Brexit and the Music Industry: A Disaster in Waiting

Examining the Government's hostile abandonment of the arts, Alex Duke assesses the devastating ramifications and restrictions that Brexit will have on the UK music industry.

Picture the scene. It’s August 2019. Festival season is in full-swing. Myself and my girlfriend are in attendance at the sunny, beach-side Victorious Festival in Portsmouth. With acts such as Bloc Party, Two Door Cinema Club, Lewis Capaldi and New Order starring, it was a disarmingly charming weekend. Yet, in my infinite wisdom as a frustrated Remainer, terrified at the prospect of a No Deal Brexit following the Conservatives move towards a more hard-line Europe-exiting stance after Boris Johnson’s accession to leadership, I bought a t-shirt.

“Bollocks To Brexit!” It proclaimed starkly. It was my progressive political statement. Was it a horrible colour? Yes. Was it way too warm given the heat and crowds? Emphatically yes. Was it £25? Absolutely. But it was mine. Unfortunately, despite walking around the fields of Southsea and having a few conversations with other Remainers, it was not to be. I did not reverse Brexit.

"The added limits imposed by not having free travel around Europe looks likely to have dire consequences for musicians"

Seventeen months, one Liverpool title win, and a pandemic later, the B-word remains a bit of a problem. We have officially left, leaving Erasmus, free movement and free roaming behind. However, we do have blue passports and (some?) fish. Musicians, in many ways, will bear the brunt of it. The added limits imposed by not having free travel around Europe looks likely to have dire consequences for musicians, with many being reliant on gaining revenue from touring. That, alongside the unprecedented effects of the pandemic, has culminated in an industry on the edge of collapse.

Naturally, musicians have not been quiet about this pressing issue. The likes of Liam Gallagher, Ed Sheeran and Sting have actively criticised the government through a signed letter, which details how the industry has been “shamefully failed” by the new travel rules. Yet, despite prominent artists drawing deserved attention to the problem, they are not the victims of it. Added tour costs that will emerge as a result of Brexit rules will directly impact up-and-coming younger UK artists. Many of these performers are in a difficult position already following the cruel ramifications of the pandemic. This Brexit rule could be the nail in the coffin of an entire generation of musicians.

The new rules do not only present a monetary issue for many artists, but also a practical one. A new need for Visas coming into Britain will slow down international artists coming into the country. Tighter, more pedantic travel restrictions may lead to musicians being forced to declare everything they bring abroad: including merchandise, technology and instruments. More checks and slower processing times at airport customs could also result in CDs and Vinyl records having a delayed entry time into the United Kingdom, impacting both record stores and the consumer. Another insult is that despite some British industries retaining free travel rights within the EU as part of the deal, musicians were not included.

The situation seems to be increasingly desperate for artists, and the government’s response so far has left much to be desired. Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s controversial statement, where he suggested musicians should retrain as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, was received with an unsurprising fury. It is safe to say that the government and the music industry have had a strained relationship ever since, and the Brexit Deal has further exacerbated this tension.

‘This Brexit rule could be the nail in the coffin of an entire generation of musicians.’

As of the January 22nd, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden is ‘looking into’ post-Brexit financial support for the music industry. Any package, however, would still not undo many of the underlying problems that Brexit has created for British music. If a financial agreement was agreed, how would it be divided? How much should it be? Would it be effective, given that not all the ongoing problems are financial?

A claim from a British Government spokesperson, that the EU rejected a relevant proposal, has been refuted by the EU, who instead claim that a ninety-day free travel exemption for musicians was actually rejected by the British negotiators. Whoever you believe, the unsettling truth is that the victim of this is young, emerging talent. Brexit implications could lead to a lost generation of artists – a cohort of bands unable to fulfil their potential due to these crushing regulations.

The novelist Frank Kafka once stated: “Ours is a lost generation, it may be, but it is more blameless than those earlier generations.” With the next generation of music, filled with angst, worry and uncertainty brought on by circumstances unforeseen and unparalleled, perhaps this rings true.

Written by: Alex Duke

Edited by: Dom Allum

Featured image courtesy of Samuel Regan-Asante via Unsplash. Article image courtesy of Kathrin Werner via Flickr.