How Brexit could be a boon for Australian music

How Brexit could be a boon for Australian music

Photo by David Harris
Words by Christie Eliezer

Well, this is interesting.

As US comedian Milton Berle once said, “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door”.

The post-Brexit era could be that door for Australian musicians and other creatives to widen their presence in Europe and the UK. This is most pertinent for small-to-middle acts and the indie recording sector.

Understandably, there is great uncertainty in the music industry as the UK uncouples from the European Union (EU) after 47 years.

The great fear is that the current sales boom of British music led by Ed Sheeran, Adele, Stormzy and Dua Lipa – in 2017, export revenues of Brit music grew by 7% to a new high of £2.6 billion (A$5.1 billion) and one in eight albums bought around the world was by a UK artist – will be curtailed.

The biggest problem is that UK acts will lose the advantage of touring through 27 EU countries without the hassle and cost of visas.

Aside from restrictions on travel and paperwork, there’ll be tariff costs, duties and withholding taxes on royalties. According to the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) a third of musicians get over half of their income from work in EU27.

A 2019 report Birmingham Live Music And Brexit predicted (1) smaller acts will stop touring Europe as it’d be too expensive; (2) job losses and less work for UK production companies providing concert equipment, lighting, staging and tour management; (3) the UK will find it difficult to get skilled creatives from Europe; (4) there’ll be less smaller European acts touring the UK; and (5) heavy financial losses for the 2020 UK summer festival circuit from “disruptions to supply chains and artist movements”.

Clearly this spells out opportunities for Australia’s creative sector.

In addition, as Australia renegotiates a Free Trade Agreement with post-Brexit Britain, it could ask that the benefits British musicians get in the EU also apply to Australian musicians.

Currently, Aussies must earn over £30,000 (A$58,892) a year to stay in the UK. The UK was planning to also apply this to EU musicians and songwriters but is now abandoning it. Maybe the rule can also be dropped for Aussie music folk?

Some business leaders suggest that Australia look at the bigger markets of the EU as main trade partners, rather than secondary to the UK. Some indie label owners agree it’s a good idea.

The UK government has reassured its music industry it will work in its best interests when negotiating with the EU.

But it caused great anger last month when it announced it would not go ahead with implementing Article 13 (also called Article 17) of the EU Copyright Directive, which forces online companies such as YouTube and Facebook to take liability for the copyright infringement on their platforms, instead of being protected by “safe harbour” provisions.

It passed into law by the European Parliament on September 12, 2018 after a three-year battle and EU countries (including the UK) were to adopt it over the next two years.