Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Understanding What Brexit Means for the State of the EU's Music Industry

Written by Robert Steiner — Brexit. Never has a made-up word been able to cause so much uncertainty, anger, confusion, or, depending on how much you follow the news, complete and utter indifference. Real quick and very simply put for those who don't know, Brexit is the term for British exit, which refers to the referendum vote the UK held on June 23 deciding if they would leave or stay in the European Union.

For a brief history, the EU was created following World War II, basically as a way to keep Europe unified and to prevent the continent from imploding for a third time. This means that all countries within the EU operate within the same economic market, share similar political policies, and are expected to contribute to humanitarian aid, environmental improvements, and maintaining peace within Europe. The UK has historically had a tense relationship with the EU, as they actually first held a referendum vote in 1975 (but voted to stay), use the Pound Sterling instead of the Euro, and are usually at odds with EU policies covering issues like immigration.

Well, possible spoiler alert for those of you who have been on a vacation from current events, the UK voted to leave the EU, a historical result that will lead to, well, no one knows what exactly will happen. But in the meantime, all this uncertainty has sent the world economy into a frenzy, with many businesses questioning if it makes any sense to stay in the UK if they want access to the European market. Not only that but since the Pounds value tanked following the vote, even local and small business operating solely within the UK are wondering if they can stay afloat.

With all of this chaos going on, one has to wonder how it will affect the British music industry, one of the UK's strongest markets. In 2015 alone, British music sales contributed 4.1billion (GBP) to the UK market and in fact, outdid the rest of the British economy by 5%. Leading up to the vote. The vast majority of the British music industry was pro-stay, with major figures like Universal Music UK chairman and Chief Executive David Joseph, Rough Trade founder Geoff Travis, Johnny Marr, Brian Eno, Damon Albarn, and Alt-J among others, voicing their support to not abandon the EU.

Unfortunately, despite many musicians and industry figures concerns, the UK is Brexiting, so what does this mean for the British music biz? Like everything else surrounding Brexit, no one knows for sure, and it's too early to determine the long-term effects, but many have already begun to speculate what could happen.

For starters, the Pound losing value means higher prices and smaller salaries for everyone in the UK, which definitely hits indie artists who aren't necessarily making a lot to begin with. Not only do typical living expenses increase, but so does studio time, promotional work, and touring costs, all while potential fans may be tightening their belts and buying less music. In particular, touring may take a massive hit because not only will it be pricier to tour within the UK, but since Britain is no longer a part of the EU, British citizens can't travel into Europe without a visa anymore, which means more costs for bands where there weren't any before. One of the biggest appeals for bands and artists to work out of the UK was access to the European markets, but with that benefit gone, some may find little point staying in the UK and might seek business elsewhere. This result means a major loss of business on the industry side, with record labels either moving out of the country or shutting down completely, and a loss of art and culture from the music side.

Along with increased expenses, the UK's leave means British artists will miss out on the EU's Digital Single Market, which is designed to eliminate current legal constraints in online markets in order to make it easier for artists to digitally distribute their work across borders, strengthen copyright laws and enforce protections against online infringements. Of course, the Digital Single Market only applies to EU members, so UK artists are shut out from any financial and copyright-related benefits that would result from it.

Again, all of this is pure speculation, as only time will tell for sure how the industry will react to Brexit. But with the British music industry being such a powerhouse not only in Britain but also in Europe as a whole, the effects of a British music drain will be felt across the world. British music made up about 26% of album sales in Europe, so we're not talking about a small dent in the market, but more like a giant chunk that could be eliminated thanks to Brexit.

Coming from a non-British perspective, all of the consequences that have come from Brexit - the economic turmoil, the extreme political discord within Parliament, the potential loss of industries like music, the increased cases of xenophobic-related violence across England - hardly make it seem like a victory for anyone. We will see soon enough if the UK will bounce back and successfully readjust their place in the world, but if that readjustment means sacrificing an industry that has created countless musical legends and has so heavily enriched British culture for decades, that would be a massive shame and disappointment. Not just for the UK, but for the entire world.

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