• Share on Facebook
  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Linkedin
  • Share by email
  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Linkedin
  • Share by email

ISM report says difficulty and expense related to touring in the EU is impacting the viability of working musicians and is undermining the UK’s soft power.


Charnchai via iStock

A report into the impact of Brexit on the careers of UK musicians says the government has failed the music sector by repeatedly making promises it has not kept.

Paying the price is the Independent Society of Musicians’ (ISM) sixth Brexit impact survey on the music sector since 2016 and the first of its kind since the UK left the EU and Covid-19 restrictions were removed.

Testimonies from over 400 musicians found almost half (47.4%) have had less work in the EU since January 2021 than they did before Brexit, while over a quarter (27.8%) said they had no EU work at all. Just under a fifth (19.5%) had about the same amount of work, while 5.3% had seen an increase.


Alongside fewer job opportunities, ISM found the major issues facing musicians are lost work, increase costs due to red tape, time spent on red tape and lack of consistency from border staff.

The issues were found to be particularly problematic for solo and emerging artists and small ensembles.

Commenting on the findings, ISM Chief Executive Deborah Annetts says the government “has been asleep on the job”.

“It could have tackled many of the issues facing the music sector by itself and made Brexit work. It chose not to,” Annetts said.
“Brexit should never have meant that musicians cannot share their talent freely with our closest neighbours. This damages our country, our soft power and our precious creative talent pipeline.”

Lost income

Over a third (39%) of respondents have had to turn down work since 1 January 2021, while 40% had work cancelled in the same period.

The amount of lost income from being forced to turn down work ranged from £500 to £450,000, with a mean of £43,175 and median of £10,000.

Meanwhile, the amount of income lost from cancellation ranged from £800 to £100,000, with a mean of £11,545 and median of £5,000. 

Respondents also said working in the EU has become more expensive, with the most frequently cited expenses being visas and work permits (23%), followed by carnets (18%) and travel costs (14%).

Anonymous testimonies detailed the red tape facing musicians touring Europe, resulting in lost income and opportunities.

“Work has come to a halt... the offer of European gigs simply dried up completely... my band simply can’t make any kind of living in the tiny UK market, so we basically have folded as a working band,” one respondent said.

Another shared: “Having previously taught regularly on many courses all over Europe, since Brexit I have not been invited to teach anywhere”.

Policy recommendations

ISM’s report makes seven policy recommendations to government to help make Brexit work for the music sector.

The policies include negotiating a bespoke Visa Waiver Agreement with the EU that allows UK artists and support staff to work in any part of the EU for up to 90 days in a period of 180 days. It also suggests negotiating bilateral agreements for work permits with individual EU member states which do not currently offer cultural exemptions for work of up to 90 days.

A cabotage exemption for the creative industries with the EU, the streamlining of merchandise paperwork applications, digitising Musical Instrument Certificate applications and reducing the cost of the ATA Carnet for cultural goods are also suggested.

Over 97% of respondents to the ISM’s survey agreed with the policy recommendations.

ISM says the majority of suggestions could be implemented by the UK government acting alone.

“Music is worth £5.8 billion to the UK economy and the wider creative industries are worth £116 billion,” Annetts said.

“We call on the government to take action and make Brexit work for the wellbeing of musicians and our economy.”