Sorry. I truly am sorry. I’m just as sick about hearing about the EU as you are. We’re actually refusing to use the “Br**it” word in the office – partly because it’s an annoying verbal mesh that has no place in society, like “Kimye” or “Hiddleswift”, and partly because it’s fills us with the same feeling of dread we get when we see letters from the bank on the doormat. We know we need to be grown up and open them but it’s just so much easier to put them on the side and use them as ominous paper coasters. The reason I’m writing this article is because talks have begun and there is so much on the line for the music industry. So what is it exactly that we have to fear?
Before the crucial vote on 23rd June last year, most in the music industry, from artists to labels to promotors to the guy who cleans the windows at Sony*, were united in their desire to remain in the EU. A pre-referendum report by the BPI found that 67.7% of UK record labels were in favour of staying, with fears about EU copyright laws being scrapped. 90% of members agreed that it’s important that we are a part of the governing body that dictates the terms of British music sales in Europe – after all, 1 in 4 albums sold on the continent last year was by a British artist.
News stories about the Prime Minister trying to fill the committee that handles the passing (and scrapping) of EU laws into British legislation with prevalent “leavers” from her own party are slightly disconcerting. The “Great Repeal Bill” could be an opportunity for the Government to refine and update music copyright laws, making them fit for the YouTube age. But it could also be the chance some libertarian-leaning politicians have been waiting for to trash certain EU laws that they believe inhibit ‘progress’ (that’s sneaky-speak for ‘profit’). Neither of the two main political parties have been particularly clear on their positions, no one wants to fly their flag on a sinking ship, but Labour’s recent revelation that they wish to remain a part of the single market for a transitional period at least puts some distinction between them and the Conservatives. They may be offering some short-term stability but sectors like the music industry require long-term assurances when it comes to writing and renewing contracts and this move still falls notably short of a complete withdrawal plan.
Let’s get real. Europeans aren’t suddenly going to shun British artists. They won’t be smashing up their Ed Sheeran CDs and returning their Coldplay tickets. At worst, they might sharpie the odd accent on their album covers – 25 by Ádèle maybe… In fact, No, it’s not the popularity of our musical exports that are at risk, it’s the value that they return to us. If copyright is not sufficiently protected, recording income for musicians is going to continue to fall, and that has wider ramifications for all of us.
If that recorded income falls and if touring artists are required to apply for visas, tax levies and insurances as a result of leaving the EU, then musicians’ belts will grow ever tighter, making it harder for them to take the time required to make the truly expressive music that is part of the make-up of our lives.
As put by Achal Dhillon, MD of Killing Moon Records, in the Metro: “Quality music, albeit to a lesser extent prior to the digital age, relies on sustainable income in order to perpetuate itself. The business and the music must co-exist as they are inherently reliant on each other. So if the business takes a hit, my fear is that it is only a matter of time before the music logically does also”.
If artists’ incomes start taking a kicking, the bruises will be felt in the consumers’ pocket. Not only could ticket prices hike as bands have to pay for visas, the merch stands could also see price hikes if t-shirts, cds and vinyls are subject to import duties. There are some, like Vannesa Higgins (Director of Regent Street & GoldBar Records/BPI Council Member) who predict this may stop some artists touring in Europe altogether: “We could be looking at not only visas for the artists involved on European tours, but increased safety checks on all equipment (as used to happen) with the increased costs that both of those would incur. That could stop many acts of all sizes from being able to tour in Europe.”
This could have a positive effect on UK music festivals as both artists and attendees see the cost of going to European festivals increase. The weather may not be quite as appealing but the line-ups might feature some great bands who would otherwise be rocking out in Amsterdam.
It’s a different story for vinyl however. Every indie band’s dream of one day holding their first vinyl LP in their hands may have to stay that way – a dream. This is because the world’s leading producers of vinyl is Czech company GZ Media. They, and their other European competitors, produce nearly all our vinyl. The unpredictable exchange rate between the Pound and the Euro plus the potential levies on imports could drive up the price of buying vinyl, perhaps to the extent that it’s no longer financially viable to produce. This does, however, present an opportunity for UK vinyl pressing plants to step up to the plate and absorb some of the business of their continental counterparts.
The truth is, not much is clear about the future for the music industry in relation to Europe. Only time will tell how copyright, touring, distribution and ultimately the revenue of British music will be affected by Brexi- WHOOPS – nearly said it!
What is clear is that artists, labels and publishers alike must adopt an outward-looking/forward-facing approach. By forming solid partnerships with Collecting Societies across the globe and working with worldwide network of partners, MonoKrome are making sure that their artists are taking full advantage of all markets and will continue to have full and effective distribution options, whatever happens. After all, whilst music’s future after Article 50 may not be guaranteed, it’s intrinsic value to our lives certainly is.
*The guy who cleans the windows at Sony was not available for a direct quote.