SINCE 2016, touring in Europe has made up an essential part of my earnings as a self-employed professional folksinger. I voted to remain, and despite Scotland also voting to remain, we as a nation have been ripped away from Europe, and our musicians ripped away from further opportunities to tour and perform financially viable concerts on the continent.
The UK is currently the largest exporter of music to the EU member states. The music industry is a key economic asset, contributing £5.8 billion to the UK economy in 2019.
In addition to the industry’s direct economic contribution, music tourism contributed to an additional £4.7 billion to the UK’s economy in spending in 2019. In March 2020 as the UK went into a national lockdown, the music industry fell overnight.
I, in my sixth year of being a self-employed musician, lost over 120 concerts – a years’ worth of work cancelled in one day.
My touring schedule, which would have taken me to countries such as Australia, Denmark, Sweden, Germany and the USA, was obliterated overnight. With Brexit looming, it wasn’t as simple as “rescheduling or postponing” the concerts.
Many European agents and promoters simply did not know what the situation would be for UK musicians touring abroad and were reluctant to even tentatively reschedule shows to 2021 or 2022. Immediately, I experienced the devastating compounded effect of the pandemic and Brexit.
The live music industry, which is reliant on in-person gatherings and the ability to travel, was the first industry to shut down, and will most likely be the last industry to open back up again.
This is not only an economic loss, but a cultural loss too
A total of 38% of musicians that the Musicians Union surveyed have fallen through gaps in government support, with 34% considering leaving the industry altogether. 87% of musicians will be earning less than £20,000 this year, well below the UK average income of £29,600.
As the country dips in and out of lockdowns during an incredibly bleak year, people have turned to the arts in search of solace and entertainment. Yet the creatives responsible for comforting and entertaining the nation are the same creatives who have fell through the gaps in government financial support, and who are now faced with Brexit restricting their ability to work and tour in Europe.
This is the point where I remind you that performing professionally is my job – not my hobby – my job.
Whilst I was studying Traditional Music at The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, I went on several multiple-country tours, enjoying visa-free, frictionless travel between European countries and reaping the benefit of cultural exchange with other artists at European festivals.
Now, as it stands, musicians will require a visa and a work permit for each EU Member State they visit – a bureaucratic and logistical nightmare to say the least, not to mention costly ATA Carnets to transport equipment and EORI numbers in order to sell merchandise. It will simply be financially and logistically unfeasible for musicians, both early career and established, to tour in Europe.
This is not only an economic loss, but a cultural loss too.
Just as UK musicians will face barriers in touring Europe, musicians from Europe will reciprocally face the same barriers in touring the UK, and will perhaps be forced to leave the UK off of their tour schedules. In turn, our domestic audiences won’t have the opportunity to access live performances from European artists and our access to cultural diversity through live music will diminish.
If our performing artists are to get back on their feet, they have to get back on the road
The UK needs European musicians just as much as the UK musicians need Europe. After all, music transcends background, generation, class, and ethnicity. Music is an international language.
Although the music industry is a victim of the pandemic, there is an opportunity for the UK Government to save it from being a victim of Brexit too.
In January, a petition was lodged by Tim Brennan asking for the UK Government to negotiate a Europe-wide cultural work permit which would give touring professionals and artists visa-free travel throughout the 27 EU Member States.
The petition, although centred around the live music industry, considered musicians, artists, television professionals and sportspersons and gained over 280,000 signatures, which triggered a debate, hosted by the Petitions Committee, that took place earlier today.
The overwhelming sentiment that was shared was that the music industry is a vital part of the UK’s cultural, let alone economic, wellbeing and it is imperative that the UK Government acknowledges this, ceases the political blame-game and gets back round the negotiating table.
Does the Secretary of State want his legacy to be bringing the UK music industry to its knees?
Should the UK Government choose not to fight for our musicians right to tour visa-free in Europe, they will be rubbing salt into the wounds of some of the country’s most important, yet undervalued cultural ambassadors.
The fish deal has gone through, now we need a deal for our creatives. A cultural passport is the only way forward.
As Patrick Grady MP stated today: “If our performing artists are to get back on their feet, they have to get back on the road.”
Iona Fyfe is a Scottish folksinger and graduate from The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. She was a finalist in the BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year 2021 and won the title of Scots Performer of the Year at the Scots Language Awards in 2020.
— to www.thenational.scot