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Music: A Human Right?

I tend to avoid politics where possible, as I generally consider that the only qualification a politician needs is the ability to lie convincingly, but am I the only one here who thinks that government interference in live music verges on being a human rights issue? Music is an important form of human expression, and providing it doesn't cause problems for others, I can't see why it should be impeded by unnecessary legislation. Music is an art form, so if painters, sculptors and professional bedroom trashers can exhibit their chosen art in public without some bureaucrat breathing down their collective necks, why can't the same courtesy be extended to musicians, especially when you consider the benefit music has given the UK economy over the past few decades?

While Sound On Sound deals mainly with the recording stages of music production, we must never forget that to have anything worth recording in the first place, you need musicians who have something to express. Most musicians hone their skills and fine‑tune their musical direction by performing in public, but at the time of writing it seems that the government is once again refusing to budge on simplifying licencing arrangements, to allow more musicians to play in pubs, clubs, restaurants and so on without the owners having to apply for a licence. Quite predictably, their argument is that live music needs to be regulated, as it might otherwise cause a noise or public order problem, which might make sense if we didn't already have perfectly adequate legislation to deal with both these potential problems, regardless of their source. No licence is needed to play recorded music, which often involves more powerful sound systems and more highly‑compressed (and therefore louder‑sounding) material than live performances, and there are cars out on our streets with more powerful PA systems than the one I use for many of my own pub gigs! As for public order, surely a sports event televised before a large crowd of people who have had a few drinks is more likely to result in a punch‑up than a couple of guys singing and playing guitar? But no, TV sports are not deemed to need a licence either.

On a more practical level, pubs are suffering because of the downturn in the economy and the effects of the long‑awaited (by me at any rate) anti‑smoking laws; the only pubs in my area attracting any significant number of customers are the ones that are putting on live music. I wonder how many of them think the 'two‑in‑a‑bar rule' still applies and are unknowingly putting on music illegally? Perhaps our micro‑managing politicians need to be reminded that we pay them to work for us, not the other way around?

Paul White Editor In Chief  

Published April 2010