No future for me? No future for you? – How Brexit is likely to affect the UK’s music industry
written by Andy Davidson (UK correspondent)
“A perfect example… of when democracy has failed.” – Dennis Reynolds
It’s been a strange week in the not-so-United Kingdom. On the 23rd June, a narrow majority of the nation’s population voted we would cut our ties with the European Union (51% to 48%) and the immediate aftermath has set the seeds for what feels like a harrowing future for our country; with the value of the pound plummeting to its lowest rate in over 20 years, our Prime Minister David Cameron announcing his resignation (which in any other scenario would have spawned widespread celebration) and an alarming number of reports of racist abuse to foreign residents of the country by people who feel the vote has legitimised their disgusting views. And witnessing the attitudes of other EU leaders towards the UK’s example does not suggest a harmonious split has taken place. (Unless you’re from Scotland who may be able to avoid this madness using The Sturgeon Escape Plan.)
As easy as it is to do so, this is not the time to panic or make generalisations, especially less than a week after the results. For all I know, the widespread panic felt by lots of young voters, Scottish voters and voters in the music business might come to little avail and we’ll have calmed down in a few months before the US elections get us on edge again. But once you listen to these voters express their reasons for concern, it’s obvious that it’s worth looking into. And to quote hardcore group Palm Reader, one of the many bands who feel disenfranchised by the results: “People want to look after the things they know and love and unfortunately we know how supporting young musicians/bands isn’t one of them.”
I could use this platform as an observer and listener to the UK’s hardcore movement to point out how finance and lack thereof has always been the biggest enemy to a genre which should be more widely recognised and respected, and how this ruling will now prohibit further growth of this scene into an international touring market. But this is going to effect any musician or band. An internal survey conducted within the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) revealed 2/3 of staff backed Remain citing ‘a vote to leave the EU would be disastrous on an economic, social and cultural scale for everyone from superstar DJs travelling to Belgium’s Tomorrowland Festival to hardcore bands embarking on 18-date-tours of sweaty clubs across the continent.’
This naturally leads to the impact that Britain’s removal from EU membership can have on touring. As many international businesses have identified, freedom to move within the EU is now effectively denied, making Visas and work permits a new requirement for European touring. If you’re unfamiliar with the process of applying for a Visa to play shows abroad, whenever you see American fans ask UK artists why they haven’t done a US tour yet, the reason is most likely complications applying for a Visa, otherwise we’d all be touring in a heartbeat. And for musicians, the ability to travel Europe in a van with all equipment without any delays is a vital part in allowing a stable growth on an international touring market.
Not only could the introduction of extra documentation bring complications for some artists if minor criminal offences prevent entry to a country (You can’t be a true rockstar without breaking some laws, obviously.) or if requests to tour are simply denied, but the cost of touring would raise considerably. An EU Visa costs €60 per person, which is already a struggle for a five piece group, but also accounts for tour managers, merch sellers, photographers, production assistants or backing dancers (If you’re really into production). The point is, it adds up and unless labels are willing to put extra finance into these tours, or musicians have a private source of wealth that they can put towards Visa charges, Brexit puts a considerable strain on a lot of artists who would have previously had the freedom to tour in many welcoming cities, meaning touring the EU might soon become as much of a dream for emerging UK artists as touring America.
If this is the reality musicians must face, there is a possible silver lining that to accommodate the amount of new performers, the UK’s grassroots music scene and venues will need to be revitalised. The independent music scene across the UK is in fairly dire straits right now, and while plenty of fantastic artists are touring relentlessly, options for shows and finance seem to be thinning in a country where revenue from streams is fairly insignificant and small venues are closing left, right and centre because a lack of recognition or protection measures from local Government bodies means venues can be shut down because someone living nearby decides to make a noise complaint. So it’s entirely possible that an influx of British acts looking to tour might bring a new lease of life to local venues and force Councils to pay more attention to the scene around them, but it’s entirely hypothetical so far.
Simply suggesting UK venues could be saved by Brexit would also be to forget that the EU has given over £1 Billion to creative industries in the UK and various establishments have received much assistance through programmes such as LiveEurope to host European artists for different gigs. Schemes such as this provides extra funding for venues and allows for more diversity in concert lineups. And without that diversity, who knows what directions our music scene could move in? Let’s not forget a semi-successful Nazi-punk scene emerged from the UK in the late 1970’s. And in a country that seems to be allowing history to repeat itself, EDL-punk might become the cult movement no one asked for. Thankfully, most punk bands in the UK have more sense and morals than, well, most politicians you’ve seen on your TV as of late.
International trade has been one of the largest concerns and fields of uncertainty throughout the Brexit campaign and a factor the public were informed wouldn’t change significantly by leave supporters that weren’t simply fear mongering. Naturally, the manufacturing and distribution of CDs and Vinyl has been a concern for many music distributors, retailers and collectors. A likelihood of VAT and Custom taxes needing to be paid for importing and exporting recorded output with the EU is likely to force labels to increase prices of music to make up for losses in paying extra tariffs. And in a world where streaming and downloading is the norm, vinyl is primarily a collector’s item, and in times of recession, luxury businesses tend to be the first that are sacrificed.
Vinyl might not completely suffer in the UK though, certainly most people I know would never take for granted how much music is a part of the fabric of UK culture, with almost as much profit as passion. ‘Music tourism’ itself has generated billions for the UK economy, with the number of international travellers to world-famous festivals such as Glastonbury, Download Festival, and high-school graduation favourite T in the Park increasing by 39% in the past four years according to Paul Reed, general manager of Association of Independent Festivals. Disbanding from the EU may encourage less international visits to our festivals, just as much as less Britons may visit festivals such as Spain/Portugal’s Primavera Sound or France’s Hellfest, especially when many UK bands may find themselves burdened by lack of funding to play these festivals. Even on a non-quantifiable level, the fact that many expats living in European nations risk being deported can stifle the creativity and songwriting styles they might have picked up by taking in the culture of the countries they’ve chosen to live in. This might seem an insignificant point to make in the grand scheme of things, but you can’t listen to David Bowie’s Berlin trilogy and say that the music you produce isn’t a product of the culture around you.
Perhaps I’m caught up in a wide state of commotion that I’m witnessing from most people around me as I write this, and maybe this panic is unwarranted. But it’s important to identify the different risks and challenges the UK music industry are likely to face now, and to justify the concern that everyone from heads of the BPI to the guys in Palm Reader are feeling right now. There’s plenty of reasons for worry there’s no doubt, but right now the UK’s music industry needs more attention, support and community than ever. Just because the majority of this country doesn’t believe in union, doesn’t mean we need to be the same.
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written by Andy Davidson