No-Deal Brexit Could Spell Disaster for the UK's Musicians

Yet more bad news for an industry already on the brink.
November 3, 2020, 11:51am
Photo: Chris Bethell

Recently, we reported that over 170,000 jobs could be lost in the live music industry, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and the venue closures it has caused. Unfortunately, the industry is facing yet another crisis: the spectre of a no-deal Brexit, which Boris Johnson has told the UK to start preparing for.

A number of high-profile industry figures have recently spoken out about the dangers that this scenario poses to live music. Jeremy Pritchard, bassist of indie band Everything Everything and member of Featured Artists Coalition (a trade body representing the rights of UK musicians), told the NME: “The glass ceiling is getting higher and higher all the time, the more the prospect of a no-deal Brexit looms.”

He continued: “There’s a huge swathe of artists in the lower to middle tier, which includes rising talent, my own band and loads that are more successful than us, where touring Europe just won’t be a viable option any more. It would shrink the industry and only privilege the very wealthy and already successful. It would be catastrophic.”

A no-deal Brexit would likely mean British artists touring in Europe facing far more bureaucracy than they do now, having to sort out visas, work permits, health insurance and taxes. The level of paper-work involved would be staggering – even touring with your own vehicle would require a “green card” that could take months to procure. For many smaller acts, all of this would make playing live outside of the UK prohibitively expensive.

The music industry has been worried about this scenario for a while. Last year, then-head of UK Music Michael Dugher told The Guardian, “Superstars who make millions and book their tours months if not years in advance are very much the exception. Most artists operate on tiny margins, and the prospect of extra cost and bureaucracy would kill their ability to tour, develop their talent and build their fanbase.”

Even prior to Brexit, many British bands had been struggling to make ends meet, owing to the decimation of physical sales and the relatively meagre money to be made from streaming platforms like Spotify. According to a report in Vulture last year, “The truth is that most indie artists – from some of the nebulously defined genre’s biggest stars to its buzz-making heat seekers – rely on multiple sources of income outside of their music career to pay the bills and put food on the table.”

While musicians having to work a day job perhaps isn’t the end of the world, many critics have argued that the increasing difficulty of making money in the industry – combined with a lack of state support of the arts – has led to cultural stagnation and the growing dominance of musicians from wealthy, privately-educated backgrounds. If no-deal Brexit goes ahead, it’s difficult to see how these trends could be reversed.