Touring after Brexit
Chris Sheehan
Music Industry Liaison
8th July 2016
Touring after Brexit

Following on from our news story about the implications of Brexit last week, our Music Industry Liaison, Chris Sheehan, looks at the future of touring once the UK leaves the EU.

These last few weeks have been pretty seismic for us all. Musicians more than most, are free thinking, open minded and collaboratively spirited people. One of the joys of touring music the last decade is that leaping across borders into mainland Europe has been so fruitful for UK acts, opening up new fan bases, friendships and all important revenue streams around Europe: from house concerts to festivals; from playing as an emerging act in venues that actually pay you (how about that, UK?); to selling a vanful of T-Shirts, CD’s, Vinyl and so on.  We’re sociable people - anyone who has toured places like Germany and the Netherlands will know how much love the mainland showers on UK acts. Real contact with real, beautiful, appreciative people - it’s not just about the money, important though that is… it’s about morale too. European tours are often timely boosts for an act that’s tired of banging heads against the UK’s music industry portcullis. We hope this appreciation, and UK-EU exchange will never stop, regardless of last week, but some things will now unavoidably change for British musicians, particularly the emerging ones. Touring in Europe after we go full Brexit looks like it could well  get harder, and need a lot more thought. It’s no surprise that close to 90% of musicians polled by the Featured Artists Coalition, the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) and the Creative Industries Federation said they felt themselves to be European, and wished to remain in the EU. We need to establish urgently what the referendum result means for musicians, and how best to prepare for the future if Article 50 does indeed get triggered.

We went along to the panel organised by the FAC, Fast Forward, Lewis Silkin and Chew.TV just before the vote to get a lay of the land for what this will mean. We’ve spoken to a good many industry contacts from the MMF, to various label and publishing friends, as well as musicians themselves. As you would expect no one actually knows what will happen until deals are made. But there are some obvious obstacles that we’ll need to overcome. For starters, it will be a tragedy if UK musicians and music companies will now not be able to take advantage of the ‘Music Moves Europe’ fund announced at Midem recently, which is examined in an excellent article by Forbes here.

If in the future acts will have to pay for a carnet as US acts currently do, for example, this will be a big hassle and extra cost. Listing every single piece of equipment and merchandise you bring into a country - down to the individual plectrum by some accounts - is going to be a huge pain. Anyone who has toured in Switzerland will have an idea of what this means. You don’t want to fall foul of the authorities on this one, so we better all start doing some homework on it now. There is also the probability that artists will need to settle the tax due on all merchandise they sell, and fees they receive in the territory before they leave. We’re trying to get more info on both these things for you. For right or for wrong, for those artists who didn’t used to put all their merch sales through the books, that’s a potential 20-25% (we’re guestimating here) reduction on merch income, as well as the cost of the carnet. Add this to the falling strength of the pound, and it’s going to be a real challenge to tour. Fast Forward’s CEO and leading industry brain Chris Carey is quoted as saying in the Forbes piece:

“Going from loss to profit over the course of five years is already terribly difficult for independent musicians, and a lot of bands fold earlier on because there’s not enough money to be made from touring. With a devalued pound, making losses in euros is even more costly for UK bands, and it could take even more time to cover that loss.” 

Many of us musicians have found some incredible bargains on eBay around Europe for a host of cool instruments, from weird Soviet era Russian Synths, to mics, guitars, pedals, plugins, as well as general cables and stuff. You’ll all know what a pain it is getting gear from the US where there’s import duty, as well as that infuriating ‘sorry we missed you’ card through the door because Customs have your item. It’s just adding a whole layer of hassle, and adding a tax to it that will make it pretty redundant saving- let’s hope there’s a way the UK government can find a new way to negate the potential problems. If one thing is for sure, it won’t stop us sniffing out the bargains, but it won’t make it any easier.

As music lovers, we’ve all also benefitted hugely by being able to see so many brilliant EU acts here in the UK, with events such as the fantastic monthly Nordic Showcase Ja Ja Ja Music  at the Lexington bringing over the best of Nordic talent. In my other life at Karousel Music, we’ve had some stunning acts from all over the EU, from Ireland to Iceland, Estonia to Greece - including some ace Nordic acts too. Production values in that part of the world have had a big influence on UK music the last four or five years. Let’s hope the UK government make European acts as welcome as possible, and make it as hassle free for them as possible to come here. Music is all about exchange of ideas, experience, styles and so on - and there’s no richer vein than the one running from stage to audience on these nights.

One thing is for sure, we must rise above politics of both sides, and all pull together - we’ll find a way through, because we must. Reading the news, blogs and social media the last two weeks rarely was there a time in recent years where people needed the arts more - needed us more as musicians to unite people, do away with divisive politics and prejudices; or give them solace in their isolation. Now is the time to hear the people and weave their will, their feelings and their hopes into the new music we make. Hold up the mirror and sing it back to them, adorned in our own individual, ragged beauty: This is what music is for. Here at HMUK we’ll keep calling and emailing around for info, tips and good news… you guys keep playing and writing. After all, last time the economy was stumbling around on broken ankles, we got bands like The Smiths, New Order, Jesus and Mary Chain, Teenage Fanclub, The Stone Roses, Sonic Youth, XTC, Depeche Mode, Del Amitri (is there a better lyric to sum up those times in the late 80’s than ‘Nothing Ever Happens?’), U2, and the subsequent Britpop boom that followed them. There’s always cause for optimism. Maybe we’re finally entering a decent age of lyric writing…