It's no secret that UK creative industries are crippling under the weight of this global pandemic. But as we fight the pandemic on one front, the blue starred carpet is being pulled out from under our feet leaving us in one of the most unpredictable working environments most of us have ever seen.
On New Years Day as we said our goodbyes to a horrific year and toasted a better tomorrow (however optimistic) we also waved goodbye to the beauty of free movement between the UK and the EU. In a time when we find ourselves searching for silver linings and better things to come, many musicians looked forward to summers touring the continent again: only now it comes with the added excitement of visa restrictions, ATA carnets and musical instrument certificates - and their price tags. This is just for the already established performer. As young professionals, or music college students, what future are we looking at in a post Brexit world?
This fortnight, I have been joined by Keith Ames, PR and Marketing Official and David Barnard, Education and Training Official, from the Musicians Union as we answer the question young musicians want to know about this dreaded B word.
Broadly speaking, what are the main changes for musicians now Brexit has come into force?
Keith: If I can go back to 2016 and the referendum, we knew the minute that the result came out that it was a danger. Those musicians who remember touring in the late 70s and 80s when you needed a carnet to carry your instrument over boarders, in principally Europe, which is a document that now looks like it could cost something like £360 to get one for a year. If you’re a band of 5/6 people and you’re wanting to go for a couple of weeks to France, you're going to need a carnet for each instrument so that’s 6x360 before you’ve even gone out the door. So firstly, just to put this in context, there’s the costs involved, there's bureaucracy in terms of administration and time, both, which could act as a barrier to our musicians and European musicians coming to the UK being able to tour profitably and easily. Musicians could have been offered a performance on say, Friday in Paris, you could have got on Eurostar and that was it you were there. It was fantastic! Now, you’re going to think "I have to apply for an X1a,b and c and oh yes I need to upgrade that other document and I’d better check my other insurance", because you don’t want to get to the boarder and when someone asks for your papers and you can’t provide them. It’s such a hassle. I think this point about the change is that it would go from a fairly trouble free economic way of being able to work and travel to a more difficult process. I must stress this also applies to all support staff, photographers, journalists, anyone who travels with equipment is going to face the same trouble.
We saw this coming, so we pushed for what’s called a "musician’s passport". The idea being, that musicians could be cleared for say three years to work as a professional musician in the EU and ideally all of Europe. This passport was discussed in the EU negotiation, but it's fallen by the wayside for the time being. The Government is now meeting with industry officials and our general secretary Horace Trubridge had a meeting with Oliver Dowden last week to discuss this but the moment you introduce a barrier to freedom of movement, their probably not very likely to allow any individuals who have a particularly good reason for needing the movement through and not others. I think politicians understand there are too many people affected by this, on Wednesday 20th Caroline Dinenage was asked by SNP Pete Wishart, "what is the government doing to do about this", there was an enormous number of MP's saying we cannot allow this to continue.
Is there any additional paperwork that UK musicians are going to have to acquire if they want to be able to work in the EU?
Keith: The MU has got a flowchart (pictured below) to show what people need. Now we don’t know everyone's circumstances: you could be a duo who have equipment with CITES issues. You may be travelling with merchandise, you may not. You may need special insurance, health insurance, business insurance, travel insurance. You may need permits so that you can actually do the work. We don’t everyone’s circumstances but if you are going to go over, these are the documents in the chart that you need to think about - do they apply to you? We’re updating it every week, but it talks about the carnets, merchandise, travel, insurance, where to travel from, there’s also very good links built into it so it will take you off to the right government advice. Dave Webster kicked it off to his credit. But of course, this may all change in the next month because no one has gone anywhere yet.
During the Urgent Questions in the House of Commons (19/01/21), Caroline Dinenage said the Government were going to "work to make the information available and as easy to access as possible", where would you suggest is the most accessible place to find this information?
The first thing to do, this is an investment in your career, join a union. You can join the Musicians Union for £1. If you’ve not been a member for five years or you’re brand new to the union, you can join for the first 6 months for a pound and you’ve got somewhere you can get serious career help from professionals. I would recommend joining if someone’s thinking they need to talk to someone because they have an issue about management, recording or merchandise or agents or intellectual property issues or partnerships or recording on someone else’s work and what are my rights? Everything about business and money for being a musician, we can help. The union was started by Joe Williams in Manchester in 1893 and he had a statement “we need a protecting union that protects us from unscrupulous employers, amateurs and ourselves”.
So, my answer to the question is, join the MU and get the advice, this will serve you for decades. You might go a year and think oh I didn’t need that; I was fine but if you’re going to be a professional musician for any length of time and make all parts of your living as a muso you're going to run into trouble at some point. And they say, if you haven’t been ripped off, you haven’t arrived.
For EU undergraduate students currently studying here, are they still eligible for student finance from 2022? And would financial assistance for Masters be available to them through the government?
David: (in relation to EU, Swiss, Norwegian, Icelandic and Liechtenstein nationals): If you are starting a course on or after 1 August 2021, you must have settled, or pre-settled, status under the EU Settlement Scheme to get student finance. You need to have started living in the UK before 31 December 2020 to apply for the EU Settlement Scheme. If you are coming to the UK after 1 January 2021, you may need to apply for a visa to study in the UK. Irish citizens do not need to apply for a visa or to the EU Settlement Scheme.
For UK students wanting to study in the EU will they have to pay international fees?
David: Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this. UK student loans are not available for those studying their entire degree course overseas. However, some EU countries do have schemes providing grants and loans. Tuition fees for UK students studying abroad vary widely so check this out early on. Further details are available from the UCAS website: Studying overseas | Undergraduate | UCAS
If you're currently a student studying in the EU, what do you need to do?
David: If you were living in the EU by December 31, 2020 you will be eligible for the same support as students from the EU member state you are studying in. This includes tuition fees. I think you’ll find this website very useful.
Does our lack of EU membership count against us if we apply for a position on the continent?
Keith: You have to find out from the country you’re applying to. Say, for example, if you made an application to Denmark, who’s to say what Denmark’s reaction would be to that. They may say, and this is just conjecture, that they’re going to favour home grown players, because it’s going to be more hassle to bring over a UK musician, so we'll find someone from somewhere else. You just won’t know until you apply for it. What’s terribly important about all this is that all of the circumstances are untested. We don’t know what certain countries may come back with. Traditionally pre-EU, the French and Germans were very keen on British musicians going over. All of this is conjecture, we just don’t know what’s going to pan out. It may also change in 6 months. Until people are actually out getting physical offers of work after the pandemic and the system gets tested, we’re just not going to properly know what’s going to happen. The risk is that we become very insular which would be a great shame.
With musicians having to deal with both the pandemic and Brexit, as far as the MU knows, aside from the £1.57 billion Culture Recover Fund, what help is the Government planning to support their own musicians/ creatives, especially with regards to freelancers?
Keith: The Government put in the SEISS and the furlough scheme. Our survey shows that 38% of professional musicians fell through the gaps and didn’t get any support. We had a number of world class musicians not being supported with no end in sight, when the live scene stopped and the income stopped. The main issue is when is it going to return? There are two sides to this: Firstly, when are venues going to reopen again? And Secondly, when are the audiences going to feel comfortable to come back? If we’re talking about a basement gig in Soho, are people really going to feel comfortable sat that close after so long? From a Governments perspective, they’ve put in £1.57 billion, as an arts fund which is still getting paid out slowly but that was mostly for infrastructure; venues, halls etc. it wasn’t money to directly support the musicians. The MU has launched a campaign #InvestInMusicians asking the Government to invest in musicians so that we can survive during the pandemic and bounce back as the industry gets on its feet. We don’t think the government is doing enough. Yes, we appreciate what they’ve done and it’s all been well meant but we’re in a situation, especially with 85% of the MU members freelance, where lots of people have had to take on second jobs that are now becoming their first job because when does it all end.
There's no denying that the future is going to be tougher for creatives than we may have once expected but there are people working tirelessly behind the scenes to put our needs first. It's been said so many times before, we are innovative and resourceful. Part of the reason there's even an industry at all is because of us hardworking creatives, fighting relentlessly to do what we love. It is a "real job", we are viable, and those who make the decisions need to hear it! So if you haven't already, write to your MP, sign petitions, spread the word and DON'T stop letting music live!
Caroline Dinenage was invited to speak to the blog on the issue but she was unavailable for comment. However her office have said "her comments in the House of Commons on Tuesday set out the Government's position in full".
Stay safe, you resilient lot!