Of all the things musicians would rate amongst their ambitions when setting out at the start of their career success in Europe would be close to the top. A continent with a diverse musical taste, loyal fans, an almost inexplicable musical curiosity, Europe is on our doorstep but can almost seem like another world. The enriching cultural experience of just actually being there, the excitement of performing in an array of wonderful destinations, sharing a musical exchange with people desperate to know where the music comes from and what informs it. Touring Europe is the epitome of what being in a band is all about.
I was lucky. Runrig had amazing success in Germany, Scandinavia and didn’t do too badly across the rest of the continent. We played the big festivals, appeared on their TV and I loved every crazy minute of it. This is now to be deprived to future generations of musicians with Brexit hurdles placed so high to make the whole enterprise next to insurmountable
Never properly considered in any of the discussions, texts or considerations, our artists and music industry have ended up as nothing but mere collateral in the tragedy that is the ending of freedom of movement. Music is a border free proposition. Bands are multinational and music doesn’t care which country it is in. It is almost the exact opposite of Brexit. Leaving the EU and ending freedom of movement was therefore always going to be a disaster for for artists and musicians.
Like the rest of us, musicians will now only be allowed to spend 90 days out of 180 in the EU. A European tour could involve playing in anything up to 20 countries each with their own developed live scene and each with their own demands in transport and organisation. Bands ‘tour’ because of the costs of assembling crews, transport and organisational infrastructure. I remember at the height of our success sometimes we would be ‘on the road’ for about half the year, mainly in Europe. 90 days could be over before the set list is properly bedded in.
Musicians will also have new Brexit border arrangements to negotiate and this will increase red tape and costs. At the borders the ‘carnet’ will need to be stamped. A band’s carnet is a record of all the equipment brought from the UK. It will now be designed to demonstrate that nothing is being imported into the single market illegally and nothing is being exported. Every border in the EU now has the ‘right’ to examine and question the carnet and if every country decided to do so it would place an unacceptable burden on drivers, tour managers and technicians.
Then there is all the new Brexit taxation and fiscal measures. There will be new arrangements for national insurances on top of income tax. There will also be the requirement to register for VAT in EU countries. This will mean more accountancy bills, more hours spent on paper work, more costs. Where touring is the prime generator of income for most artists (because of the pitiful return for recorded works with streaming) there is one feature of touring that often makes the difference between profitability and break even and that is the merchandise. All the new EU rules could make that margin even more precarious. Profitability from merchandise could dramatically reduce, again more barriers ,more burdens, more costs.
Then we came to the visas. This is the ‘killer’ and the one that could make the whole enterprise simply just not worth it. First thing to note is that the Government assured the music industry that it would secure an arrangement that would ensure visa free travel. Former Minister, Nigel Adams, said explicitly ‘that visa rules for artists would not change’. This is what makes this seem like a total betrayal of a sector.
Where some countries like France have said that they will continue to allow visa free travel for artists most have said they will not. If we generously assume that the cost of a visa will come in at around £300 per person. A modest travelling touring outfit of 5 band members, 3 crew, sound engineer, tour manager and driver will mean additional costs of £3,000, and that is for just for one country. This will be doubled, trebled increased 10 fold dependent on how many countries will be included on the tour.
Medium sized and larger enterprises with their array of lightning technicians, set designers, PA crews, caterers and accountants could face costs of £10 000 before a sound check has even been done. For bands operating at extreme margins the EU will be more or less closed.
The music industry is the UK’s cultural jewel in the crown. It is worth some £5.2 billion to the economy and we are second only to the US in world wide reach and impact. It provides immense soft power for the UK. It is just something we do spectacularly well which makes the Government’s lackadaisical indifference even more bizarre.
For this Government it is all about their obsession with ending freedom of movement. Nothing is more important than that mission and if live music falls foul of that objective then it seems it will just have to suck it up. For all the ridiculous EU blaming the hapless Minister deployed to answer my Urgent Question last week more or less conceded the ‘people must have what they voted for’ and the offer the EU made to allow visa free travel for 90 days was rejected because it might just ‘open the door’.
What the Government didn’t count on was the backlash. Some 280 000 have now signed the petition organised by our artists and this will be debated in Parliament on February the 8th. The letter by the cream of UK talent reinforced the strong feeling right across the industry.
The Government verses our musicians and artists is not a good place for this Government to be and all everybody wants is for this to be fixed. The EU made a realistic offer and that is still on the table. The Government says the ‘door is still open’. Let’s walk through that door, sit down, negotiate, and sort this out.