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Gigging and Performing Live Abroad

It is not uncommon for British bands, even those on small record labels, to attract interest outside the UK. Should you be offered any gigs or tours abroad, here is some basic advice.

Last updated: 11 October 2021

Legal matters

Ensure that all members of the band have valid passports.

Responsibility for obtaining work permits rests with the promoters of the tour in the country abroad. However, it is likely that either you or your management will be required to obtain any visa associated with the work permit issued in the UK

There is always the possibility of illness or accident during the time you are abroad and you should therefore ensure that you are covered for medical treatment and legal expenses.

Getting paid when working abroad

The tour or engagement should be covered by a written contract (in English) and this should be vetted by the MU when you are a member. It is difficult for us to assist members in recovering unpaid fees, either by legal action or trade union representation, if we have not seen the contract in the first place.

Fees should never be less than those paid in the UK for similar performances and be enhanced to recognise captive time.

If you are working with a new promoter, it is wise to ask for some sort of deposit in advance and further payments should be made promptly during the tour at the times specified in the contract.

Foreign claims: when undertaking professional activities with a contracting party based abroad, musicians are advised to ensure fees are paid up front before the contract is performed and to obtain an advance against future royalties payable. 

If you are being paid as individuals, rather than as a ‘company’, the promoter will often need to deduct a Withholding Tax from the gross performance fee, which could amount to almost a third. It is important to ascertain whether the agreed fee is gross or net of taxes. If you communicate with the promoter at the outset, they may be able to help you in structuring your fee to reduce the tax withheld. It is often possible to split your fee between production and artist’s fee.

Public Performance Levies - as in the UK, when you perform your songs you should be paid a royalty through the local equivalent of PRS for Music. This money normally comes to PRS for Music and to you, as a PRS for Music member.

Music gear and equipment

Ensure your equipment insurance covers you abroad, and have your contract checked (also refer to the MU’s music equipment insurance cover for members). It could also be advantageous to have up-to-date Electrical Safety Certificates for all the equipment that you intend to take with you.

Legislation introduced in 2013 to combat the illegal trade in endangered species affects musicians whose instruments may contain such species as Brazilian Rosewood, Mother of Pearl or Ivory. Carry as much documentation with you to enable identification of date of purchase and the composite parts of the instrument.

If you are taking along your own amplifiers, ensure that you have information concerning plugs and power supply for the countries you’ll be visiting. You may find that hiring equipment abroad could be cheaper.

Travel arrangements and expenses

All travelling expenses from the UK to the country abroad, in that country and return must be paid by the promoter. Once again, it is good practice to try and get these pre-paid so that you have return tickets in your possession before you leave home.

In many cases accommodation is provided by the promoter. Where this consists of bed and breakfast, an additional subsistence payment could be negotiated for each musician. These payments are commonly referred to as per diems. Alternatively, you may negotiate a single gig fee that will sufficiently cover all out-of-pocket expenses such as meals and refreshments.

If you are travelling by van, it is sensible to join the AA, RAC, Green Flag or other recovery service, and take advantage of their free advice on motoring abroad.

Tour management

If a band is at the level where it is able to take on freelance musicians and foreign tours, there will usually be a tour manager whose job it is to make all the travel arrangements. A competent tour manager can take a large portion of logistical stress off the musicians’ shoulders when they are touring overseas.

See our pages on Working in the EU and Working in the US for further advice. 

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