“Should we stay or should we go”?

Music's vital contribution to the EU referendum debate

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The EU referendum debate has been dominated this far by acrimonious exchanges over the contentious issues of immigration, the impact of leaving on the economy and the impact of leaving on key public services like the NHS. But the impact of a so-called ‘Brexit’ is likely to have very profound consequences for both performers and audiences, in both live and recorded music alike.

The Musicians' Union have joined other British unions in warning about the consequences of Brexit and urging people to cast a vote in favour of continuing EU membership. They have pointed out a number of very practical benefits that musicians enjoy directly as a result of the UK's membership of the European Union, including free movement within the EU, which makes touring for musicians easier and less expensive, as well as EU legislation on a range of areas including health and safety at work and copyright protection.

A number of figures from the rock and pop world have publicly voiced their disquiet about the impact of Britain's exit from the EU, including Gruff Rhys of Super Furry Animals and Jarvis of Cocker of Pulp. Key figures from across the creative industries have also stressed the vital contribution of EU arts funding to cultural life in the UK.

It is therefore no surprise that there is growing alarm within the world of classical music about the prospect of a future for Britain outside of the EU. Here we look at three key areas where leaving the EU could have a massively detrimental impact for the world of music: touring, copyright and arts investment.

Touring musicians and EU free movement

Mark Davyd, CEO of the Music Venue Trust, which campaigns to protect the UK's live music network, spells out some of the additional, burdens, hassles and expense touring musicians, and those who work to support them, could face working in Europe should Britain no longer be part of the EU:

The most likely outcome of a Brexit which includes limiting immigration, which seems to be the main driver of the Brexit campaign, will be to limit temporary workers, and that means UK musicians, their technicians and crew. A US Visa takes six months to arrange and costs, including management of taxation, circa $5,000 for the most organised. Even imagining a single EU entry visa, with no further border controls or conditions as UK musicians pass from one EU nation to another, that sum of money and the organisation time is beyond 90% of the UK musicians currently supplementing their income with EU performances.
— Mark Davyd, CEO of the Music Venue Trust

Copyright and EU directives

For the Musicians Union, the area of copyright protection is one of the most important in terms of the protections afforded by the EU. While it's been the likes of wealthy multimillionaire songwriters, like Cliff Richard, who have grabbed the headlines in debates about EU copyright directives, for the vast majority of musicians copyright income is not about funding millionaire lifestyles but about a modest but very important financial return for their creative endeavors.

In their statement in support of continued EU membership, the MU points out,

“At least three European Copyright Directives have been responsible for protecting the intellectual property rights of our members and ensuring that they receive remuneration for the use of their work. Whilst the copyright regime in this country is far from perfect, and further adjustments are urgently needed, the MU is confident that the situation for musicians would be far worse were it not for the EU Directives.”

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Arts investment and EU funding

Another area where the EU has had a considerable positive impact is through its arts funding programmes. The UK has benefited directly from a considerable amount of investment covering everything from venue restorations, to education and apprenticeships and youth orchestra exchange and networking programmes.

EU Cultural Funding supports considerable numbers of UK Arts Venues and Projects.

Almost 300 of some of the world’s biggest names in the creative sector were prompted to sign an open letter in support keeping Britain in the EU. In the music world these included David Joseph, Chairman and CEO of Universal Music UK; Marcus Davey, Artistic Director and CEO of The Roundhouse; Fergus Linehan, Director of the Edinburgh International Festival and Jude Kelly, Artistic Director of the Southbank Centre; as well as composers and musicians such as Dave Price and Anoushka Shankar. In the letter the signatories from across film, music, theatre, literature, dance, design, the arts, and fashion were unequivocal:

“From the smallest gallery to the biggest blockbuster, many of us have worked on projects that would never have happened without vital EU funding or by collaborating across borders. Britain is not just stronger in Europe, it is more imaginative and more creative, and our global creative success would be severely weakened by walking away.”

As London MEP, Jean Lambert, puts it:

Europeans are proud of their cultural heritage and are keen to share that pride. The EU offers practical support to organisations from the grass-roots to those of international reputation - from Disability Theatre to the Monteverdi Choir. Sharing and developing our cultural experience across borders enriches our lives
— Jean Lambert MEP, Green Member of the European Parliament for London

Building bridges and sharing ideas

What I found, on approaching various figures in the music world to contribute their thoughts for this article, were not just concerns expressed about the very real practical implications for musicians that the Musician's Union outline so eloquently but also an overwhelmingly strong emotional reaction to the whole prospect of putting up barriers in the world of music and culture, as opposed to working towards bringing them down.

'Nationalism builds walls. Internationalism breaks them down.'

Martin Roscoe, unarguably one of the UK's best-loved classical pianists, speaks for many when he says:

Firstly, it is important to emphasise that music and the arts in general are about openness, building bridges with others and sharing ideas and cultures, none of which sits well with the concept of Brexit. Looking inwards can only stifle creativity. Brexit is bound to create difficulties for British musicians touring EU countries and also EU musicians touring the UK as border controls and free access could well be compromised.

I cannot see any way in which Brexit would benefit music and the arts. All the evidence suggests that the economy will be adversely affected and this can only have a detrimental effect on the musical like of the UK as well as every other cultural activity.
— Martin Roscoe, Classical Pianist


That is not to say that many of those arguing for the UK to remain, are not critical of the EU. But for some, like Norman Lebrecht, author and owner of slippedisc.com, the alternative is unthinkable:

I will hold my nose and vote Remain. The EU Commission is undemocratic, inefficient and an obstacle to music - as it recently showed in its decision to defund the EU Youth Orchestra. The alternative, however, is unthinkable. Music is a global language. Most British classical musicians work at some point in Europe and the relationship is reciprocal. To lose free movement and working rights as a results of Brexit would throw both Britain and Europe back into the Dark Ages.
— Norman Lebrecht, Author and Broadcaster, owner of slippeddisc.com

With only days to go before UK voters make such an important decision about the future of their country and its place in Europe, any contributions that classical musicians and composers (and all of those who support them either professionally or personally) can make in that spirit of cultural openness, building bridges and sharing ideas that is so characteristic of this sector will be a welcome contribution to this very fraught but at times very sterile debate.

Darren Johnson

Darren is a former London politician and now works freelance in music journalism and PR. This is his first article for Promote Classical in his new role as Staff Writer.


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