What does Brexit mean for the music industry?


With another Brexit deadline looming, Bethany Morris from the Immigration Advice Service examines how leaving the EU could impact the UK music industry.

With just a day to go before the UK faces its new Brexit deadline, the country continues to watch on in a state of uncertainty – and disbelief – that we still know little about what the outcome will be. Everything is still laid on the table: no deal, Theresa May’s deal or “no Brexit at all”.

No matter the definitive outcome, Brexit could deliver a plethora of undesirable prospects for the music industry. Geoff Taylor, the Chief Executive of the British Phonographic Industry, has stressed the need to reach a “strong” agreement with the EU in order to ensure the fate of the industry. But with no such promise on the table, what will it all mean for the world of music?

The issue is further complicated by the Government’s Immigration White paper – otherwise known as the Skills-Based plan. This was released in December with the ambition that it be implemented in 2021 regardless of the Brexit outcome and could present the industry with a range of issues.

Visa and licence restrictions

The first problem arises out of the fact that EU artists touring the UK will be subjected to stringent visa requirements and will have to fill a Tier 2 Visa application. However, to be eligible for this visa applicants must earn at least £30,000 per annum. With around 87% of musicians being self-employed, and most earning around £20,000 a year, it seems few will meet this financial threshold.

Secondly, employers will need to cough up and fill a Sponsor License application in order to hire non-UK employees. Obtaining a license can come with a high price tag and this culmination of high fees and a taxing application process could deter businesses from obtaining a license altogether.

With around 131,000 EU nationals working in creative industries, the music sector risks losing a vast proportion of its labour as a result of this. Labour that may not be easy to replace.

These difficulties will also impact supporting staff such as touring staff members, producers, sound technicians, security staff and even festival stewards.

Although EU musicians will have to meet certain visa regulations in order to perform and compete in the UK for six months at a time, supporting staff roles may be able to apply for a 12-month Temporary Work Visa. However, this route paints a bleak picture for roadies as not only are workers exempt from bringing any dependent family members with them, but they must leave the UK once their placement is up – and they are unable to enter the country for a year afterwards. For long-term touring staff who flock to multiple festivals across Europe, this option is impractical. Such restricted access to casual, yet important, labour from the EU will have a negative impact on musicians and the wider industry.

The importance of touring

The need to travel is imperative to a vast number of musicians who rely on visiting neighbouring EU countries to generate revenue and prompt opportunities for creative collaboration.

The Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) reports that more than a third of UK artists earn around half of their annual salary from working in the EU. With changes to the UK immigration system and increased red tape, it is likely that many will either fail to meet the requirements to travel, or will simply choose not to do so as a matter of ease, meaning many artists will feel the pinch financially and creatively as a result.

A recent ISM study found that around four in ten artists reported an impact on their work stemming predominantly from the uncertainty surrounding Brexit and free movement – up by 19% from 2016. The importance of free movement for the music industry is indisputable, allowing for the creation of revenue and the movement of talent across borders.

Brexit could spell the end of free movement, yet the skills-based plan achieves little at plugging the gaps. Without unrestricted movement of musicians and their support staff from the EU, the UK music scene could be diluted as a result with many big artists opting to steer clear of the UK in favour of working in other EU countries where mobility is unrestricted and free of charge.

Tour carnets

Prior to the UK joining the common market in 1973, it was compulsory for touring musicians to carry a “carnet”. This is a document which lists every piece of equipment being transported, all of which would then be examined intensively at the border. In the event of a no-deal, carnets would be reintroduced with a hefty price tag of up to £500 for a solo artist and £2,000 for a touring band. This, along with the extra paperwork, will likely cost artists time and money and could dissuade some foreign artists from coming to work and perform in the UK.

Concert organisers are already beginning to feel apprehensive about the prospect of having to pay for artist visas and are further rattled by the possibility of higher performer taxes. Visa and carnet costs could push up the price of tickets hitting music fans in the pocket or deterring fans altogether.

With creative industries contributing around £92bn per year to the UK economy, a reduction in attendance to such events partnered with the potential decrease in foreign musicians working in the UK, could have a significant impact on the industry.

Despite the Government’s affirmations that it is “committed to protecting” the music industry in the wake of Brexit, more reassurance is needed to calm the concerns of musicians, support staff and fans throughout the UK and across the continent. Whatever deal we do (or don’t) end up with by the end of this week, the music industry is likely to feel a significant sting in terms of revenue and staff when the Brexit ball begins to roll.

The Immigration Advice Service is an organisation of leading UK immigration lawyers.

 Website: iasservices.org.uk

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