It will probably come as no surprise that Spain has one of the worst performing music industries in the entire world. According to figures from international record label body the IFPI, the value of record sales in Spain fell 21% last year, the biggest drop in any of the world’s top 20 music markets.
It was a result that meant the Spanish music industry fell out of the global top ten for the first time ever, dropping to eleventh.
And yet outside of the shrunken Spanish music industry it is hard to find anyone in Spain who really cares: Spanish consumers seem OK with the idea of downloading everything from software to films from P2P sites and actually buying music has almost dropped off the radar.
It’s not hard to see why: the Spanish government has done little to try to crack down on piracy and most Spanish people I talk to think their actions have little impact on a music industry that is far away from their every-day lives.
But – without wanting to go into the moral whys and wherefores of copyright law - there is one important area where the impact of piracy is often forgotten in Spain: live music.
Away from the stadium-filling likes of Coldplay and U2, touring is an expensive business. It varies from band to band, of course, but I’d estimate that most bands don’t make money from touring until they hit venues of around 5,000 capacity.
So who’s going to pay for the others? Traditionally it was the record companies who would pay tour support, with the idea that they would make their money back from the added record sales a tour would bring.
But if an artist is unlikely to sell records in Spain – and it now only takes about 13,000 sales to top the charts here – why would a record company support their tour?
The answer is: they won’t. Record companies are hardly in the most vibrant of health and can ill afford to prop up a loss-making tour that won’t bring in any sales. And this will inevitably result in fewer new international bands coming to Spain.
This is not to say all is lost: Barcelona, where I live, has a vibrant live music scene. But much of it is either club-based – a DJ or electronic act travelling alone has far lower costs than a full live band – or sponsored by alcohol companies.
Anna Calvi’s excellent gig at the Sala KGB in September was part of the Heineken Music Selector initiative, for example, while Estrella Damm brought a number of Belgian acts to the Razzmatazz in August.
So what’s the problem?
Well, if you’re happy with local acts or only want to see up-and-coming live bands from around the world play once a year then there really isn’t one. Spain has excellent music festivals, with Sonar, Benicassim and Primavera Sound among Europe’s best, while local bands can often be found playing intriguingly dingy venues in most Spanish cities.
Equally, if you’re content to rely on beer companies to decide which new bands are best, then you have nothing to fear.
But I can’t help thinking that it’s a shame that in such a musical country as Spain – and in my experience you’re far more likely to find people who play instruments here than in the UK – punters will never be able to see some of the most interesting up-and-coming bands in a small, sweaty club when they are just on the cusp of success. A stadium or festival gig simply can’t compete.
What’s more, there can be something magical about the impact of a live band that are doing something really new and different, an experience that will often inspire members of the audience to form their own groups, setting off a wave of musical activity.
Think about the Sex Pistols’ legendary gig at Manchester's Lesser Free Trade Hall in June 1976, for example, which inspired Joy Division, The Fall and Morrissey to form their own bands. No gig, arguably no Smiths.
Then there is the simple matter of civic pride: Barcelona has a population of about 1.6 million – more than twice the size of Manchester. But Manchester’s live music scene would put Barcelona’s to shame. Even that of Norwich (population 125,000 – and where I grew up) would rival the Catalan capital for up-and-coming international bands.
And that can’t be right. Unless, of course, you want Spain to be known just for football, beaches and sun.