donald macleod at The Garage Glasgow Live Music

This article discusses the Glasgow live music industry and highlights the views and opinions of Donald Macleod. Owner of  Hold Fast Entertainment and a Glasgow live music promoter with over 30 years industry experience.

Glasgow: UNESCO City of Music

Glasgow is fully deserving and rightfully proud of being awarded the coveted accolade, UNESCO City of Music. Being blessed with a rich and vibrant musical heritage for centuries, Glasgow has more fantastic, world renowned and iconic venues, than any other city north of the border. Glaswegians have a huge appetite for live music with its veritable menagerie of pubs, clubs and live music on offer.  As such, Glasgow has become a must play city for almost all touring artists, acts and DJ’s from around the world. For some the only place. A fact recognised by many of the world’s leading promoters: AEG, Kilimanjaro Live, SJM and Live Nation. As well as our more recognised home-grown promoters like:

Economic Growth in the Glasgow Live Music Industry

Hailed for being the top music city in Scotland and second in the UK, behind London. Glasgow spends an estimated £78.8 million on live music, funding 2,450 full-time jobs (UK Live Music Census, 2017).

Donald believes that many things have led to economic growth in the Glasgow live music industry. For instance, the rich cultural and musical heritage. Music has always been an escape for artists and punters alike. Bands constantly need venues. Therefore, Glasgow’s private enterprise drives to constantly satisfy and match growth.

According to Donald, the Glasgow live music market has not yet reached saturation.   However, he does believe that the market lacks investment and support. ‘To be fully deserving of the UNESCO statement, more should be done by city and other agencies to promote Glasgow live music, its iconic venues, local talent and music business’.

papa roach performing at The Barrowlands - gigs and concerts
Papa Roach performing at The Barrowland Ballroom. Photo by Donald Macleod.

The Glasgow Live Music Industry


The Glasgow live music industry covers a broad spectrum. Donald exclaims that their rich, full, mixed and eclectic bag of musical genres includes folk, rock, pop-punk, new romantic, metal and indie. Indeed the UK Live Music Census notes that ‘Glaswegian audiences attend slightly more classical, dance/ electronic, indie and traditional Scottish/ Irish events’ than other similar cities.

Glaswegian artists and acts from all genres have globally represented Scotland. Donald esteems:

Up and Coming Artists

Glasgow has many great up and coming artists. Donald particularly likes:

A few of many rock/ metal acts who are beginning to make their mark on the touring circuit’.

glasgow live music stephanie cheape singing at king tuts wah wah hut
Stephanie Cheape at King Tuts Wah Wah Hut, Glasgow

In dark pop, we have Stephanie Cheape. An amazing Glaswegian singer who won Scotland’s Best Unsigned Act at The SSE Scottish Music Awards 2017. This year she is joining Barns Courtney on his UK tour and is collaborating with Twin Atlantic.

‘There are certainly lots of bands with different types of music. But whether they get the opportunity and success that they wish for is different entirely’. Adding, ‘it is no accident The SSE Scottish Music Awards are celebrating their 20th year this year’. Each year, Scottish artists are presented with awards for their contribution to the Scottish music industry. ‘Starting out in a hotel function room, the event has grown year on year’. This year the event, in aid of Nordoff Robbins, is being held in The SEC Centre.





Festivals and Music Tourism

Festivals give new artists opportunity and put the city on the world map. There are a lot of great things going on in Glasgow including:

‘If festivals are done correctly with less rigid planning and sensible licensing, it can be a vital boost for the local economy’. Donald believes that the focus should be on good times, great bands, affordable ticket prices, and a good time for all. Festivals are positive for the Glasgow live music industry ‘if run well; the bill is right; and demand is there’.

Furthermore, there is increased opportunity to capitalise on more music tourism as the economic benefits to the city are massive with spill out to transport, restaurants, pubs, and clubs. Not to mention, the night-time economy has boosted. For example, the city’s Finnieston area with the opening of The SSE Hydro. With more investment and positive promotion, there is increased opportunity for all stakeholders. 

trnsmt glasgow live music


The UK Live Music Census states that ‘as of March 2017, Glasgow had at least 241 spaces where live music is played’. The city has great venues such as:

enter shikari performing on stage at cathouse rock club with crowd of fans singing and dancing behind railing

Enter Shikari at Cathouse Rock Club

Each year The Garage hosts around 200 bands whilst running club nights every night of the year. However, people forget that there have been so many artists through its doors.

staircase at the entrance of the garage nightclub glasgow with the names of every band and artist that have played at the venue written on the wall
Staircase at the entrance to The Garage showcasing the many names who have played there

Grassroot Venues

Small, grassroot venues are the bedrock of the Glasgow live music industry. Without them in place, we would be living in a very sterile world. With live music a thing of the past.

The city is rich in small venues like:


Venues of all sizes are facing many challenges, from booking bands to selling tickets. The cost of running a live venue is always increasing with rising ticket prices and artist guarantees.


  • stricter licencing and security
  • the smoking ban
  • 2008 Financial Crisis

promoters and venues are successfully selling live music in Glasgow. This proves that people still want to go out and enjoy themselves. However, it is getting harder and less affordable for them to do so.

G2 Venue The Garage Glasgow
G2 – The Garage

Meanwhile, for small/ medium live music venues, guarantees can be driven so high, making it unaffordable for punters to see bands to play live. To boost the success of venues, there needs to be:

  • more investment
  • better public transport and infrastructure
  • better business rates
  • and lower costs of security and training

Licencing fees like PPL and PRS for Music could ruin the industry, if not controlled. Unreasonable royalty fees for public performances could cause the market to become non-competitive. Consequently, he believes believes that more could and should be done by the city, by way of promotion and funding, to help shoulder some of those high costs and keep Glasgow live music affordable.

Donald is, however, pleased to see new licencing policy in Glasgow that embrace agents of change legislation which will hopefully help protect live music venues from the threat of closure after noise complaints have been received from new neighbours and residents.

Live Music in Glasgow vs. Other Cities

glasgow live music city vs. other EU citiesGlasgow is a bespoke, working-class city. In comparison to other UK cities, ‘Glasgow punches above its weight’, overtaking Manchester and Derry. ‘Considering our population is a mere 596,000, we have more problems associated with alcohol than any other city in Europe. It concerns me that we are trying to compare Glasgow to other cities in the EU such as Berlin, Amsterdam and Paris. Our population, musical and cultural heritage are different to theirs. They are what they are, and Glasgow is what it is. To compare to Berlin is ridiculous when they have a population of 3.7 million which is 6 times the size of our little city’.

Alcohol Licencing

Glasgow’s licencing laws are broadly supportive to the live music scene. Donald explains that ‘people always try to copy the European model, demanding all-hours licencing policy. The people suggesting that should know better’. He continues, ‘Glasgow is surrounded by 5 schemes. Alcohol and poverty is a problem here, ruining many lives over the decades’

Therefore, comparing Glasgow with licencing laws in other top music cities around the world are wrong and full of mistruths, half-truths and lies. European cities are confined in main to small niche club markets; some very hedonistic; and not so much music driven.

queue outside The Garage - gigs and concerts
Queue for The Stickmen at The Garage

If you are interested in hearing more from Donald, check out his weekly column in The Sunday Post!


About the Author Lauren

After studying International Business at the University of Strathclyde for four years, I travelled around Latin America for seven months, learning Spanish. I am now a Marketing Executive at Hold Fast Entertainment and a regular volunteer at Nordoff Robbins Scotland's SSE Scottish Music Awards.


  1. I run a small (newish) venue which has ben endeavouring to host live music. It would be helpful if there was some forum where owners/managers of venues could get together to share best practices and lessons learnt. Must be some things that such a collaboration would enable that would benefit us all.

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