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CMU@TGE 2017: A Beginners Guide To Brexit

By | Published on Wednesday 7 June 2017

A Beginners Guide To Brexit

Look out for more reports throughout June on key sessions that took place at the CMU Insights conferences at The Great Escape last month. Today, we look at the final session of our Export Conference, A Beginners Guide To Brexit.

With export under the spotlight as part of CMU Insights @ The Great Escape this year, it was impossible to ignore bloody Brexit. Ian Moss – Director Of Public Affairs at record industry trade body BPI – led the debate, with Proper Music’s Vangel Vlaski, the Musicians’ Union’s Naomi Pohl, FAC’s Lucie Caswell and music export expert Anna Hildur among those considering the challenges Brexit poses the music industry.

“All the meetings I’ve gone to since the referendum have had Brexit on the agenda”, began the MU’s Naomi Pohl. “We’re totally obsessed with it, and it’s probably taken a lot of people away from doing more valuable work, frankly”.

A key topic at many of those Brexit discussions has been the future of copyright, she added, with concerns about what might happen to UK copyright law once it is cut free from the European copyright regime. “We are reassured again and again by the government and the Intellectual Property Office that there’s no planned overhaul of copyright [post-Brexit]”, said Pohl. “We hope that is indeed the case, because we believe the current copyright regime in the UK basically works well”.

Pohl added that she hoped the UK would continue to work closely with the EU on copyright matters post-Brexit, to keep our copyright system in tandem with that on the continent. Noting the current copyright review in the EU as part of the digital single market project, she noted: “There are various copyright changes that are planned at an EU level to make it easier for people to trade in the digital single market and we still want to be part of that”.

Beyond copyright law itself, what about British recorded music? It is assumed that there will still be a demand for UK artists across Europe and beyond, but could Brexit impact on how records are sold? Especially when it comes to physical product which – while still in decline – nevertheless continues to make up a decent slice of UK record industry revenues.

A lot of the CDs and vinyl records sold in the UK are actually pressed in Eastern Europe, while British labels need to get their physical stock into EU markets. If new tariffs or bureaucracy occur once the UK is outside the European Union, that will impact on the manufacture and distribution of all those discs.

“There are real concerns about how it will impact on the logistics of physical product”, said Proper Music’s Vangel Vlaski. “Things like manufacturing timelines are going to change. The cost of production is going to change. The free movement of goods and stock is going to change, and in a way that we can’t really predict right now. Our main clients – the labels – are concerned and we’re in constant discussion about the possible implications”.

Any increase in costs will hit smaller labels the hardest, he added, because they operate on tighter margins already. “Another implication is at retail”, he went on. “The faltering pound since last year’s referendum means it is already more difficult to import goods from the EU. Are we prepared to see the retail prices for music rise up?”

And could rising prices increase the decline in physical sales overall?

Away from recordings, what about live? For many artists, the prospect of new restrictions on being able to freely tour and play around the EU will likely be the single biggest concern. Pohl agreed: “You have musicians who freelance for different orchestras across Europe, who are crossing borders independently of any one orchestra, meaning there’s not somebody there to do any new paperwork that may be created when we leave the EU. That’s a concern”.

“And for bands who are touring”, she went on. “Especially grassroots bands who don’t necessarily have the support and finance behind them – could that be the extra cost that stops the tour from happening?”

Noting that many of the potential extra costs associated with making and selling music post-Brexit will hit grass roots artists and labels the hardest, the recently appointed CEO of the Featured Artists Coalition, Lucie Caswell, said that: “One of my fears for the wider business is very practical. You increase the administrative costs of making music, you increase the need for resources, and you actually reduce the pool of who can become involved in music”

“Does that then restrict the kind of music that you’re going to hear produced?”, she continued. “That’s a far more worrying prospect for me”.

With a wide range of concerns having been raised by his panel, BPI’s Ian Moss then asked, seeking a positive: “Are we being a bit pessimistic here? Is it possible that the great benefit of not being in the EU is that we’ll be in a country that is already a bit ahead of the curve on some key issues – like the anti-piracy injunctions and the duty of care of online intermediaries – and we might be able to take those initiatives further?”

Despite having raised a number of concerns herself earlier in the debate, Anna Hildur did agree that there was an exciting side to travelling into the unknown. “We’re living in an experiment”, she said. “Which is, in one way, a little bit exciting, even if we would like to avoid the uncomfortable side effects of that excitement sometimes”.

She went on: “It’s an experiment and I can see that maybe, all this pessimism is… maybe this will be the greatest country in Europe. ‘Make Britain Great Again’ and we can all be happy ever after”. Though achieving that for the music community will definitely require politicians – currently being lobbied hard by every sector – to tackle the various potential issues Brexit poses for musicians and their business partners.

Check out all the reports and resources CMU has published around this year’s CMU Insights @ The Great Escape conferences here.