Like so many businesses that depend on people gathering in one place, live music has taken a huge hit. Venues of all sizes have either closed for good or are in danger of closing, despite the efforts of an industry to rally behind it. But like pandemics of the past, this one will eventually pass, and when some sort of normalcy returns, another more insidious peril lurks – visa costs, especially those that could be brought on by no-deal Brexit.
U.S. Visa V Prices Going Up
The United States USM has already made it virtually impossible for entry level “baby bands” and artists from outside the country to tour. The cost of an O visa, which is what most artists receive (“Individuals with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement” as they’re referred to) will increase 53% from $460 to $705 by the end of the year. There’s also the possibility for another 25% increase after that.
That means that a four piece band with only a single crew member is out $3,525 before any of the typical touring costs are involved. It doesn’t seem like much, but it could be the difference between a new promising act getting experience and exposure in the country or not.
This base cost pales in comparison with what could happen for British artists if Britain can’t reach a Brexit deal with the EU.
The Horrors Of A No-Deal Brexit
England has given us so much great music over the last 60 years and continues to do so. Unlike in the United States, artists are freer to experiment, which constantly gives us new music trends. But Britain is a small country and it doesn’t take an artist long to run of places to play, so it’s always been an easy jump across the channel to the far larger market of Europe.
When England was part of the European Union, going from London to Paris or Berlin was the equivalent of going from New York City to Austin or Chicago. All one had to worry about were transportation costs. A no-deal Brexit begins a new horror show with a wide array of entry fees that could make traveling to the States look like a piece of cake.
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There will be visa fees for every country that an artist intends to visit for starters, but the killer is the carnet fees for transporting equipment and merchandise across borders. The fees are based on the value of the articles an artist or band is bringing into a country, but even worse is the paperwork involved. Visas and carnets are complicated enough and individual enough to each country that it usually requires a specialist to make sure everything is in order. That’s because border police are notorious for being sticklers about paperwork and customs officials are known to go over all carnet-related gear with a fine-tooth comb to the point where every drum stick and guitar pick must be accounted for.
Where It Really Hurts
If these touring costs skyrocket and freedom of movement is restricted, it won’t hurt the star and superstar acts except for upping the nuisance factor. The acts that get hurt are the middle class acts touring on a shoestring while trying to make a living.
This artist segment is at what might be considered baseball’s Class A farm team level. At that stage an artist is learning how to be an artist. It’s one thing to play in a club in your own back yard in front of friends you’ve known all your life, but touring means learning how to play in front of people that hardly know you or are downright hostile. It’s where future stars are created.
The U.S. is so large that even with a depleted venue network, hopefully there will still be plenty of places to play (although it will be more difficult than before the pandemic for sure) for an artist to get their chops together. No so in the UK, and that’s where so much music innovation has come from.
While it’s true that you can reach an audience anywhere in the world online these days, it’s also true that boots on the ground are the only way to sustain an audience over time. The way things are headed, artists will die on the vine before they even get started and that’s not good for the long term global music industry.
U.S. visa fee increases was a major blow for U.K. musicians. No-deal Brexit could be a death knell.