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Brexit report: Live audio experts on what UK’s EU exit could mean for touring market

A number of touring engineers and audio professionals give their take on what Brexit will mean for the pro sound market.

The dense cloud of uncertainty surrounding the UK’s impeding departure from the EU is currently showing little sign of lifting, particularly with regards to its implications for the pro audio touring market. Here, Andy Coules asks some of the industry’s top live professionals to shed a little light on what life after Brexit could look like for artists on the road and what the biggest challenges facing the live sector are likely to be in the months and years to come…

At the time of writing we are roughly half way through the two-year negotiating period of the process that will take the UK out of the European Union. The process started with the triggering of article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon last March and will proceed through to March 29, 2019 (aka Brexit Day) when the UK will cease to be a member of the EU. There will then follow a 21-month transition period during which all political, legal and economic ties will be realigned to the new arrangement culminating on December 31, 2020. While it may look like we have just under a year to hammer out all the details, the EU’s chief negotiator has stated that negotiations must be completed by the end of October this year to give the 27 member countries time to sign off on the deal.

So far provisional agreements have been reached on the three key “divorce issues”: How much the UK owes the EU, what happens to EU citizens living in the UK and UK citizens in the EU and what happens to the Northern Irish border. We have yet to establish what our future relationship will be with the EU, the current government position is to seek an end to free movement of people into the UK, to remove EU imposed legislation and to be able to trade freely across the EU with minimal or non-existent tariffs.

We now know that during the transition period, free movement of UK and EU nationals will continue and the UK will be able to strike new trade deals (which will come into effect on January 1, 2021), while still being party to existing EU trade deals.

For those hoping for a halt to proceedings or the prospect of a second referendum both options look unlikely, the government and the opposition are in agreement that Brexit will happen, although opinions differ widely within both groups on exactly what shape it will take. The key issues of our continued membership of the customs union and what exactly will happen to the Northern Irish border are likely to be sticking points, the former represents a “soft” option which many believe goes against the mandate of the referendum and the latter endangers the sustained peace enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement (which recently celebrated its 20th birthday).

Economically there is no clear sign of the doom and gloom that many prophesised in the wake of the EU referendum – the Pound did slump badly but has rallied reasonably well against the Dollar and the Euro. However, the fall in the Pound has pushed up prices and caused problems. UK growth in the first quarter of 2018 fell to 0.1% – the lowest it’s been since 2012 – driven down by a decrease in construction output and a slow down of manufacturing.

Of all the aspects of Brexit, an end to the freedom of movement of EU citizens into the UK is one of the few absolutes, being as it was a key issue upon which the referendum was fought. This will in turn trigger an end to the freedom of movement of UK citizens into the EU, which may mean visas will be required to travel into and around Europe.

Whether we remain in the customs union is unclear at this time, but if we leave that too then carnets will be required. Carnets are temporary import documents, which remove the need for customs declarations at border points and obviate the need for the bond deposits in the country of temporary importation.

Both carnets and visas are nothing new to touring acts and their crews; they’re currently required by most of the countries outside of the EU. The only issue might be that they will introduce additional costs and administration, which could deter smaller acts from travelling to Europe or the kind of quick hop visits (for festivals or promotion) that are currently taken for granted by so many.

Everyone seems to agree that there’s likely to be an increase in expenses and administration for acts planning to visit Europe. Larger touring acts should be able to take this in their stride, with minimal disruption whereas smaller acts will be hit harder which might push already stretched budgets to breaking point making European trips no longer viable.

The spectre of increased taxation and an end to freedom of movement is also likely to hit UK-based freelancers as the work shifts to EU citizens who will experience none of these problems. This in turn could have an impact on UK hire companies, whose prices may go up as a result, making EU based companies a more attractive prospect for pan-European tours.

While there is a fair amount of uncertainty and prophecies of doom, it is pleasing to see a strand of optimism emerging from the conversation. At the end of the day gigs and festivals will still happen and UK acts will continue to be sought after around the world. The demand for live music has never been so high and long may it continue.

In the meantime, to try to gain a better grasp of the implications of Brexit on touring and the live sound sector, PSNEurope spoke to a number of touring engineers and live audio professionals to see what they believe the future holds beyond Brexit…

Aaron Sayers Tour manager, FOH engineer and director of Track 21 Touring. Previous clients include Rag N Bone Man, The Hoosiers, Kelvin Jones and Freya Ridings

What kind of impact will Brexit have on the touring community?

I fear Brexit will have quite a big impact on touring and our industry. While big budget touring will survive without significant harm, entry-level tours will face a whole new set of challenges which could potentially price them out of touring abroad. For me in particular, I can foresee a loss of work with US acts touring the UK and EU. I’ve worked for quite a few US artists looking after their EU tours in the past, and there’s a strong chance these jobs will start going to other EU nationals if we as UK citizens can no longer benefit from freedom of movement.

How confident are you are that the Brexit negotiating team will be taking into account the needs of the music industry?

I don’t believe they’re taking into account the needs of many industries and people. Even though our industry is worth £4bn to the UK economy, I have little confidence that we will have much of a voice (or say) in any negotiations. Over the course of the last 45 years since Britain has been a member of the EU, many large sectors, such as science and technology, manufacturing and finance have become so entwined with our European neighbours that the impossible task of ‘picking us out’ of Europe will inevitably see their issues solved before ours.

Do you remember what touring was like before the EU or the Euro was established?

Touring further east of Europe and in the USA and Canada, for example, shows what’s possibly in store. One of the main reasons new artists have to wait until they have significant momentum behind them before they can consider touring the US is the cost of visas and immigration. All we can really do is wait to see what deal is struck and then adapt and change accordingly. Either way, I can see the accountants and immigration specialists getting a spike in business.

Rich BurtFOH engineer and tour manager who has toured with a wide array of acts, including Anna Calvi, Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit and Blaenavon

What kind of impact will Brexit have on the touring community?

One of the joys of being in the EU was being able to travel and work across the Eurozone without a visa or gear carnet. If that changes we’ll probably have a bit more of a faff at some crossing points and many more wasted days sat in visa appointments. Certainly there will be more admin for tour managers, although at least cargo companies and visa agencies will see an upturn in business.

How confident are you are that the Brexit negotiating team will be taking into account the needs of the music industry?

They seem to have very little realistic idea of what they’re asking for and appear to acquiesce at the first sign of a hurdle. If they can’t even manage to get the macro bits of the Brexit deal they want I hold out little hope they’ll pull through on anything else. Maybe in the hurry to sign it all off they’ll overlook the music industry and leave plenty of loopholes for us to play with. All we can do is make a lot of noise about the positive effects of the music industry (tourism, population well being etc) along with our concerns and hope that we’re heard in the storm.

Do you remember what touring was like before the EU or the Euro was established?

I’ve heard stories of terrifying amounts of different currencies in cash. Despite other concerns about the Euro as a currency, it’s certainly been a boon for touring. Like it or not, we’re going to have to adapt. It will likely be more costly for everyone involved but gigs will still happen and punters will still go to shows. Record label EU promo strategies might be affected, but maybe there’ll be some unforeseen positive outcome too.

Tim Holehouse A prolific songwriter, performer and self-confessed “road dog with a guitar and whiskey soaked voice” who always seems to be on tour somewhere in the world

What kind of impact will Brexit have on the touring community?

I don’t think anyone knows what will happen. Are we going to have to get work visas? How will they work, will it be per tour or per year? Will merchandise be taxed like it is in Switzerland (where you have to declare stock or risk a fine)? No information has really been provided. How will it work for mainland acts coming to the UK? It all seems very muddy.

How confident are you are that the Brexit negotiating team will be taking into account the needs of the music industry?

Currently, I have no confidence in the whole mess whatsoever, and seeing as our job is deemed as very much a last thought, I don’t suspect we’ll get anything.

Do you remember what touring was like before the EU or the Euro was established?

We had a great thing with the EU free travel and trade and people working together. OK, it wasn’t perfect, but still better than the selfish alternative we seem to be heading for.

Pete Hosier Production manager, lighting and show designer and director of Big Ant Productions, whose clients include Madness, The Libertines, Spiritualized, The Divine Comedy and Kodaline

What kind of impact will Brexit have on the touring community?

On the ground and in regards to day-to-day logistics or putting a show on and in respect of the crew, I don’t know if Brexit will have any major impact. The main thing that held up touring parties in the past was borders between every country and there is no evidence and no reason why that will change post-Brexit, although we may return to carnets for every border. Where it may have an impact on the individual crew members is the potential for local taxing policies – that may become more prevalent throughout the European countries toward UK workers. These already exist in France and elsewhere and I could see this becoming a minefield of bureaucracy for the individual freelancers. This could also have an impact on what supply companies have to do with their systems techs’ wages when travelling from the UK.

How confident are you are that the Brexit negotiating team will be taking into account the needs of the music industry?

I think that in the past the music industry has been ignored as such a huge export from this country, but this is no longer the case. As with many of the creative arts, such as TV, film, design and technology, the UK is a recognised major player throughout the world. The arts in the UK are in the top five industries financially both internally and as an export, so I believe the powers that be have to take this into account. The only problem is the decisions that are being made that will affect us are not going to be made by people in the UK, as the majority of our work is outside their jurisdiction.

Do you remember what touring was like before the EU or the Euro was established?

The main difference is the borders and carnets for every country, the varying currencies in each country was a minor inconvenience but to be honest I actually miss that part. I never wanted every single high street in the world to look the same just so I didn’t have to change a few Francs into Deutschmarks to get a coffee. What I do know is that the world is not run by governments – banks rule the world and all they care about is figures and profits, so if they see that this industry is making lots of income you can bet your bottom Dollar/Pound/Euro they will want some of it, so the main thing I think we will be hit with is higher taxation as we travel around Europe.

One thing is for sure, people will still want to go to concerts and watch bands play live. When the whole digital download world came into play we thought the end was nigh but it actually had the opposite effect on the live market. If the taxing laws for travelling UK artists get out of hand then that could be a huge stumbling block. It’s a case of wait and see… or get a job in a bank!

Steve BakerHaving been in the music business since 1972, Baker started out as a roadie for the likes of Peter Frampton, Genesis, Procul Harum, Peter Gabriel and Frank Zappa, before becoming tour manager for OMD, which lead to artist and label management for Naive Records, Working Week, Gilles Peterson, Galliano and Afro Celt Sound System (to name a few). Currently he’s the worldwide tour manager for Rickie Lee Jones

What kind of impact will Brexit have on the touring community?

Some countries have visa/work permit requirements for overseas personnel (i.e. US and Canadian citizens) so there are already obstacles in place in some countries, such as France. The same applies for withholding taxes, most countries apply some form of taxation and production accounting as a requirement. So overall I doubt this will change very much. If when outside of the EU we are required to have visas and have to stop at borders this could get tricky and time consuming and lead to ever more bureaucracy obtaining the correct paperwork to travel. Regarding equipment, will we need carnets again to enter and leave all countries? That would be a royal pain.

How confident are you are that the Brexit negotiating team will be taking into account the needs of the music industry?

I don’t think they care a hoot! Even though ‘music tourism’ generates about £4bn each year.

Do you remember what touring was like before the EU or the Euro was established?

It was a pain in the arse using carnets and obtaining visas/work permits, particularly for small bands doing short stints in and out of the country. The bigger tours required more administration and this will always be the case. In those days, everything was last minute with short lead up time and everything was pretty chaotic. These days we have long lead up times and, as long as the relevant government departments can cope, it should be OK. Although I don’t know why I’m being so optimistic, any government involvement is a pain in the arse! To be honest, we are a resilient lot. If it means more paperwork then so be it. We’ve coped for decades with various changes and there are great companies set up to deal with immigration and customs importation/carnets etc. So we will survive and it will probably generate more employment. n