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What will Brexit really mean for touring UK and EU artists?

After the UK officially left the EU on January 1st, myriad questions about daily life, work and travel have been left unanswered by the UK government. For musicians, Brexit has struck at the heart of what keeps their industry going — touring. Here, DJ Mag looks at the current rules for touring artists and crew, and how governments need to change the rules to keep the music industry alive

The dust is yet to settle on the Brexit deal agreed between the EU and the UK, but it is already clear that touring Europe is never going to be the same for DJs and musicians. Now that free movement has ended, UK artists will potentially be required to apply for multiple work permits in order to play gigs on a European tour, and there will be additional burdensome requirements for EU acts planning to play in the UK.

The exact details of how the regulations are going to work are unlikely to become clear until they are put in practice, according to experts. What is apparent is that the regulations will have significant ramifications for individual artists, promoters and crew, as well as managers.

“It has been very difficult to get clear, factual information from the government,” said Liam Budd, a senior external affairs and policy manager at the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM). “It’s a really complicated picture, and one of the key things for us is pushing for more transparency from the government with regard to the negotiations, and what the new rules actually mean for those in the music sector.”

As things stand, the impact of Brexit is going to be significant not just for the UK, but for the music sector across Europe as a whole, according to Naomi Pohl, the Deputy General Secretary at the Musicians’ Union. “We’re really worried that it’s going to have a big impact on our members ability to have a sustainable career,” she said. 

“Touring is such a big part of what our members do, and the idea that it’s going to be more expensive and much more difficult in admin terms like bureaucracy; to tour in the EU is definitely going to have a detrimental effect. As with most things, it's going to have the biggest impact on the people who earn the least. A lot of our members will, in a normal year, frequently perform at one-off engagements in EU countries.

“In the past, it was easy to do that,” she continues, “but the new rules mean it’s going to be much more difficult — and it's definitely going to have an impact on earnings. There is going to be a very real impact on UK artists that want to do major tours in the EU – and it may be that many try to do fewer territories in order to simplify all of the bureaucratic requirements.”

Below, DJ Mag breaks down what the current rules post-Brexit mean for UK artists and crew touring in the EU, and EU-based artists and crew touring in the UK, the impact these rules will have on other music industry roles, and how the UK government could change the rules to benefit everyone.

I’M A UK ARTIST TOURING THE EU — HOW DO THE RULES AFFECT ME?

The main issue for UK artists travelling alone in the EU after Brexit is that they are going to be unable to play a paid gig, or carry out any kind of paid work in some countries, without a work permit. Because the entry requirements for work visas vary between EU member states, artists, or tour managers, will have to check the requirements for each one individually. “The UK Government hasn’t provided guidance on what the different countries’ requirements are,” says Budd, “so finding out what you need can involve checking a wide range of websites, some of which aren’t very clear or haven’t been translated into English.”

In an effort to provide some clarity to those planning a tour, the ISM has conducted research into what the current requirements are for each member state and published a guide for artists. Some counties, like Denmark, require special work permit applications to be completed for a visit to play a gig even if the artist is only planning to stay for a couple of days. Others, like Austria, artists do not need a permit if they are staying less than 30 days, and in France, they do not require a permit for a stay of up to 90 days. 

Some member states have special exemptions. In Belgium, “artists of international renown” do not need a work permit in order to perform a gig, while less famous artists have to get a work permit for any gigs they play there. 

If a UK artist is not doing any paid work, they can go into the EU and travel around without restrictions for up to 90 days on a tourist visa. This means that an artist can play for free or take part in a business meeting — as long as they are not being paid for it. A recently published flowchart compiled by the Musicians Union provides additional information regarding documentation and paperwork for musicians travelling to the EU.

I’M AN EU ARTIST TOURING THE UK — HOW DO THE RULES AFFECT ME?

The rules have also become more complicated for artists from the EU that want to play in the UK. There are various legal ways to do so but, in most circumstances, getting a Permitted Paid Engagement visa will be the simplest and most cost-effective solution. This visa costs £95 and allows an individual to stay for up to 30 days. It is unclear exactly how these visas will operate in relation to travelling artists, but it is expected that individuals will be required to carry some documents to show who is hiring them and what work they are doing. 

The Musicians’ Union is concerned that the £95 fee and extra bureaucracy required for the PPE visa will put some EU acts off playing gigs in the UK. “We are worried that emerging artists or individuals that are doing more experimental work — that is to say, perhaps less commercial — will now be less likely to visit the UK,” said Pohl. 

“The £95 fee is per individual, so if there’s a band with a lot of members coming over, obviously, that’s going to be a lot more money.” At the moment, it seems that any additional roadies, crew or technical employees that travel to the UK will also need a PPE visa, as well as the musicians or DJs themselves — adding to the cost and bureaucracy.

If you’re a DJ from the EU performing at a festival, you may not need to get a PPE visa because a permit-free festival scheme has been created in the UK. Under the scheme, festivals can apply to be put on the government’s permit free festival list. So far, there are 41 festivals on the list. These include Glastonbury, Boomtown Festival, and Camp Bestival.

Aside from the PPE visa, another route that an EU DJ could go down to tour in the UK is getting a Temporary Worker Government Authorised Exchange visa, also known as a T5. This is slightly more complicated, and requires the worker to obtain a certificate of sponsorship from an employer or contractor in the UK. 

I’M A UK ARTIST TOURING THE EU WITH EQUIPMENT — HOW DO THE RULES AFFECT ME?

For UK artists travelling to the EU with equipment, aka a band or solo live performer, you will now be required to obtain a carnet (pronounced ‘kar-nay’) for all of the gear you are touring with. This document is like a passport for objects, and can be used to clear customs in countries without paying duties and import taxes on equipment.

The cost of obtaining a carnet depends on the value of the equipment you are travelling with. It is thought that the starting cost will be £360, plus an additional security deposit. The carnet document will have a list of all relevant pieces of equipment on it. It’s likely that these will have to be checked when borders are crossed, to make sure that the holder returns to the UK with the same equipment that they left with.

Checking the carnet list could ultimately become an expensive and time-consuming job, says John Rogers, a lighting operator and designer that sits on the Live Events Network Committee at the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Communications and Theatre Union (BECTU).

“Normally you would spend maybe eight hours packing down after a gig in London then you would jump on the bus, fall asleep and wake up at the next destination in Europe,” he said. “But now, under the new rules, when you get to the border you will have to wake up and unpack everything to show customs what you have. Then you’ll have to put it back in the truck before you can continue with the journey.”

“It takes a lot more money and manpower to literally unload the truck at the border in order to allow the official to go through the carnet and check everything,” he continues. “In some cases, it just isn’t going to be realistic to expect a crew to pack up after a show then wake up a couple of hours later to unpack at the border. It’s likely a separate team of workers will have to be employed [by the touring artist] to do the work at the customs check.”

WE HAVE A TOUR BUS – HOW DO THE  RULES AFFECT US?

At the moment, the new rules for haulage are going to cause massive problems for UK musicians that want to tour the EU with equipment in a lorry or tour bus. Under the new legislation, if you are travelling with a large truck of equipment, a UK operator can only make two “cross-trade or cabotage” movements once they enter the EU. According to the Musicians’ Union, this could make touring across the EU with a truck of equipment from the UK virtually impossible. 

“There is a possibility that touring artists will have to transport their equipment from the UK into the EU in one truck, then rent a truck in the EU and put all the equipment onto that,” said Pohl. “At the moment, it seems like once they have transferred their equipment into an EU truck, they will be free to travel around without any problems. Hiring extra transport in the EU will involve significant extra costs and could cause budget problems for some tours.”

I’M A UK ROADIE TOURING THE EU — HOW DO THE RULES AFFECT ME?

When tour managers are deciding who to hire for future tours, there are concerns that the existing Brexit deal could put UK roadies and technicians at a disadvantage to their EU-based peers.

“It looks like, due to the additional bureaucracy and work permit expenses, UK crew are going to end up more costly for tour managers compared to crew hired in the EU,” Rogers says. “If a Dutch lighting technician can move freely through Europe without having to deal with restrictions, they are going to appear more desirable for tour managers compared to a similar candidate from the UK. This is because they will cost less in terms of bureaucratic costs and possible work permit fees.”

I’M AN EVENTS PROMOTER — HOW DO THE RULES AFFECT ME?

The raft of new regulations that artists need to comply with on tour isn’t just going to cause a headache for those that are travelling. Much of the bureaucracy and costs could end up causing issues for promoters.

“There is no doubt in my mind that this is going to cause problems for those that are trying to bring talent into the UK,” said Pohl. “DJs and bands are likely to be more reluctant to come over and deal with additional costs and bureaucracy — so promoters may well be forced to shoulder some of that burden in order to make UK gigs more attractive to those that are on tour in the EU.”

WHAT ARE THE CHANCES OF RULES CHANGING FOR THE BETTER?

According to ISM, 44 percent of British musicians were earning up to half of their income in the EU before the COVID-19 pandemic. The new logistical problems associated with touring after Brexit are expected to compound financial problems for those working in the UK’s music sector. During the pandemic, the UK government’s Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) has failed to reach between 38 percent and 50 percent of Musicians’ Union members, according to the organisation’s research, and many are considering leaving the industry for good.

“All along, when we campaigned on the Brexit issue, we had assurances from the Conservatives and Labour that touring musicians would be catered for,” said Pohl. “The fact that these issues for touring musicians haven't been resolved during negotiations is very disappointing.”

In December 2020, the government said it had tried to secure better conditions for UK touring musicians during the Brexit negotiations, but its proposals were rejected by the EU. Earlier this month, however, the government’s claims were disputed. On 10th January, The Independent newspaper published a story where an unnamed EU source said that a “standard” proposal to exempt performers from the cost and bureaucracy of obtaining permits had been proposed — but the UK refused to agree because “they were ending freedom of movement”.

Responding to the story, the UK government said the article was “incorrect and misleading speculation from anonymous EU sources”. They claim that the EU “repeatedly refused” proposals made on behalf of the British creative arts sector. It said: “We are clear that our door remains open should the EU change its mind. We will endeavour to make it as straightforward as possible for UK artists to travel and work in the EU.”

While the outlook at the moment is bleak for touring artists, there are hopes that it could improve. The ISM is lobbying the government to pursue an additional bilateral trade agreement that would allow UK artists the opportunity to work anywhere in the EU for up to 90 days with no work permit. “This is not about renegotiating the deal that has already been agreed,” said Budd. “What we want is an additional deal that would be agreed separately.”

So far, a petition seeking a “Europe-wide visa-free work permit for touring professionals and artists” has garnered more than 260,000 signatures.

In Prime Minister’s Questions, on 13th January, Boris Johnson was asked by Kevin Brennan MP if he was willing to meet with “a small group of MPs, including the Conservative Chair of the Culture Select Committee” to solve a problem that he described as “clearly fixable”. 

Johnson replied: “I will of course ensure that there is a proper meeting with the honourable gentleman and his colleagues on this subject, which is extremely important. I know that our friends in the EU will be wanting to go further to improve things, not just for musicians, but for business travellers of all kinds, because there is a mutual benefit.”

On 19th January, culture minister Caroline Dinenage rejected the petition’s call for further negotiations with the EU, stating that its proposals were “simply not compatible with our manifesto commitment to taking back control of our borders.”

The ISM believes that the government has shown that it is genuinely open to further negotiations with the aim of improving the situation for musicians on tour, but whether a new deal can be finalised with the EU remains to be seen.

Read about how the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic is causing permanent damage to the music industry here

Wil Crisp is a freelance journalist. You can follow him on Twitter @bilgribs