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.”