As Brexit proceedings move ominously forward, independent self-employed musicians who tour internationally are starting to worry about what sort of an impact the separation could have on their way of life. Here we look at what the negative outcomes could be.
Guest post by Joe Hoten of Bands for Hire
With the stormy cloud of Brexit looming ever more convincingly on the horizon, self-employed musicians who tour internationally are starting to ask what this will mean for them. Major label artists may well find themselves largely unaffected, but will it still be as easy as ABC for unsigned bands to DIY themselves over to Amsterdam, Berlin, Copenhagen and parts beyond, or will they find themselves tied up with red tape and visa fees?
Will it even be possible, in a post-Brexit world, to carve a career as a musician in the same way the most fortunate among us can today, or will the rulebook require a complete rewrite?
Here are a few ways in which the end of Free Movement could spell the end of the musical world as we know it:
Music is a constant cycle of revision and discovery, and the most effective way of keeping that wheel turning is to meet and learn from musicians from different cultures and backgrounds. Without expanding their musical boundaries beyond the western world, the Beatles would never have written ‘Dear Prudence’, Paul Simon would never have written ‘Graceland’ and Kula Shaker probably wouldn’t have written anything. Travelling to different countries and discovering hitherto untapped resources of inspiration prevents stagnation and encourages outside-the-box thinking. The converse is also true: limiting international travel insulates a musical scene from outside influence, and may cause ideas to run out more quickly.
While connectivity via the internet is entirely possible in the information age, watching YouTube clips and lagging your way through a live video lesson is a far less personal and far less fulfilling experience than sitting in the same room as a real life master of an unfamiliar style and feeling it firsthand. There’s no escaping the magic in the air when it’s right there in front of you, but in the comfort of your own home you’ll be far more prone to distraction. Or your wifi could just cut out.
Restrictions on Free Movement may also prove problematic when your local venue is trying to bring in bands from other countries, to bring that precious diversity to the audience as well as the local musicians. Without the occasional breath of fresh talent, your regular gig-goers will soon begin to find the recycled air stale, and their gig-going days will be numbered. Once the venues start suffering, so will the performers.
As anyone in the music game will tell you, you have to seize any opportunity that comes your way in the early days. It could be a spot on a radio show, a support slot for a more established touring band or session work for a big-time solo artist, a meeting with an advertising executive to have your song featured on a soda commercial - but it’s a well known fact that you can’t expect Lady Luck to keep coming all the way to your house to knock on your bedroom door. You need to venture out and seek your fortune, which for many is found beyond our British borders.
The removal of Free Movement will mean the reduction, and possible even removal, of such non-UK opportunities for UK bands and musicians. And, regrettably, this is no longer mere speculation: according to a recent post from the Incorporated Society of Musicians, over 40% of musicians asked felt that Brexit had impacted upon their work (almost twice as many as the year before), with some citing instances of European employers claiming to be incapable of hiring non-EU workers. British musicians will be regarded as such, if Brexit goes ahead, and many European organisations won’t be able to support the amount of paperwork necessary to hire them.
Gone may be the days when a member of your friend’s band would fall ill, the panicked message of ‘how soon can you get to Paris’ would appear in your voicemail inbox, and you would grab your guitar case, excuse yourself from work and hop on the ferry.
In their stead, we have costly and arduous visa applications to look forward to. Professional musicians are often given very short notice when recruited for overseas work, and, as their livelihood depends on such opportunities, they have little choice but to seize them. Timing is everything in music, and if you’re stuck at the border declaring every single piece of equipment while border control fill out a meticulouscarnet, the people waiting for you on the other side might just have passed your chance over to someone closer by.
If a self-employed musician gets the call to collaborate or join a European festival as a last-minute addition to the bill, an awful lot more planning will be required. Perhaps it’ll become too much of a logistical nightmare to justify, and self employed musicians will be unable to widen their circles.
The key to any band’s success is building a solid foundation of loyal fans. Fans stream your songs, come to your gigs and buy your t shirts - plus, they’ll hopefully tell their friends to do the same. The general pattern is, make a splash in your home town, and ride the waves as they spread further afield. Fans who really enjoy your shows will follow you on your travels, and, with any luck, your following will pick up new members with each stop on your tour.
That is, of course, unless your waves are confined to a small pond. With so many hopefuls trying to make a scene, there’s an awful lot of competition from other unsigned bands - and you’re not only competing for support slots, but also for the concert-going public’s attention. As much as people try, they can’t dedicate themselves to every single up-and-comer who darkens their door, and the enthusiasm will start to wear a bit thin.
Many UK-based bands make their first steps onto foreign soil by taking advantage of Free Movement within the EU, as forking out for a visa for a Japanese or North American tour will be a bit out of their price range straight away. So, not only will bands miss out on the early the kudos of having toured internationally, but will also be forced to revisit - and risk overexposure - far sooner than they would have under Free Movement.
Higher Import Charges
This may not be a cause for concern for those patriots who’ve sworn to ‘buy British’, but the fact remains that the prices of European brands are likely to skyrocket if the UK distances itself from European trade. Fair enough if you consider Vanquish and Gordon Smith to be superior to Fender and Gibson, but brands such as Hofner and Lag who produce more affordable models for beginners could start to disappear from your local guitar shop.
Even popular online stores like the Germany-based Thomann will most likely be forced to charge extortionate rates shipping. While this may seem like an opportunity for UK based sellers, it also prevents less affluent musicians from taking advantage of more competitive rates they might find online.