The live industry, despite being one of the hardest hit by COVID-19, displayed incredible ingenuity and innovation during 2020's global lockdown. We saw virtual concerts, intimate gigs live-streamed on social media, and even drive-thru concerts in some countries. However, 2020 was undeniably a catastrophic year for the live sector.
The foundation of live entertainment is the ability to travel. Artists spend a huge amount of time travelling around the world whether it’s on tour, filming, recording, attending signings, or playing festivals. In 2020, COVID-19 brought much of this to a grinding halt. It seems 2021 poses similar challenges. We have recently heard that The 1975 have announced the cancellation all of their 2021 tour dates, citing concerns about the safety of fans and crew.
COVID-19 has thrown up a number of challenges, however this isn’t the only hurdle the industry faces in 2021. The other, is Brexit.
It was recently reported that the UK had rejected an offer of visa-free tours within the EU. The proposal would have exempted artists from having to obtain a visa for stays up to 90 days. Whilst the Government argued it had put forward its own proposal – an EU spokesperson responded to say that the proposal would not have solved the critical problem of having to secure a visa in each individual member state.
This week, Culture minister Caroline Dinenage confirmed that the “more likely success route” would be to agree a deal with each country individually. This will be disappointing news to many across the industry. Navigating the nuances of different immigration systems across different jurisdictions is far from ideal when coordinating an international tour.
Obtaining a visa can be a costly, time-consuming, and often bureaucratic process that simply does not fit with the how the live music industry operates. It’s a fast-paced business, where plans are constantly subject to change, and where artists are rarely in one location long enough to jump through the hoops that numerous visa applications require. Immigration rules in the EU and the UK are not flexible enough at the moment to accommodate tours and governments need to find ways of accommodating this industry within their immigration systems if they are to survive and thrive in a post-Brexit world.
In response to all this, a petition calling for visa-free travel for touring artists received more than 250,000 signatures and support from artists such as Dua Lipa, Biffy Clyro and Laura Marling. This week, others such as Sir Ian McKellan and Dame Julie Walters have rallied to urge the Government to act, in an open letter from Equity that called the current visa rules a "towering hurdle" for the industry. In the letter, they said: “Not acting now will do further and irreparable harm to the UK's creative workforce, our industries and to our standing on the international cultural stage”.
Culture minister Caroline Dinenage said there were no current talks to reach agreements with individual countries. She admitted there were "certainly a lot of obstacles to overcome", resulting in "quite a lot of sleepless nights for those across my department at the moment".