The pandemic and Brexit have both created a perfect storm placing many UK musicians in a precarious financial situation and seriously souring their career prospects. By Annette Steyn
I miss live music… a lot. And I’m sure many of you feel the same way. Now imagine how the artists themselves must feel: not only are they missing out on traveling, performing and meeting their fans but in the music industry, which is, nowadays, dominated by streaming platforms with exploitative and inequitable revenue-sharing schemes, ticket and merchandise sales are also often their only substantial source of income.
Catastrophe #1 – The pandemic
The pandemic has – by turning social contact and large crowds into public health disasters – completely incapacitated the event industry and plummeted musicians and other performing artists, event managers, technicians and venues into precarity. Those working in the industry are being forced to improvise: artists with previously established and stable support from a large fan base are falling back on merchandise sales and are turning to online platforms for ticketed livestreams. Smaller artists and those who are only just starting out in the industry, however, do not have the same safety net and, thus, many are putting their careers on hold and taking jobs outside the creative sector just to make ends meet.
The slim silver lining that we have all been clinging onto for almost a year now – that this too shall pass and eventually, slowly but surely, the things we love, such as live music events, will once again be possible – is even slimmer still for British musicians.
Catastrophe #2 – Brexit
In case you lost sight of it amongst all the news coverage of, you know, the pandemic: Britain finally officially left the European Union on January 1st of 2021 after a gruelling, soul-sucking four-year period of negotiations, incompetence and good old-fashioned denial. Depending on who you ask, it has either been the best thing that could have happened to Britain or an absolute catastrophe with the worst consequences yet to come.
UK artists would most likely agree with the latter: under the new rules they will need to apply for visas or work-permits in order to tour mainland Europe. This means more bureaucracy, more expenses (visas can cost around 500£ per person) and less freedom. Once again, for wildly successful, mainstream artists, such as Harry Styles, Stormzy, Dua Lipa and the like, this will not be a significant roadblock. However, smaller artists will struggle to meet the requirements for visas and work permits, will struggle to afford them if they do and will, as a result, struggle to build and foster international support.
The British Music Industry as an Asset
Now, as a Brit myself, I might be biased, but I think we can all agree that the British Isles have, in recent decades, been continuously pumping out world-class musicians: regardless of your personal taste in music, I would bet that amongst your favourite artists, at least one is UK-born, -bred or -based.
The UK music industry, consisting not only of artists but of a world-leading touring infrastructure and internationally renowned production and management expertise, contributes around 5.2 billion pounds to the UK economy each year. Thanks to the pandemic and Brexit, however, the industry is struggling to stay afloat and feels utterly betrayed by the British government. During the Brexit negotiations, the British government refused to compromise on matters of movement between Britain and the EU and is now refusing to actively revisit the issue.
As it stands, UK creatives and those working in the industry around them are banding together to urge the government to support the industry by renegotiating travel requirements for touring artists, if not for the sake of its cultural value then at least for its economic output. If no new deal is worked out, touring Europe will remain impossible for many UK artists even after the pandemic is over.