October 23, 2017:Brexit and the future of the British music industry (guest column)

Brexit and the future of the British music industry (guest column)

This guest column comes from Chrysalis Records co-founder Chris Wright:

“Last month, thousands of people crowded together in the Eventim Apollo theatre in Hammersmith to celebrate some of the best of British music at the Mercury Awards.

The eventual winner, Sampha’s ‘Process’, was hailed as a challenging, individual kind of album and a fitting recipient of the award. It’s just the latest indication that British music, by almost all accounts, is in rude health.

The popularity outside the UK of British music and musicians – including contemporary artists such as Adele, Ed Sheeran, and Coldplay, legendary bands like the Rolling Stones, and recently deceased musicians such as David Bowie (it’s strange to think that we used to pretend we were out when he visited our office in 1971 asking for help to make demos) has enabled sales of British music abroad to rise by 11%, reaching a record of £365m last year.

Since 2000, the British record industry has made a total of £4.4bn from the sale of music around the world. In the US alone, fans of Ed Sheeran have streamed tracks from his third album, ‘Divide’, more than a billion times.

Meanwhile, the Wish You Were Here music report for 2017 showed that the live music industry is booming. The number of people who attended a concert or music festival in the UK climbed by 12% last year to 30.9m, a figure that represents almost half the country.

This growth has had positive implications for employment and ‘makes a massive contribution to our culture and general wellbeing’, according to Michael Dugher, the newly elected Chief Executive of UK Music.

But that could change quickly. Brexit has confounded many of us, and made even more of us concerned for the future of our industries. Today, nearly 18 months after the decision was made to leave the European Union, we are already beginning to see the effect and signs that more are to follow.

The cost of an iTunes download has already increased since the announcement that Britain would leave the EU, and the cost of tickets and music equipment have correspondingly risen as the pound has fallen in value.

Vinyl sales, meanwhile, which have at times outsold downloads in the last few years, will almost certainly fall over the next few years, since nearly all vinyl is pressed in the Czech Republic, Poland and a handful of other countries on the continent.

Those in the industry have warned that the loss of freedom of movement could cost artists and their retinue – many of whom already operate on a shoe-string budget – thousands of pounds. Anyone who has toured outside of Europe will understand the perils of touring with hard borders.

Listing every piece of equipment and merchandise brought into a country takes time and effort, and this assumes that the artist is able to obtain a work permit relatively easily, which is never a given. All this adds to the cost of touring, and in the absence of a sustainable income, the creative process could well be disrupted or hindered.

The very quality of the music that British artists produce, in other words, could therefore go down. For emerging artists, these added costs from paying duty on merchandise and other equipment for example could prompt them not to tour at all, or to narrow the scope of their tours.

But there were signs even before the Brexit vote that though the music industry is growing, those at the bottom end are struggling. There has already been increasingly less spending, for example, at so-called grassroots venues, which are under threat from developers, increasing business rates and restrictive licensing rules.

In the poorer economic climate in which we are likely to find ourselves post-Brexit, this can only get worse. Emerging artists will be the ones to suffer the most. Could it even be plausible that music in Britain will largely become an ‘elite’ activity, to be the preserve of only the mega-artists that are already established and commercially successful, or have the backing of wealthy financiers with enough cash to take a risk?

When Chrysalis, the record label I co-founded with Terry Ellis, signed Blondie, for example, or Spandau Ballet or The Specials, our considerations were over the quality of the music, and our ability financially and otherwise to promote the artist. The problems facing those in the music industry now are far more complicated.

What a shame it would be if our decision to leave the European Union cut short this fantastic period of British music before it really got going.”

Music Ally
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4 responses
  • The music Industry needs a whole new perspective, something where everyone can participate.

  • Allasonne Lewis says:

    I agree though would add that we do tend to thrive creatively in times of strife ..

  • Johnny Cash says:

    ‘Post-BREXIT could music in Britain largely become an ‘elite’ activity, to be the preserve of only the mega-artists’

    No, because it already is – Adele, Ed Sheeran, and Coldplay and a bunch of VERY old and sadly deceased artists,
    Chris sights these examples with no apparent irony, that this bland lift music and old guy retreads/rereleases is the music industry in its ‘rudest of health’.

    The cost of an iTunes download has nothing to do with Brexit and everything to do with Apple cashing in and QE causing price inflation in global economies, also comparatively music is much cheaper to consume than ever before and I don’t suppose Chris and his mates have decided to increase the percentage they pay to the actual artists.

    But faith! the threat to vinyl sales – You will be telling me that BREXIT will destroy the sealing wax industry and put courtly wig industry in peril! (Lawd’elp us!).

    Lack of freedom of movement doesn’t stop Taylor Swift et al or any other artists from the US and everywhere from coming here even if many of whom already operate on a shoe-string budget. I doubt Adele, Ed Sheeran, and Coldplay fall into that category, EU or no EU.

    Once again the problem with property developers and land lords is nothing to do with BREXIT and everything todo with foreign money flooding into London from – You guessed it! overseas – including the EU! Rents going up will just mean the action will move somewhere else – like Rave did in the 90s and the disused quarries round Somerset are still used as cheap venues for that

    Hopefully, BREXIT kills off the samey, same musical offerings that companies like Chrysalis have been palming of for the last fifteen years and this will be a good thing.
    Chris and the Tin Pan Alley boys failed to get to grips with streaming and downloads and thus BREXIT is a good cover for the fact that they are part of the problem.

  • Johnny Cash says:

    ‘Post-BREXIT could music in Britain largely become an ‘elite’ activity, to be the preserve of only the mega-artists’

    No, because it already is – Adele, Ed Sheeran, and Coldplay and a bunch of VERY old and sadly deceased artists,
    Chris sights these examples with no apparent irony, that this bland lift music and old guy retreads/rereleases is the music industry in its ‘rudest of health’.

    The cost of an iTune downloads has nothing todo with Brexit and everything todo with Apple cashing in and QE causing price inflation in global economies, also comparatively music is much cheaper to consume than ever before and I don’t suppose Chris and his mates have decided to increase the percentage they pay to the actual artists.

    But faith! the threat to vinyl sales – You will be telling me that BREXIT will destroy the sealing wax industry and put courtly wig industry in peril! (Lawd’elp us!).

    By the way, there will be no loss of freedom of movement – It certainly doesn’t stop artists from the US and everywhere else coming here even if many of whom already operate on a shoe-string budget, however, I doubt Adele, Ed Sheeran, and Coldplay fall into that catagory, EU or no EU.

    Once again the problem with property developers and land lords is nothing to do with BREXIT and everything todo with foreign money flooding into London from – You guessed it! overseas – including the EU! Rents going up will just mean the action will move somewhere else – like Rave did in the 90s and the disused quarries round somerset are still used as cheap venues for that

    Hopefully BREXIT kills off the samey, same musical offerings that companies like Chrysalis have been palming of for the last fifteen years and this will be a good thing.
    Chris and the Tin Pan Alley boys failed to get to grips with streaming and downloads and thus BREXIT is a good cover for the fact that they are part of the problem.

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