On Thursday, the people of the United Kingdom came to an historic decision: are to leave the European Union. The news came as a shock to Americans, seeming to have occurred hastily in the span of a week. However, the #Brexit, or British exit from the EU, was actually years in the making, and it’s effects aren’t just political and financial. The British music industry, a long revered powerhouse, will certainly be affected.
“Under pressure from his backbenchers, in 2013 David Cameron, the prime minister, had promised that he would reform Britain’s membership of the EU and put the outcome to an in-out referendum if he won another term in office (The Economist.)” Between the economic disaster that is Greece and the hordes of refugees swarming the continent, the EU didn’t have time to hear Britain’s woes. So, support for leaving the EU began to grow. Most of the government wished to work with the EU to solve their issues, but Nigel Farage and the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) took the lead for the Vote to Leave.
The main reasons for leaving sound familiar to many Americans at the moment: xenophobia, immigration control, and making Britain “Great again.” Farage and his entourage want to ensure that Britain has full control over its borders, laws, and regulations. That seems understandable when put bluntly, but it has serious implications.
While in the EU, British citizens could travel to all the other member nations with relative ease. A French company could have a London office with little resistance. Britain did not use the Euro, but there were many strong financial ties between the island nation and the rest of the continent. Now that they are leaving the EU, all that is going to change. The British Pound dropped by 9% compared to the dollar. It fell to $1.32, compared to the dollar, a number not nearly reached since 1985. And, most importantly, borders are going to close.
If the UK wanted to remain in good financial shape, they’d open their borders. However, with the resignation of Prime Minister David Cameron and the rise of UKIP, that doesn’t seem likely. The waves of xenophobia that have plagued the U.K., and much of the world, will most likely ensure that the borders will be very difficult to cross.
Now, to how this affects the music world. Bands from the UK are going to find it increasingly difficult to tour throughout the continent. Even if Britain keep its borders open, bands will probably need a special work visa in order to travel. The excessive administrative costs and bureaucratic processing it would take to tour would severely affect small, up and coming acts. Not to mention, the pound’s nose dive puts a strain on budgets for acts, venues and labels. At the current level, the budget strain is simply an annoying inconvenience. However, if the British economy collapses, that could snowball into a serious problem. In short, new acts in Britain are effectively screwed.
This will also affect the copyright laws in the U.K., which have been largely by the European Union. Britain would be free to make their own, specific copyright laws, but there would be an overlap period where Britain is existing without some of the EU guidelines that could result in serious piracy and copyright issues. Also, the EU could be vindictive and, according to Billboard, employ “cultural quotas” which would heavily restrict radio air time of British groups in EU member nations.
Great Britain has always been a central figure in music, mostly rock and pop. If the British Invasion were to happen in the current European climate, the Beatles would not have gone to Germany or met Ringo Starr, and they would not have been able to grow into the most influential group in the history of modern music. Radiohead would never have been able to come to supergroup status and become the almighty deity of Alt Rock. One Direction would have had a much slower climb to the top had the boys auditioned for the X Factor in 2015.
The groups coming up in Britain will need to find massive success in Britain itself before being able to branch out to the rest of Europe and America. Britain is not very large, and the golden rule of touring is to never over saturate your markets. If a city or venue loves an act, going back every month will make attendance drop. Billy Joel does a show at MSG once a year, and the tickets are sold out years in advance. With the royalty rate from streaming being so pitifully low (less than $0.001/stream,) Touring is becoming increasingly important in order to stay solvent. The industry will need to get creative with marketing, shifting a lot of focus to having an online presence, in order to gain fans abroad before being able to tour outside the country.
The Brexit decision could turn catastrophic, and fast. Scotland could leave the UK, France and Spain could also leave the EU, the entire EU could collapse, and the longest era of European peace since Ancient Rome could come to an end. If this is the case, if the world as we know it falls apart, all we will have left is the music. Therefore, we must protect it. The people need to seek out foreign groups, look for new bands in France, Germany, the UK. Until Britain figures out where they’re doing, we need to do our part to help small groups from the Alt Rock Mecca of London get onto the global stage like the Beatles, Pink Floyd Radiohead, and the Arctic Monkeys have.
The Brexit leaves a lot of question marks over Europe and the world, but one thing is certain. That is the fact that there will always be people creating music, they will always want to play it, and there will always be people who want to listen.