Brexit and the future of touring

No one really knows what will happen when (if) Britain leaves the European Union.

Many in the music industry, however, have been able to consider what will happen once we lose certain freedoms and protections we currently enjoy. Spoiler alert: it’s not looking good.

The obvious concern is about freedom of movement and how it will affect touring. Touring is essential to staying commercially viable as a musician in the streaming age: declining sales of recorded music means it has become the primary source of income. Despite its clear disadvantages, streaming offers opportunities for new acts. Ease of access means their music can be heard all over the world, creating new markets they would be foolish not to capitalise on.

However, after Brexit, this will become a lot harder. It is likely touring acts and staff will have to acquire a ‘tour carnet’. This is a very strict visa costing around £500 if a company provides it for you, and £325.96 plus deposit if you do it yourself. While this may be nothing for established acts, it is more than most up-and-comers earn in a week of touring in the UK. The glamorous lifestyle is reserved only for the select few: the average wage for a music creator in 2017 was £20,504, compared with the national average of £29,002. The carnet contributes to a catch-22 situation for smaller artists, whereby they need international touring to be able to fund their music, but cannot fund international touring.

Not only that, many are put off touring by the excessive red tape. Not only does the rigid nature of the carnet mean plans cannot be changed en route, every piece of equipment has to be accounted for, all the way down to small items like drumsticks and guitar picks. This means suitcase checks at the airport, hold-up at border control if (god forbid) the group come back with one guitar string missing, and a constant race against time to make it to the venue in time for the set.

Brexit does not necessarily entail the carnet. Michael Dugher, the boss of UK music (an organisation that advises the government on policy regarding the music industry), has proposed something similar to a touring passport: a visa arrangement whereby a band would be able to tour at short notice and be able to visit an unlimited number of countries. Everything depends on how Brexit is negotiated. In the event of a no-deal, a ‘touring passport’ becomes a pipe dream. This won’t hurt everybody - established acts will be able to bear the financial strain of touring in Europe, and international festivals who depend on them will make all the necessary provisions. But for the potential stars of tomorrow, the imposition of the carnet could turn into an inescapable black hole.

“Everything depends on how Brexit is negotiated. In the event of a no-deal, a ‘touring passport’ becomes a pipe dream.”

Another, less pressing, but still notable, issue is that of copyright protection. As it stands, most of UK copyright law has come from EU Directives. The provisions are generous for artists, and there are concerns about how easy it might be for them to be changed after Brexit. This is not as dramatic as it might seem at first glance since the UK will still be bound by certain international treaty obligations such as the Berne Convention and TRIPS agreement, which guarantee a basic minimum of rights. There is still potential, however, for creators to lose out on the high standard of protections they currently enjoy.

Brexit is just the tip of the iceberg. The UK is a musical behemoth, and has been since the beginning of recorded music. In 2017, 1 in 8 albums purchased around the world were by a UK artist. Not bad for a small island. However, a combination of declining revenues for physical music, increasing closure of small venues and cutbacks in music education programmes in schools threaten to stifle creativity and reserve music creation as an activity purely for the rich. The effects of this may take years to materialise, but when it does, the UK will slowly but surely lose a large chunk of its cultural footprint.