Brexit Woes: Music Industry Workers Struggle as EU Gigs Dwindle

The aftermath of Brexit has left a resounding impact on the UK music industry, with nearly half of its musicians and professionals experiencing reduced opportunities for work in the EU, and over a quarter facing a complete lack of work, according to a survey conducted by the Independent Society of Musicians (ISM).

Brexit’s Devastating Blow:

Brexit’s implications on the music sector have proven to be profound and disheartening, as highlighted by the ISM survey. The stringent post-Brexit restrictions have hampered the feasibility of sustaining a livelihood within the realm of music, leading to dire consequences for industry members.

Renowned Voices Speak Out:

Mezzo soprano Jennifer Johnston lamented that Brexit was inflicting irreversible damage on the UK’s world-class music sector. The gravity of its impact cannot be underestimate. Urging immediate intervention, she implored the government to address the harm inflicted before it becomes irreparable.

Voices of Struggle:

The voices of affected musicians resonate through the survey findings. One respondent noted that work had come to a standstill and European gig opportunities had evaporated. As a result, the respondent’s musical ensemble was compel to disband due to the inability to make a sustainable living within the constrained UK market.

Another respondent revealed the challenges faced by UK singers in auditioning at European opera houses since January 1, 2021, with reluctance on the part of European opera companies to consider British talent due to post-Brexit changes.

Survey Insights:

Conducted between January 2021 and April 2023, the ISM survey captured experiences of over 400 musicians and industry workers. Experiences influenced by the Covid pandemic were excluded from the analysis. The results were staggering, with 4 out of 10 participants reporting canceled work opportunities, and a similar number (39%) having to decline work offers.

Impactful Expenses:

The survey exposed that additional expenses following Brexit predominantly revolved around visas and work permits. Moreover, respondents highlighted the costs associated with customs permits (carnets) and other travel-related expenses. Carnets, in particular, were criticize for causing delays at borders, leading to unnecessary expenditures.

Time Constraints and Losses:

The time constraints impose by Brexit’s changes were also detrimental. Respondents pointed out that extra travel days were now required for EU tours, contributing to increased costs in van hire, backline hire, crew wages, and musician compensation.

Schengen Visa Waiver Limitations:

Even countries not mandating visas or work permits have been impacted by the Schengen visa waiver scheme, which limits individuals in the music sector to spending a maximum of 90 days within the EU during a 180-day period. This scheme has reportedly resulted in significant losses for professionals whose work spans multiple countries within the EU.

Deficient Trade and Cooperation Agreement:

The trade and cooperation agreement signed between the UK and EU in December 2020 failed to address short-term travel for creative professionals and their support staff. This gap, noted by the House of Commons culture committee in 2021, led to impediments affecting both the movement of musicians and the transport of equipment and merchandise.

Recommendations and Advocacy:

The ISM put forth recommendations to the government to address these challenges. One notable proposal is the negotiation of a customized visa waiver agreement with the EU, granting UK artists and support staff the ability to work throughout the EU for up to 90 days within a 180-day span. Deborah Annetts, the ISM’s CEO, emphasized that the creative industries are a vital growth market, and Brexit should not hinder the free exchange of artistic talent with neighboring countries.

Long-Term Consequences:

Freelance opera singer Paul Carey Jones highlighted the dire consequences for emerging artists without established reputations. As European employers turn to competitors from other regions, the long-term damage to the UK’s standing as a global force in the performing arts is immeasurable.


The music industry’s post-Brexit plight serves as a poignant reminder of the multifaceted ramifications of political decisions on cultural sectors. The urgent need to address these issues becomes clear as the voices of struggling musicians reverberate, underscoring the importance of collaborative efforts to safeguard the vibrancy and global influence of the UK’s music landscape.