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Last week the MU’s National Organiser for Live, Theatre and Music Writers, Kelly Wood moderated a panel discussion at Liverpool’s Sound City Conference. The panel explored the UK live sector’s new relationship with Europe and focused on how we can remove the barriers British musicians are facing when working in the EU.

Titled ‘Half The World Away’, the union and a panel of leading campaigning voices shared their experiences and unpicked what the developing touring landscape now looks like, as well as traversing what we can do together as an industry to improve conditions.

The panel included:

  • Kelly Wood (MU Live, Music Writer and Theatre Organiser) - Moderator
  • Annabella Coldrick (CEO of Music Managers Forum)
  • Paul Smith (Maximo Park)
  • Jeremy Pritchard (Everything Everything)

You have to tour quite differently now

During the discussion Annabella Coldrick, CEO of the Music Managers Forum, spoke about how their members are spending huge amounts of time getting their heads around the new rules and regulations. She said: “I don’t want to put anyone off touring, but you have to tour quite differently now.

“The EU 27 [countries] was by far our biggest market, there were about 20,000 tour dates reported through the PRS setlist reporter in 2019, compared with 4,000 in the whole of the US”.

Paul Smith, panelist and lead vocalist of band Maximo Park, agreed that the touring landscape now looks very different. He admitted that roughly 50% of his income might come from touring Europe, but that this has now reduced significantly. Reflecting on this however, he said: “It’s not ‘woe is me’, it’s more, this is our soft power and the economic value of the music industry”.

Annabella Coldrick and Jeremy Pritchard on a sofa during the panel event.
Annabella Coldrick and Jeremy Pritchard discuss exporting music within the EU. Image credit: The MU ©

How budgets have changed for UK artists when touring Europe

Moderator Kelly Wood also talked the panel and attendees through the MU’s interactive flowchart guide to working in Europe, but explained: “The problem that we have for anything that is legislative is that there’s a lot of interpretation involved. The other part of this is how Europe is responding to what’s going on. Are UK artists getting less offers from festivals and gigs. Are we considered a risk now?"

Speaking of his experiences as bassist in the band Everything Everything, Jeremey Pritchard agreed that it is becoming more onerous for festival’s to book British acts. He said:

“Even before you pay the cost of getting the merchandise manufactured in Belgium, the man hours going into that on this side are considerable and it starts to become more trouble than it’s worth, which is a huge shame because the benefits have been enormous. There’s not really another continent like Europe where you can wake up and be in a different capital every day”.

As a part of a successful touring band, Paul found similar problems when it came to budgets. He added: "We did a European tour at the end of last year and when I was shown the budget I was shocked. I was thinking, what could we trim here because we’re basically doing it for nothing”.

Kelly Wood and Paul Smith talking at Liverpool Sound City Conference 2023.
Kelly Wood and Paul Smith talk budgets for UK artists touring Europe. Image credit: The MU ©

The importance of touring, from networking to domestic production

During the conversation, Paul stressed the importance of touring in relation to networking and building relationships. He explained: “You might be in Hull or you might be in Dusseldorf, there’s a history to all of those places. The people that you meet along the way around the rest of Europe, some of them you make friends or contacts with, I think it’s a big part of our band's history”.

He added: “We were lucky to have tour support at the time, our record company Warp was one of the best independent record labels in the world and we were lucky to have a bit of a safety net which again, a lot of bands don’t have these days”.

“It’s an edifying experience to leave the UK for the first time and go and play your music in a foreign country and see if anybody cares". 

Contemplating Everything Everything’s career, Jeremy also recognised the importance of playing in new and broader territory. Sharing his thoughts with the panel, he said: “It’s an edifying experience to leave the UK for the first time and go and play your music in a foreign country and see if anybody cares.

“We did have that very validating experience of realising that people outside of the M62 did actually care and not just that, but outside of the UK. It makes you a richer person, which in turn makes the product better. The export product benefits from where we export it to. Shutting that off or making it harder to access is only going to impoverish domestic production”.

Kelly Wood, Paul Smith, Annabella Coldrick and Jeremy Pritchard post panel at Liverpool Sound City.
L-R: Kelly Wood, Paul Smith, Annabella Coldrick and Jeremy Pritchard post panel at Liverpool Sound City. Image credit: The MU ©

Looking forward and removing the barriers British musicians face when working in the EU

Despite the challenges that British musicians now face when touring in the EU, there is work being done constantly to overcome these by the MU and partner organisations.

As Kelly summarised during the panel's close: “It’s a work in progress isn’t it. This remains an urgent issue for all of our organisations. We foresaw these problems. Ever since it has happened we’ve been lobbying publicly and behind the scenes”.

Annabella agreed and spoke of The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Music’s, Let the Music Move - A New Deal for Touring report. The campaign and report outline the urgent action the Government should take to help UK musicians and crew tour Europe more easily. She praised MU Head of International Dave Webster for his work with the EU Commission and said: “The Labour Party are really listening, they’ve said many times it’s one of the first things they want to address”.

She also advised all artists looking to tour, to sign up to the #LetTheMusicMove campaign and to let the MU and The Featured Artists Coalition (FAC) know if they are having issues. She added: “We’re regularly having these conversations with Officials and politicians of all political parties.

“There are all of these brilliant showcase festivals that are still really open to having British artists perform and there are funds that you can apply to, like the Momentum Fund run by PRS Foundation, which can help cover the cost of getting out to those showcase festivals.

“If you’re looking to tour, tour locally but do look at touring the EU, you just might have to do it differently”.

Need to know more about working in the EU after Brexit?

The ability to travel and work freely and easily in the EU is of paramount importance to UK musicians. Read our guidance, resources and answers to common questions to help musicians understand how Brexit affects their ability to work in the EU.

Read more

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Small blue toy car over a map of Europe.

Take Part in the MU’s New Survey on Touring in the EU Post Brexit

Your answers are key to helping us assess the impact leaving the EU has had on touring musicians, and if our specialist information and guidance has been useful or needs improving. Your feedback is also vital in shaping our work when liaising with government.

Published: 03 April 2024

Read more about Take Part in the MU’s New Survey on Touring in the EU Post Brexit