UK talent: What will happen to live music after Brexit?

UK talent: What will happen to live music after Brexit?

Friday, October 12, 2018

Last weekend, an open letter from UK musicians warned that Brexit would silence UK music in a “self-built cultural jail” and the industry would suffer from extra costs to travel to and from EU countries.

The letter to Prime Minister Theresa May was organised by Bob Geldof and signed by musicians such as Ed Sheeran, Rita Ora and Jarvis Cocker. 

Mr Geldof told The Observer: “I am completely committed to having a democratic public vote to prevent the whole Brexit thing screwing us for the future.”

UK Music are calling for a 'touring passport' for the European Union after Brexit to allow musicians to avoid new restrictions and costs possibly caused by leaving the EU. 

Last year, the British music industry - worth £4.4 billion annually - saw a 10.6% rise in sales from streaming, physical sales, downloads and licensing (where music is used in films and adverts). 

So, how will this industry fare after the UK leaves the European Union? Will it lead to higher ticket prices and more limited line-ups?

Annabella Coldrick, Chief Executive of Music Mangers’ Forum answers some questions.


Will European artists have fewer tour dates in the UK?

“That is highly likely because if there is an additional cost, why would they bother getting a visa just for the UK, if they are not making much money on a show?" says Coldrick.

“The really big name artists will probably be able to go anyway because their profits on tours are such that it can be absorbed. It's really that mid-level. The UK, and in particular London, doesn’t pay that well for shows - other countries pay better. That may be to do with competition in the market and that a lot of our venues are privately, not publically owned.

“If you are not making money playing London and then suddenly, you've got an additional cost of a visa and you are going to have to get a carnet for all your equipment, maybe you just won’t come over from because it's too much trouble and you’ll lose money on it.

“I was talking to a folk artist the other day, on a roundtable discussion about Brexit, and he started to look very worried. He went ‘hang on a minute, I get most of my income from shows in Europe, that's how I survive as a folk artist’. If he is no longer booked for shows, if it is too complicated or if the margin isn’t in it, that is a significant chunk of his livelihood"


Does the government financially support the music industry?

A chart showing the drop in the GBP against the US Dollar in London on June 24, 2016 after Britain voted to leave the EU

“When the pound fell 30%, established artists with a fanbase overseas saw their income go up on a short term basis. But, it has been very short term. British festivals have found it more expensive to book artists from overseas as the fees went up 30% as the currency fell.

“There was a short term boost but what you win there you lose everywhere else in the longer term. We want certainty and help from the British Government if there are increased costs, they need to be supporting British music by helping us cover them – most have not been brought on by artists themselves.

"Our government spends £300,000 a year [supporting touring artists] when the Netherlends spends nearly a million euros a year. The amount of support is very very low but our costs potentially are going to go up.”


How easy will it be to get visas to tour?

“Every time we talk to government they say ‘don’t worry, it will get sorted out’. We might get a visa waiver, and if we do that will probably be okay, because that's what Australia and Canada use coming into Europe. But we might end up with something more akin to the American situation. That is just massively complex and costly. 

“When British artists go to America, if they are doing any economic activity [paid gigs] rather than simply free showcase gigs, they can’t use a visa waiver [ESTA].

It can cost up to £5000 for a van of four people who are maybe not earning very much and probably doing other jobs but have a fanbase.

“A lot of artists would also build their fanbase first in Europe, then it helps them to get to America as well. Our concern is that if you can’t go to America and you can’t go to Europe at that early to mid-stage, where do the next superstars come from?

“I was speaking to someone from the Netherlands who said, ‘we are sad about Brexit, but on the other hand, we think it might be good for our artists – they won’t want to book yours so they will book ours.’ That actually worries me even more, that they are seeing an advantage in it for their artists. Who can blame them? But it is worrying for British ones.”


How will the booking process change after March 29, 2019?

“A lot of booking agents and others are saying they don’t know, they are still using previous contracts. In the discussions I've had so far there, doesn’t seem to be an answer.

“There probably needs to be a clause in all contracts saying depending on what the outcome is, we reserve the right to renegotiate fees. We are working off the basis that it will be fine. If they come up with a visa waiver and we don’t need carnets because of changes at the border, it may be fine.

“I hope no lorries will be stuck in customs, and hopefully we will be worrying about nothing."


How will UK festival scene change?

'Hossam Ramzy' perform on the Open Air Stage on day 2 of the WOMAD Festival at Charlton Park on July 25, 2015 in Wiltshire, England

“There were issues for Womad this year getting in artists from outside of the EU. World artists have had problems with getting British visas.

“It was apparently a bit of a nightmare, so if we then replicate that situation for European artists, I'm sure festivals will be concerned that not only will it cost more but you can’t guarantee that you will get the artists in. You can’t really book them in the first place [if you don't know that they'll be able to enter the UK]."