The newly formed West Midlands Music Board is aiming to help the region’s music sector recover, grow and prosper. What’s On chatted to its chair - B:Music CEO Nick Reed - about the challenges that lie ahead...

Already backed by local venues, labels, promoters, producers and festivals - and championed by artists including Lady Leshurr, Tony Iommi and Joan Armatrading - the West Midlands Music Board (WMMB) aims to lead the region’s music sector through the post-lockdown period of recovery and towards growth and prosperity.

“It’s about providing a unified voice for music in the region,” explains Nick Reed, who, as chair of WMMB, speaks for the high-profile industry insiders who make up the board. “We’ve got an incredible music history in the West Midlands, and it’s one that’s never been represented before. We’re known for so many musical genres: from being the birthplace of Heavy Metal and Two-Tone, to an emerging Grime scene. We’re really leading the field, but we’ve never before been able to articulate that in one place. The thing that makes music in the West Midlands so unique is the diversity. But there’s this unique characteristic of Birmingham in particular that means it seems to live in the shadow of other cities. But in spite of that, there’s a great emerging music scene. There’s this work ethic and range of talent that continually fights against being an underestimated region.”

Nurturing talented individuals - and giving them the platform and opportunity to succeed right here in the West Midlands - is one of the main goals of the WMMB. 

“We want to provide support in a way that means emerging artists can see their careers blossoming in Birmingham and the West Midlands, without feeling they need to set their sights on London. This means we need to be at the table where decisions are made in the region, making sure the support services, night transport, funding and artist-management opportunities are available.

“There’s a pro-London attitude in music, and we need to change that. We need to show that we can provide the training, support and infrastructure to nurture talent right here in the region where these artists grew up. I want to see music at the heart of strategy, policy and investment for the region.”

Nick hopes that the nationwide ‘levelling-up’ agenda will provide a helping hand: “The government responded, albeit belatedly, to the pandemic crisis with the Cultural Recovery Fund, which did recognise the value of the entertainment and arts sectors. We hope that kind of attitude will extend into this period of lockdown-easing and nationwide recovery. At the start of the pandemic last year, I can remember that there was this very quick coming together of all people from the sector. We all came together in the same space and behind the same message, which was that we needed and deserved support. The music industry started to represent itself better, and that dialogue has become more effective at a national level. But now that also needs to translate into dialogues at a regional level. 

“If we look back in a year’s time, I want to see that WMMB has made a difference. What’s amazing about this board is the broad range of skill sets we have available from everyone involved. We have everything from independent producers and promoters, and leading broadcasters in British Asian music, to representatives from the likes of the O2, the NEC Group and MADE Festival. We’re such a representative team of people, working with everyone from those at grassroots level to venues who see millions of people at their gigs each year. There’s a huge number of people who work in our industry beyond the artists themselves - whether that’s technicians, other freelancers, musicians, and more - who’ve had to find other work. There’s been plenty of challenges for the sector during the pandemic, which is what has prompted this board to come together.” 

Whilst there’s been streaming and other online opportunities for artists and venues over the last year or so, there’s an overwhelming desire for live music to make a return.

“There are great things happening regionally, with Coventry City of Culture 2021 and the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games. Live music will have its part to play in that. Music will really bring people back together after this period. People need to be together and to interact with others.”

It’s this hunger to get back out there that makes Nick so optimistic about the future of live music in the West Midlands: “We absolutely can’t wait to resume full-capacity gigs and concerts. There may still be challenges for us - particularly with advisory rather than mandatory advice from the government, which makes a lot of things unclear - but our community of musicians and venues is ready to go. Our diaries at B:Music are looking pretty full all the way through the autumn and into next year. There are plenty of exciting things coming up.”