged and full of energy. He has ADHD and dyslexia, so traditional education has always been a bit of a challenge. However, he has a talented creative mind and loves music – he just needs to learn in a different way.”

Following that fortuitous first meeting, the inspirational women founded a school that would offer a non-traditional educational experience. They developed an accelerated learning programme that provides new opportunities to learn.

“It was a whirlwind,” Deborah continues. “In less than two months from when we first met, we’d set up a fully-funded school. We had our first cohort of students ready to learn and expert tutors chosen to help run the classes.”

Fast-forward to today, and LLSOM is thriving. In addition to the Northampton school, LLSOM is launching schools in Peterborough and Cambridgeshire in Spring 2020, with plans in place to open permanently in locations such as Manchester.

The school offers a new way to learn for disengaged students, SEN and vulnerable children and those from a disadvantaged background. It’s open to absolutely anyone, with students as young as ten joining LLSOM. A variety of different funding opportunities are available, though the school does review applications on a case-by-case basis and there is the option to self-fund which gives everyone chance to take part.

Stereotypically LLSOM students aren’t receptive to learning in a traditional setting, but learning through music in a more relaxed environment gives them an alternative educational pathway. Core skills such as Maths and English are embedded in the curriculum, which includes classes on a range of subjects such as management and marketing. A programme that runs for between two and five days, for 12 weeks, gives students a Functional Skills Level 1 and 2 qualification. This provides an opportunity for students to re-enter education or employment.

The fall of nightclub culture

The number of people regularly visiting nightclubs has decreased, leading to thousands of clubs shutting down across the country.

Lisa says, “When I returned to my hometown after many years of travelling and clubbing all over the world, I was keen to perform again at some of my old haunts. One by one I discovered so many of my favourite clubs in the area had closed down. I knew something needed to be done to rejuvenate the night-time scene and put clubbing back on the map.”

That’s why Lisa first set up her workshops for disadvantaged young people in her local area. To support young people, pass on her expertise and give back to the industry that she loves.

Factors such as increased business rates and licensing issues are putting pressure on night-time venues. But it’s a lack of local support that is the main downfall of clubs.

Younger generations are now more health conscious and financially aware. Lisa agrees, saying, “When I was first starting out in the scene, there were successful club nights running throughout the week. These days, young people are more likely not to drink midweek, and will instead go for a big night out at the weekend.”

That’s not to say the regeneration of nightlife can’t be positive. Many late-night venues are now offering street food, games, sports and even exercise classes to increase footfall. While there is certainly a place for these venues, clubs are still vitally important to our economy and provide a much-needed creative outlet for people in our communities.

Clubbing may seem synonymous with alcohol and drugs to some people, but the scene is changing. Instead, the clubbing community is becoming much more focussed on celebrating musical talent and enjoying time socialising. The more emerging artists celebrate and promote clubs, the more perceptions will shift to a more positive view of nightclubs.

Creating a daytime scene from nightlife venues

Nightclubs and bars generally only come to life after dark. But there is a real opportunity for venues to improve their daytime offering. They can do this in a number of different ways, such as arranging art exhibitions or offering daytime cocktail masterclasses for groups or parties.

Venues are in dire need of support, and opening during the day is a new revenue stream that could help to save our clubs. Offering food and drink throughout the day and then transforming the venue into a night-time club could boost the economy and decelerate the number of clubs closing down.

LLSOM uses working clubs as a training facility during the day. This not only helps to support the venues, but the local economy too. Students attending the school visit the town’s shops, F&B offering and even council car parks. This all contributes to supporting independent businesses in towns across the UK.

Social isolation is becoming a big problem

Younger generations are spending more and more time on their own. In many ways, social media is anything other than social, providing a platform for entirely solitary entertainment. Despite possibly having thousands of online friends, 40% of those aged 16-24 feel lonely. This is due, in part, to isolation stemming from spending less face-to-face time with friends.

Young people are also discovering music online, using apps like Spotify to find new artists and styles of music. The element of discovery and exploration that once made clubs so exciting is now often found in today’s isolated digital sphere instead.

Making music can also be an individual activity, with many people writing and creating music at home rather than viewing it as a collaborative process.

Lisa explains that her career started out through mixing tracks on her friend’s decks, experimenting with her musical style. She then went on to play at a party where a promoter offered her a residency at a local club. Such a story begins with friends creating music together, and this is an ethos LLSOM stands by.

LLSOM removes social barriers and encourages integration by encouraging student collaborations. Deborah says, “At the end of the day we’re all connected in a mixed society, and our school emulates this. We connect people from all walks of life and bring them together through music and creativity.”

Misconceptions about the night-time industry

High crime rate and fear of gang culture has led to people feeling unsafe at night. This is particularly prevalent amongst parents who are keen to protect their children from engaging in nightclub culture. But the reality is, these negative stereotypes are often far from the truth.

Lisa says, “Some of my oldest friends are people I first met clubbing. There’s a genuine opportunity for young people to socialise and make long-lasting connections with people, and we need to encourage that.”

Changing perceptions of the industry may be a slow process, but it’s gradually happening. Many are now starting to see clubbing and gigging as an alternative way to socialise – slowly removing the stigma associated with drink and drugs.

LLSOM partner with the Northamptonshire Community Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV) to provide an academic embedded music programme tackling knife crime, gangs and violence. The school does this by providing alternative pathways for young people, advocating better choices and thought processes. This will make a substantial change in the community.

The bespoke courses find the strengths and weaknesses of each individual, giving students chance to take in a wealth of knowledge from industry professionals and tutors. Even for people with no interest in pursuing a career within the music industry have been inspired. A combination of music and education gives young learners the opportunity to learn while also letting off creative steam.

Deborah says, “We operate a policy that all preconceptions are left at the door. It’s always particularly heart-warming to see two rival gang members working together to collaborate on their music. They work as a team and realise that they do share common ground through their music and creativity.”

Nurturing and supporting creativity

Many young people who may not fit the mould of a traditional education path could thrive in a more creative environment. The night-time industry provides this platform, allowing people to develop their creative talents and thrive.

But creative talent needs to be more widely supported by the industry, community and on an individual level. As music is so readily available to stream, musicians generally must rely on gigs and tours to make a living where previously record sales made up a large chunk of their overall revenue (money made through streaming is significantly less). This means that now, more than ever, the industry is reliant on live music.

The rise of the Pay As You Feel economy could encourage negative perceptions that creative talent and musicians should come free (or barely paid enough to cover expenses). There is an increasing reluctance to pay for creative industries, and this needs to change.

“Musicians and DJs are often asked if friends, acquaintances or even virtual strangers can be put on a guest list to get into an event,” Lisa says. “I wouldn’t go into my friend’s workplace and ask for a product or service for free so I don’t see how it should be any different for those working in creative industries.”

Grassroots venues continue to support live artists, and there may be an increase in the number of gig-goers going along to see smaller-scale gigs and unknown artists. We live in a world where information and opinion is available at our fingertips. Therefore, younger generations are prioritising exploration and discovery. Live music offers the opportunity to find the next big thing and discover new music styles.

Festivals offer a great opportunity for artists to reach a large audience. Festival attendance is up 23% year-on-year. However, the popularity of festivals could have a negative impact on local music venues. Why would someone pay £20 to see one band, when they could pay £60 to discover dozens of acts throughout the day? Venues may feel the need to lower ticket prices or offer free entry, which has a knock-on impact on the artist’s fee.

For the music industry to thrive, gig-goers must support local artists. Industry professionals must stand firm on fair pay, too.

There are also more “traditional” employment routes within the industry, such as venue management, marketing and producing. These salaried positions don’t come with the precarious nature of live music, but they also don’t have the creative freedom or as much flexibility. Young people considering a career in the industry are advised to think carefully about what type of role in the industry suits their personality best.

Career opportunities in the night-time industry

It’s important to change the perception of careers in the industry. A successful and happy career in the night-time industry is so often promoted by leaders in their field, yet a viable career path in the night-time industry is not promoted widely enough to encourage young people to consider this option.

Many people don’t fully understand the breadth and scope of opportunity available within the industry. LLSOM offers a whole range of training for its students, prepping them for a potential career in the industry, including DJing, music production or event management.

Deborah Hewitt says, “Our students learn functional skills such as English, Maths and Employability. These skills are transferrable into any industry, not just within the music industry and night-time economy. We’ll help students develop a professional CV and biography that will help them secure future employment.”

LLSOM’s student discussion platform allows all past and current students to continue to communicate, collaborate and support one another. They can also keep in touch with tutors, allowing them to continue networking within the industry and developing their career.  

The industry needs fresh new talent and a cohort of engaged, interested people to take on roles within the sector. There are a number of benefits to working in the industry: flexibility, progression, creative freedom and the often social and community-focussed nature of the sector.

Upskilling the industry

Upskilling professionals already working in the night-time industry will be a key future focus. Part of the issues facing the night-time industry is the perception that working in the sector isn’t a “proper career”. This is because some clubs and bars employ temporary staff or people on zero hour contracts, so these employees don’t see how they can progress or develop their career. Industry leaders are working to promote skills training, which will help to retain and develop fresh talent.

Deborah says, “We prioritise CPD, training our tutors to be confident educators and upskilling them where required. We’ve now employed a head teacher to help us become a recognised, accredited school.”

Looking after the night-time economy

Amy Lamé, London’s first Night Czar has spoken publicly about improving public transport and connectivity at night, to enable workers and members of the community to engage with more night-time activities with less restriction.

A wider variety of public transport options at night will allow young people to more freely access night-time activity such as gigs and clubs.

The NTIA, of which Lisa is a Director, is passionate about promoting the night-time industry and works with the Government, local authorities and research groups to instigate change.

“Many of our students have gone on to carve successful careers within the night-time industry, with some now signed to record labels or travelling the world sharing their music. However, the school is also a vehicle back to further education, or careers in other industries. One of our students came to us when he was at a really low point in his life. He had no confidence at first but, throughout the weeks, he blossomed. He’s now incredibly successful and has even been credited for his work on a recent Marvel film. It just shows that anyone and everyone can benefit from learning in a creative setting. The experience can be life changing.”

LLSOM continues to grow and expand, with plans in place to open new schools across the country. The team are continuing to try and find funding opportunities to support even more young people access the school’s unique alternative provision while individuals look for routes back into education or employment.

As for the future of LLSOM’s students? Deborah says it’s looking very bright indeed. “98% of our students have gone back into education or employment related to the music industry. We’re incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved and excited to see what’s next for both the school and the industry.”

For more insight into the night-time industry and to let us know your thoughts, follow us on social media or get in touch with our team!