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THE Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) has just released the findings from its study looking at how Brexit has affected musicians’ ability to tour, gain work in the EU, and overall impact on work. The negative impact is plain to see with half of the musicians losing potential engagements work.
For many this will be of little surprise. Two flaws do appear within the research, however. First, it is unclear how much the Covid pandemic has impacted on touring — many musicians the globe over lost work.
Second, it is unclear if income from the EU prior to Brexit was taken into account. Musicians’ careers are, at times, strange and fluctuating beasts. To use myself as an example: I lived in Lithuania for two years prior to Brexit but I have received more work offers in the EU since Britain made its unceremonious departure.
I mention this not to suggest there is not a problem present, but to show the complexities at play when we solely look at touring as a model for the “health” of an industry.
This is why the Musician’s Census, which was carried out by the Musicians’ Union (MU), gives a more clear-cut and damning description of the current circumstances within Britain.
The study, which looked at approximately 6,000 musicians, found that over 50 per cent earn below £14,000 annually. This is all the more alarming when you consider how many musicians have high-level degrees.
The study also clearly highlights an income gap of at least £1,000 between white and other musicians, while those with disabilities earn, on average, around £4,000 less.
These two elements, combined with other current developments like closures of venues (like the Oldham Coliseum) or inflation staying at dangerous levels, mean stable work has become increasingly difficult.
Uncertainty around funding with cuts to Creative Scotland and the mismanagement of Arts Council England, and the low income from streaming means musicians are going to be pushed out of work simply because work does not exist – or at the very least, all dignity is being squeezed out of it.
Prior to Brexit many musicians used touring as a way to plug gaps and increase the number of audiences they could physically reach – this option is now significantly reduced.
Although touring in the EU could be a good source of income, the question remains: why aren’t we in a position to earn our keep closer to our homes?
The Labour Party made a gestures towards musicians when shadow secretary of state for culture, media and sport Thangam Debbonaire said that Labour will commit to making touring the EU easier, however it is unclear if Labour have any long-term vision or matching policies for actually addressing the deep-seated problems musicians face in Britain.
Fundamentally, musicians are in a bad place, which means Britain as a whole is affected as access to music will increasingly be dominated by radio, TV and streaming – all of which favour the hyper-commercial and risk leaving us culturally bereft.
Musicians are rapidly becoming an endangered species particularly where they cannot rely on family wealth to support them.
To change this perilous state of affairs we need a huge, sustained collective effort but so far, it remains unclear who could, would or indeed is interested in leading such fightback.
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