Home » What the U.K. General Election Could Mean for the Music Business, Ticketing, AI and Big Tech

What the U.K. General Election Could Mean for the Music Business, Ticketing, AI and Big Tech

When the United Kingdom votes on July 4 to elect its next government, business leaders around the world will be closely monitoring the outcome to see what it means for them. For the music industry, the upcoming general election — announced by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Wednesday (May 22) — could also lead to major change depending on who wins. 

According to the latest opinion polls, the Labour Party is more than 20 points ahead of the ruling Conservative Party, which has been in power for 14 years. Unless Sunak achieves an extraordinary turnaround in the next six weeks, Labour leader Keir Starmer is widely expected to be the next resident of Number 10 Downing Street, most likely with a big majority of Parliamentary seats. 

Should that happen, Starmer has said he plans to make a number of reforms that will impact the world’s third-largest recorded music market, touring and regulation of the tech industry, all of which will reverberate beyond the United Kingdom’s borders.   

Tougher Rules for Ticket Resale Platforms and Prospect of Future Arena Tickets Tax    

In March, Starmer announced that a future Labour government will cap the resale prices of concert tickets and introduce tougher regulations for secondary ticketing platforms such as Viagogo, which has already been subject to numerous investigations and inquiries in the United Kingdom. 

The Labour policy would limit the number of tickets individual resellers could sell on resale platforms and give the U.K. competition watchdog greater powers to take “swift” action against services and scalpers who break the rules, Starmer said. 

Any change at Number 10 could also have big implications for the global touring business. Earlier this month, a Parliamentary committee called for a new voluntary levy to be added to arena and stadium tickets sold in the United Kingdom to support struggling grassroots music venues. 

To stem the tide of small venue closures, the Culture, Media and Sport (CMS) Committee said the voluntary levy should be introduced “no later” than September. If progress is not made, the government should set up a statutory levy, advised the committee, which also called for a cut in sales tax (VAT) on tickets for grassroots music shows. 

Whichever political party wins on July 4, it will be expected to respond to the CMS committee report on the grassroots music sector. As for the committees themselves, they all cease to exist after Parliament is dissolved on May 30, although a new bunch will be formed after the election made up of a cross-party selection of MPs. They can pick new topics or industries to investigate — or can choose to build upon the work of their predecessors, meaning Parliamentary interest in the music business is unlikely to go away.

Given the huge contribution the U.K. music industry makes to the country’s economy — £6.7 billion ($8.2 billion) in music sales, concerts, recording studios, touring and music tourism in 2022, according to trade organization UK Music — government leaders will be keen to be seen doing all they can to protect the sector. 

Regulating AI and Big Tech 

Following the general election, the hot issue of regulating the use of artificial intelligence (AI) is likely to be near the top of the legislative agenda and will continue to be a source of heavy lobbying from the tech and music industries. 

The current Conservative government has spent the past several years consulting on the topic but has yet to deliver any firm plans and has generally pursued a light touch “pro-innovation” approach to the regulation of AI.   

In 2023, the government quietly shelved a proposal by The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) for a new text and data mining (TDM) exception that would have allowed AI developers to freely use copyright-protected works for commercial purposes (albeit with certain restrictions) following fierce criticism from the music industry. 

Since then, there have been repeated calls from music trade groups like labels trade body BPI for the government to follow the European Union’s lead and defend creators, musicians and rights holders from the potential risks of generative AI models.  

Earlier this month, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Music called for a comprehensive “pro-creative industries” AI bill that protects the music business from the “threats” posed by the technology. Among its recommendations were banning AI developers from using copyright-protected music for training purposes without consent, as well as the requirement for tech companies to clearly label all AI-generated content. 

If Sunak retains power, music executives will be keen to see him urgently press ahead with U.K.-specific legislation around AI and ensure the United Kingdom doesn’t fall behind other countries and markets in regulating the sector. 

Labour’s position on AI, as outlined by Starmer last summer, is that they will bring in stronger regulations than the Conservatives, although details are thin on the ground and the party’s stance does appear to have softened in recent months as it attempts to court business leaders and tech executives by presenting itself as a “pro-innovation” government-in-waiting. Labour had been working on an AI strategy document ahead of the general election announcement, which it was expected to launch this month. 

Addressing Artists’ and Songwriters’ Discontent Over Streaming Terms 

Over the past four years, the United Kingdom has led the way in addressing artist discontent over low payments from music streaming. Since 2020, when the pandemic-enforced shutdown of the live industry brought the issue to the fore, there have been numerous Parliament-led inquiries into the record business, including a review of the major labels’ market dominance by the U.K. competition watchdog. 

In December 2021, a bill was debated in Parliament that would have required record companies to pay musicians and songwriters a bigger cut of streaming revenue. It was defeated at the first stage, but the prospect of government intervention in the U.K. music business has seen record companies beef up their public policy teams and divert a huge amount of time and resources into dealing with the various probes.  

The heightened scrutiny of the music industry has yet to result in any law changes, but it has increased pressure on labels to improve artist terms and contracts. A government-led working group focusing on creator remuneration recently launched (which insiders say is likely to continue post-election) and the noise around low streaming royalties for many artists is unlikely to die down anytime soon. 

Last month, the Culture, Media and Sport (CMS) Committee published a report calling for government ministers to “do more to make sure music makers are paid fairly” and to press ahead with a package of sweeping copyright reforms. The committee’s recommendations included overhauling the revenue split between recording and publishing rights from music streaming, currently set at around 55% for recording and 15% for publishing, to better reward songwriters. 

“It’s vital that any incoming administration ensures we deliver on recommendations made by the Culture Select Committee to reset the streaming market and support grassroots live touring,” says Annabella Coldrick, chief executive of the U.K. Music Managers Forum (MMF). 

“More broadly, we need a government that values British music, puts it at the forefront of U.K. growth policy, and backs it with a credible music strategy to maximize our industry’s potential both domestically and internationally,” Coldrick adds. 

Whether that responsibility falls to Sunak or Starmer will be determined by the British public on July 4. If Labour does win the general election, there’s a chance that two high-profile figures from the music world could join them in government. Dave Rowntree, the drummer for Blur, is running as the Labour candidate for the Conservative-held Mid Sussex seat, while Tom Gray, co-founder of indie rock band Gomez and chair of songwriters and composers body the Ivors Academy, is the party’s chosen candidate for the Brighton Pavilion constituency.