Friday, 10 June 2016

Walking headlong into the fire? - Why the Music Industry must REMAIN

I get it. We're all bored with the European question. A succession of Punch and Judy displays, arguments over millions and rebates and housing and a host of other issues reduced to a parade of soundbites. From the Leave side 'Australian Points System' seems to be the equivalent of their Lord's Prayer, from Remain 'Self Administered Recession' their entire sell to the public.

I suppose I should not be massively surprised at the narrowness of the debate. In many ways this is the echo of the Scottish independence vote, the cavaliers of 'Out' versus the grim faced economists of 'In'. With an added dose of perceived xenophobia against non Brits, rather than non Scots this time.

What does surprise me is the lack of any real noise from the music industry. From a personal perspective Brexit is a nightmare writ large. Here's a brief example as to why.

To get a band on tour outside of Europe bands need visas. To get visas there is paperwork, fees and, in some cases, long waits. The most prevalent and extreme examples; the USA, China, Russia, involve a significant amount of administration to gather a host of personal data for each member (for example, the USA wants the names of all applicants parents whether alive or not), hefty fees (again the US side of the process on a standard application is around $3000 if you use immigration lawyers, which is pretty much a no brainer) and a wait that can extend into the horizon. When you panic and realise its all going to be too late you can fast track for another $2500 or so to get things over in 14 days. Then you have to go through the process here which involves more fees to a UK company, a two week wait for an appointment at the US Embassy and a week wait for the passport to be returned.  So if your band is on tour you need two passports so that's another £100 or so per member and more time waiting. Add on paying to get all the members there for appointments and paying crew for half days as they are technically working. And after all this there is no guarantee whatsoever they will approve your application.

And before you can do all of this you need firm offers and contracts from promoters to tour. A band is around £4000 in the hole before they step on the plane.

Contrast this with touring in the EU. A whole continent. The biggest single market in the world. The home to Benicassim, Pukkelpop, Rock am Ring, Primavera, London Calling, Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam, Barcelona etc etc etc. No visa. No need for a list of contracted shows. Free movement, free to add shows, free to play and make money and build fanbase and sell merchandise and records and have a career.

If the UK votes to exit the EU there is absolutely no guarantee that free movement is assured. Given the spread of European festivals and their absolute necessity to the economics of touring for bands from the huge to the modest and it seems incredible to me that the music industry as a whole is not hanging flags from Kensington to Kings Cross offices saying 'the music industry says REMAIN'.

This is just one example of a hit. I could drone on about tax harmonisations, export tarrifs, copyright law (see the dispute around the US take on neighbouring rights as a demonstration of how things can be different), the lack of control of piracy on a colossal scale (talk to anyone who has played Russia), collection of performing rights monies etc etc etc.

The music industry is one of the UK's brightest and most profitable export sectors. The EU is the prime market on a doorstep. Artists, managers, labels, promoters and agents have 13 days to step up out of self interest if nothing else. Why the silence?

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