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Why Free Movement Matters

Brexit puts musicians’ ability to work in the EU – and earn an income from live performance – at risk. Take a look at some of the reasons why.

Published: 30 May 2018 | 12:00 AM Updated: 28 April 2021 | 4:29 PM

Musicians state-hop

Freedom of movement has become fundamental to the way that British musicians work. It is an important part of making a living.

If you get a gig in the EU right now, you can pack your car and go.

If you’re planning a tour, you can do so without forms coming out of your ears and the expense of visa applications.

If you get last minute session work, you know you won’t get stuck at the border and miss the performance.

Brexit puts musicians’ ability to work in the EU – and earn an income from live performance – at risk.

Musicians collaborate

Collaboration is an important part of working in music.

Yes, it can happen digitally. But there’s nothing like exchanging ideas in person – whether that is with a band, orchestra or group, in education, writing or performing with others.

Freedom of movement enables this to happen, and music on both sides of the Channel is richer for it.

A lot of work is speculative

A lot of the work musicians do is speculative.

Songs are written, but they have to make their way to the artists who will perform them, before they become profitable.

Artists perform, but for many small and medium sized acts the value lies in building a fanbase that will go on to stream music, buy merchandise and get tickets to future gigs.

Bands showcase, for little or no fee but potentially huge rewards, at dedicated events packed with A&R and tastemakers.

It is not always possible to attach these activities to offers of work or proof of earnings or duration of stay, something that many visa systems require you to do.

Visas can be expensive

We know from musicians going to the United States that applying for visas can be expensive and fraught with difficulties. Now imagine doing that for 27 EU member states.

Without a policy in place, that is the prospect faced by the UK’s musicians – many of whom are already feeling the squeeze due to low pay, increasing living costs, and arts funding cuts.

Carnets make life complicated

Many musicians have contacted us about carnets, and how difficult they made crossing borders in Europe before freedom of movement was put in place.

Orchestras, bands, even individual musicians, were liable to be stopped and required to empty everything to show them to customs officials. It could take hours, adding time and cost to journeys at every border.

Like many areas of Brexit policy, we’re still waiting to find out how this will work.

It affects more than musicians

Giving evidence on the impact of Brexit and any end to freedom of movement for musicians, MU General Secretary Horace Trubridge said:

“We’ve always been – artistically and culturally – a very welcoming country. We love artists coming over here…

"If we become less welcoming, they simply won’t come. Our reputation as a country that embraces all arts and culture will be severely damaged.”

We stand by that. We want our members to work in Europe freely and easily, and we want European acts to be able to come here too.

There’s no time to be complacent

There’s a lot we don’t know about how freedom of movement will be affected by Brexit. But there is no time or space to be complacent.

We are actively making the case for musicians, lobbying government and MPs across all parties about freedom of movement and our other key Brexit issues. And we need your help.

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