Will the Smiths ever tour again

Music agent Ian Smith on Brexit consequences: "We were ignored"

Concerts again at last? Many look forward to it when the corona crisis is under control. But when it comes to bands from Great Britain, it could be difficult to see them in our latitudes in the future too. So that musicians can continue to tour unbureaucratically, more than 200,000 people have signed a petition with the somewhat cumbersome title "Seek Europe-wide Visa-free work permit for touring professionals and artists", which will be discussed in the British Parliament next week. Music agent Ian Smith, who runs the Frusion and Fizzion agencies in Vienna and Derbyshire, will also follow them. In the meantime he is trying to shed light on the consequences of Brexit for the music-making people on his website ukeartswork.info.

DEFAULT: What has changed as a result of Brexit for musicians from Great Britain who now want to play in the EU?

Smith: There are three elements. Firstly, they need an individual work permit for the 27 states in the EU. Different rules apply here. In Austria you can work for 30 days without a permit, but you have to report to the authorities. In Germany and France it is 90 days a year, in Spain or Italy nothing works without a work permit. In other words, if a band wants to play in more than one or two countries, they have a logistical minefield in front of them. Second, musicians now need a customs document called a carnet: It lists all of your professional equipment, i.e. every single part that you export or import into the Schengen area. That alone costs a lot of money, and you also have to leave a deposit that represents a certain percentage of the equipment's value. The third point is the import of merchandise such as CDs or T-shirts, for which customs duties have to be paid.

DEFAULT: How much does that cost roughly more than before?

Smith: Let's take the classic medium-sized band with four members who want to go on a four-week tour in the EU: They have an estimated additional cost of 3000 euros, which they have to advance before they even come to "Mainland Europe", as we call it. Such a band simply doesn't have that money.

DEFAULT: Well the other way around. What are the rules for a band from the EU who want to play in the UK?

Smith: Ironically, it's a little easier. If you want to work in Great Britain for a maximum of 90 days a year, a so-called Certificate of Sponsorship is sufficient. This certificate can be issued by sponsors who are registered with the UK Immigration Service. For example me. The government doesn't do that. Actually crazy! As far as the carnets and merch are concerned, the same applies as for musicians from Great Britain who want to play in the EU.

DEFAULT: And the situation for roadies?

Smith: It's a nightmare. Sound and light technicians, stage managers, tour managers and all these people of course also need a work permit for all EU countries in which they move. Then there's one thing called cabotage. When trucks come from the UK, they are now only allowed to make three stops in the EU. So you try to get around the problem by saying, "Well, then you just have to hire an EU crew in the EU and a UK crew in the UK." Roadies from Great Britain are financially dependent on the European tours.

DEFAULT: It looks like everything is set in stone. Can there still be movement here?

Smith: If the political will is there, yes. The matter with the visa is easy to resolve. With regard to the Carnets, an exception rule for musical instruments would have to be introduced. As far as merch is concerned, I think it will stay that way. No government likes to give up customs revenue. But: Great Britain earns six billion pounds a year with music - at least before Covid. I assume that deals will be made in the next year. Or at least that would suggest reason.

DEFAULT: Why didn't you consider possible exceptions right from the start? Have the musicians been forgotten?

Smith: No, this is about ideologies. The Tories wrote in their manifesto that they want to regain control of the borders and stop freedom of movement. We were not forgotten, we were ignored.

DEFAULT: How will the situation affect musical relations between the EU and the UK? What does it mean for business?

Smith: Especially when borders are drawn, creatives fight even more for exchange. But as far as business goes, it's a disaster in the short term. Britain will simply lose its dominance in the market. (Amira Ben Saoud, 2.2.2021)

Ian Smith (62) runs the music agencies Frusion and Fizzion in Vienna and Derbyshire and guides bands through the bureaucracy on his website.