How will Brexit affect music?

What does the UK’s exit from the EU mean for musicians, fans, and the industry?

As Britain tries to get its head around the prospect of quitting the EU, Westminster starts to resemble an (especially far-fetched) episode of House of Cards, and the economy stumbles and stutters, the implications for the music industry might justifiably seem like an after-thought.

But Brexit could have a serious impact on music – both here in the UK and abroad. At a time when every penny counts, British music is worth around £3.5 billion to the economy.

Here we consider some of the likely effects of Brext on the music business – with a little help from British and European musicians.

Will touring get tougher?

Aside from all the brain-melting, macro-economic variables, one of the more concrete results of Brexit will be how easy it is for bands and musicians to tour between the UK and Europe.

But even then, it’s too early to say what exact controls and visas, if any, will be required to take your music on the road.

Musicians will be hoping that we don’t see a return to the old days of restricted movement and enforced borders, where bands would often have to travel with all sorts of documents to clear travel for them, their crew and their gear.

What’s likely to happen is that British acts, like their US counterparts, would need to apply for a Schengen Visa, which allows entry most EU nations.

Xylaroo (complimentary)

The dreaded visa

Xylaroo is a London duo consisting of sisters Holly and Coco Chant. As artists at the beginning of their career, they’re worried about what Brexit could mean for travelling to EU nations.

“We’re on our first European support tour at the moment and are starting to realise the highs and lows of planning a European tour with a tight budget and no car,” says Holly.

“Brexit is obviously something which would affect music fans and musicians alike. If we left the EU bands might have to apply for working visas to play in European countries and to sell merchandise. Merchandise may also have a customs tax added on to it upon entry.

“We were offered this tour a week before it started and would have never had the time to apply for visas in six different European countries.”

Will sales suffer overseas?

British music is booming, in Europe and across the world.

Last year, artists from the UK accounted for 17.4 per cent of album sales in the six largest European markets after the UK – Germany, France, Sweden, Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands, according to industry body the BPI.

Adele’s latest album 25 sold millions of copies in Europe (Getty)

While Brexit is unlikely to affect physical and digital sales of British music, the fact that touring could become more difficult, especially for up and coming acts, could mean that only the big names are able to establish themselves across the Channel.

The effect on copyright law is still unclear too.

Britain will not have a seat at the table when EU-wide legislation is being discussed, and Brussels could be inclined to punish the UK for Brexit by imposing cultural quotas on the amount of British music that’s allowed to be played on radio stations on the continent.

What does it mean for festivals?

It’s safe to say that Brexit put a dampener on an already wet and muddy Glastonbury when it was confirmed last Friday morning.

The festival-goers’ famous resolve was possibly saved by the appearance of British music’s greatest export, Adele, on the Pyramid Stage on Saturday night – or PJ Harvey reading the John Donne poem ‘No Man is An Island’.

primavera sound
Primavera Sound is a popular destination for British music fans (Shutterstock)

A major development in recent years has been festival tourism. Trips to festivals like Primavera Sound in Barcelona or Rock en Seine in Paris have become commonplace for Brits, due to cheaper ticket prices and budget flights.

Again, restrictions on freedom of travel could affect this market, in both directions.

The impact on creativity

Putting economics and practical matters to one side, many musicians and artists have expressed their concerns over the ideological signal Brexit sends.

“Music should exist within a melting pot,” says Holly of Xylaroo. “It needs variation and innovation in order to thrive and evolve.

“I would expect that European promoters would think twice before booking British bands and European bands would think twice about touring the UK.

“Brexit might not kill the British music industry but it will certainly stunt and arrest its development… small bands need space to grow.”

less win
Danish band Less Win (complimentary)

The view on the continent

It’s clear that Brexit isn’t just an issue for British musicians to think about. It’s an issue that has ramifications across the continent.

Copenhagen trio Less Win were in London when the poll result was announced, and are due back for a gig in the capital next week.

“We all agree that it will affect us going to the UK when (and if) Brexit kicks in,” says guitarist and vocalist Casper Morilla.

“Personally I’m not aware of the specific details that would make it more complicated to go, but one can certainly imagine that expensive visas, insurance and travel costs will affect musicians travelling in and out of England.”

However, Morilla is open-minded about Brexit’s impact on British music:

“On the other hand it wouldn’t be too far off to predict an emerging scene of new British music – bands with another depth, with something ‘real’ to say, if you know what I mean. I could very well see something interesting develop within any form of art.”

The industry’s view

At a time when British music is doing so well, the broad consensus is that Brexit is bad news, according to the if-it-ain’t-broke theory.

In the wake of the result last week, Geoff Taylor, chief executive of the BPI, issued the following statement:

“We will, of course, press the Government to swiftly negotiate trade deals that will ensure unimpeded access to EU markets for our music and our touring artists. Our Government will also now have the opportunity to legislate for stronger domestic copyright rules that encourage investment here in the UK and which will protect UK creators from piracy and from tech platforms siphoning off value through copyright loopholes. We are confident that British music will remain hugely popular across Europe and we will work hard to make sure UK labels are able to capitalise on that demand.”

It’s still too early to know exactly how Brexit will affect the British music industry, but one thing’s for certain: many musicians, label bosses and industry insiders are worried.

Xylaroo have just released their second single ‘On My Way’ and their debut album Sweetooth is out now on Sunday Best RecordsLess Win’s debut album Trust is out now via The Big Oil Recording Company. They play Shacklewell Arms in London on July 5.


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Main image: Shutterstock