See EU later: The live music industry's road to Brexit
Tonight (31 January) at 11pm GMT, the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, bringing to an end 1,317 days of legal wrangling, political intrigue and frantic negotiations as Britain goes it alone after 47 years. But for live music professionals, the Brexit question is far from done and dusted, with a number of pressing issues left unresolved (and many no closer to being answered than they were back in 2016). Chief among them is the question of costly visas for performers and carnets for equipment, which could be reintroduced should the UK and EU not agree on a deal on freedom of movement before the end of this year – and which many fear could make touring economically unviable for smaller acts.
So, while freedom of movement continues for now, some artists are believed to be reluctant to confirm touring commitments post-2020 until they have more clarity. In many ways, then, little has changed over the past four years for live music professionals, who are as unsure about the future as they were in March 2016, as the timeline below illustrates…
March 2016 Three months out from the June 2016 referendum – back in those in halcyon days when even the word ‘Brexit’ needed explaining – IQ quizzed key suppliers and production professionals about the likely impact of a vote to leave the EU on their businesses.
Tour manager Tony Gittins said, presciently, that the effects of Brexit would largely depend on the behaviour of the EU27. “I don’t think it would affect the entertainment industry overly, depending on how far the European countries go towards making it difficult,” he said. For example, he added, “if they decided to start putting back border controls and implementing visas, that would considerably slow us down”.
June 2016 The second of IQ‘s pre-referendum previews came on the eve of the vote, and saw agents, promoters and industry associations sharing their views.
With the exception of veteran promoter Harvey Goldsmith, all believed a vote to leave would cause great harm to the British, and international, live music business. “Our business is built on international relationships,” said ATC Live MD Alex Bruford. “We have spent years fostering close relationships with our European partners, and work closely with them to ensure our artists can smoothly and successfully traverse the continent. Current EU tax treaties, border crossing arrangements, carnet agreements, air-traffic agreements and labour laws all make touring in Europe much more viable for our artists. […] Brexit would be a very negative [thing] for the live music business.”
Much of the live business was in a state of shock in the days following the UK’s vote to leave on 23 June – though, officially at least, the major companies and associations were surprisingly upbeat, with Live Nation’s John Reid saying the referendum result “won’t affect overall business” for the concert giant.
UK Music, meanwhile, emphasised industry unity, with chairman Andy Heath saying: “We should not be scared by change; we should see it as a positive opportunity. We are an export-led business and consumers around the world want our music, artists and products, and this will not change after yesterday’s decision.”
The most immediate effect of the leave vote was a collapse in the value of the pound sterling against US dollars, leaving promoters with less money to pay American acts. Metropolis Music founder Bob Angus said the impact on consumers would likely be higher ticket prices, especially for festivals. “When you’re at finite-capacity venues there’s only so much sterling there, so the only way you can counter it – to maintain those dollar fees – is to put ticket prices up,” he explained.
Elsewhere, Owen Smith of Gibraltar Music Festival said sterling’s value relative to the euro was of greater concern for his event.”Even a few cents can make a big difference to us, so we’re keeping an eye on things in case we need to look at the budget again,” he said.
November 2016 By the close of 2016, Sterling’s freefall had a tangible impact in Scotland, where Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) and Celtic Connections were among the events reporting difficulty booking for next year. “Our currency is up to 20% down in its value […] and that is just a reality, and it means our spending power has gone right down,” said EIF festival director Fergus Linehan, while Donald Shaw of Celtic Connections said he’d been forced to drop American acts from the 2017 line-up owing to the pound’s sinking value.
The 29 March 2017 saw then-prime minister Theresa May trigger article 50 of the Treaty on European Union, setting in motion the two-year process of Britain’s exit from the EU. Jo Dipple, then CEO of UK Music, underlined the importance of putting the music and creative industries first in the negotiations to come – warning that “getting it wrong probably means a return to punk rock.”
March 2018 As British and EU negotiators in Brussels hashed out the provisions that would become May’s first withdrawal agreement, panellists at ILMC 30 cast their minds ahead to 2025 to predict what the live music business would look like post-Brexit.
Artist manager Adam Parsons summed up the mood in the room when he said withdrawal will add “more costs, more grief and more time” to touring. “We’re going to get through it, but it’s going to make everything more difficult. In 2025, we’ll have forgotten about it, but it’s going to be a pain in the fucking arse – it really is.”
May 2018 The Road Haulage Association (RHA), which represents the UK’s hauliers, told IQ there will be miles of queues at major ports within 24 hours if the UK and EU fail to agree on access for British trucks after Brexit.
“Using Calais as an example, if you’re going to have to check every truck and it takes two minutes to check, you’re going have 17-mile tailbacks within 24 hours,” said Richard Burnett, the RHA’s chief executive. “The industry is nervous,” he added. “We still have no idea what’s going to happen. “There are so many question marks over the negotiations […] and the clock is ticking.”
September 2018 As no-deal fears mount, the Musicians’ Union (MU), which represents more than 30,000 UK artists, joined UK Music’s calls for a post-Brexit touring ‘passport’ for musicians working in the European Union after Brexit.
“We love working in the EU and we love artists coming over here,” said MU general secretary Horace Trubridge. “If musicians can’t travel easily both ways, our reputation as a country that embraces all arts and culture will be severely damaged. Our members’ ability to earn a living will also be severely affected.”
October 2018 With 31 March 2019 fast approaching, IQ caught up with experts in six key industry sectors – aviation, road freight, insurance, visas/work permits, taxation/social security and currency exchange – to discuss what the UK’s solo project could mean for the global business.
In the event, domestic political wrangling meant the 31 March deadline came and went, with article 50 being extended first to 31 October 2019, and then again to 31 January 2020.
Newly updated UK government guidance reveals British artists travelling to Europe will have to pre-pay import duty and value-added tax (VAT) on all merchandise they bring on tour in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The so-called ‘merch tax’ would also affect European artists entering the UK, who would similarly have to pay taxes in advance for any merchandise they planned to sell while touring. Mark Davyd of Music Venue Trust said the guidance shows “a fundamental lack of understanding of the economics of grassroots touring to imagine that this process is remotely deliverable by new and emerging artists, either practically or economically.
“One T-shirt sale is equivalent to 5,000 streams on Spotify, and band merchandise is the most direct way of supporting new and emerging artists. We strongly urge the government to think again.”
October 2019 The industry was similarly alarmed by further guidance issued in October, which spells out government advice for touring in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Several UK live industry figures described the DCMS guidance – which advises touring artists and their teams to check immigration regulations for each EU country, ensure they have appropriate insurance and obtain a ‘green card’, GB sticker and, in some cases, an international driving permit, for vehicles and drivers – as woefully inadequate. “It’s not very clear, is it?” said Paradigm agent Rob Challice. “It hardly conveys that the government is in a state of readiness for no deal.” UK Music CEO Michael Dugher, meanwhile, warned that the “worryingly inadequate” information was preventing the music industry preparing for what lay ahead.
The UK government will endeavour to support continued freedom of movement for touring musicians after the country leaves the European Union on 31 January, said culture minister Nigel Adams.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Adams stressed the importance of touring – “the lifeblood of the industry” – and of freedom of movement for “musicians, equipment and merchandise”.
However, despite the positive news – and the fact Boris Johnson’s recent election victory means the UK will leave the EU with a deal after all – freedom of movement is scheduled to end after the Brexit transition period comes to a close on 31 December 2020.
At 11pm GMT on 31 January 2020 – 1,317 days after the 2016 leave vote – the United Kingdom finally becomes the first country to leave the European Union.
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