Live music is about much more than just hearing your favourite tunes — it’s about how it makes you feel. 71% of Gen Z, Millennials and Gen X say that music fulfils the desire for human connection, and any music fan will know that seeing their favourite artist performing is just as much about the build up to the event and sharing it with others than the music itself.
But, of course, live performances are also critical for the artist’s career. Alongside producing and releasing albums, promotion through touring is essential. Many musicians make the majority of their money from live gigs nowadays, considering streaming pays very little revenue. In fact, eight out of ten music creators make less than £200 a year from streaming, and that’s not exactly a significant sum to live off. Not only does fewer touring opportunities equal less income, but also makes it harder for bands to become big or perform at large venues.
There’s been a great deal of anxiety surrounding the future of live music ever since the end of the Brexit transition period on January 1st 2021, where the UK stopped following EU laws. This is because British Prime Minister Boris Johnson approved a deal that prevents musicians from travelling visa-free to the EU. Many lesser-known artists believe they’ll be unable to work due to price bumps, while the big names in the game will be able to continue touring. In 2019, the UK music scene was worth a mighty £1.1 billion, but Brexit — alongside the implications of Covid-19 — may have a significant impact on the industry and economy. Is this the death of live music as we know it?
Due to the end of free movement from the UK to the EU, the future of British musicians being able to tour in European countries is up in the air. Prior to Brexit, UK nationals were eligible for visa-on-arrival across the Schengen area. “As the term suggests, visas-on-arrival are issued when the visitor arrives in a country,” CS Global note, meaning “travellers need not apply for a visa beforehand.” It also means it’s free to enter these countries. Touring in the EU was once the easiest and cheapest way of performing overseas (thanks to freedom of movement), compared to places like Asia where this obviously wasn’t available. Now, however, those wanting to travel to the EU to earn money from live performances are considered third-party nationals, and they may need visas and a work permit as a result, which are both costly and time-consuming to obtain.
Artists travelling on the most popular touring routes may now endure additional costs and paperwork too. Truck drivers transporting stage equipment must now return to the UK after visiting just two EU states, making the normal touring model near impossible.
A carnet is an international customs and temporary export-import document that is needed for musicians to take equipment overseas with them. The cost of obtaining one depends on the value of the items being transported, however, the starting cost is thought to be £360, plus a security deposit. Applying for a carnet is time-consuming, while it will also make transportation times longer as bands need to unpack everything at customs to show officials. Every truck requires a carnet too, so if a tour uses multiple, that’s more costs and admin. Before Brexit happened, none of this was required.
The rules state that, like non-EU artists, any UK artist wanting to tour the bloc for more than 30 days must apply for a visa and have proof of savings (just under £1,000). A work permit may be necessary in order to be paid as well, which could add further admin and time to tour planning, though these requirements do differ from country to country. For example, a temporary work permit isn’t required to work for less than 90 days in France, but, for stays between three and twelve months, a long-stay visa (costing €99) is required. They differ from sector to sector too. Brits can work in the EU visa-free for up to 90 days by buying an ETIAS visa waiver, but this leaves musicians out of the equation.
All of these changes have rightfully upset many musicians. Josh Franceschi, frontman of British rock band You Me At Six, told music magazine Kerrang that “everything is going to change,” in regards to Brexit and touring. “That teenage dream [of jumping in a van and just about making enough money to cover petrol] will dissipate if you need to have carnets, visas and all these things that are so expensive.” The lead singer also said that in 15 years of touring, his band has only gained profit without tour support two or three times. So, what does this mean for much smaller, newer artists?
For those just breaking out onto the music scene, these new regulations will make travelling abroad much more inaccessible. “It’s OK when you’re a big-time act and you can afford to swallow costs, but if you’re the average or emerging artist then you’re hand-to-mouth,” Isle of Wight Festival boss John Giddings told NME. Touring may no longer be financially viable for small bands, which is unfortunate considering many traditionally made their name by playing small venues across Europe to learn and develop their trade.
Because transporting equipment overseas will take longer, it means there’ll be more travel days for musicians. This comes with increased overhead costs as a result, which many may not be able to afford. Brexit might impact the likelihood of bands visiting the US to perform too, many of which normally attend events like Coachella and SXSW every year. This is a direct result of bands being unable to go to Europe and gain international recognition, which is needed to receive a US visa in the first place.
What’s more, setting up such events isn’t cheap. From venue hire and staff to power, insurance and transport, all these expenses add up, and often bands won’t even make a profit. Add to this the cost of visas, work permits and carnets, and touring across the EU is likely to be impossible for emerging artists. For a band to perform in Europe in a financially viable way, they would need to play at least ten shows at venues with no less than 800 capacity across the continent — anything below that and money is lost. As such, artists are going to lose the ability to tour overseas and promote their music.
After news broke about the end of visa-free travel for musicians, over 260,000 people signed a petition asking for a Europe-wide visa-free work permit for touring professionals and artists. With the likes of Iron Maiden, Radiohead and Elton John signing it, the campaign quickly gained traction. The future of British musicians being able to tour was up in the air, but the UK government has announced that visa-free touring was negotiated for artists in 19 EU member states, confirming artists don’t require visas or work permits for short-term tours. However, the problem is still very much the same in the seven countries that do require visas, including big markets like Spain, Portugal and Croatia, while the situation on carnets remains unresolved too.