Music

The Vinyl Countdown: Will No-Deal Brexit lead to a European music mountain?

The Brexit clock is ticking and a no-deal exit will leave piles of new releases languishing in Europe. It’s the latest struggle the music industry faces

There exists somewhere on these islands at this time a large warehouse, presently being piled high with physical copies of albums from the likes of Ed Sheeran, Stereophonics and – if rumours are true – perhaps also a forthcoming new one by Coldplay.

Your reaction to which may be “pass the flamethrower!”, and not unreasonably so. But hold fire. Because this is the music business like any other under-threat industry in the UK right now doing its best to prepare for a potential no-deal Brexit.

Or at least, it’s one of the multinational conglomerates in the music industry doing its best to prepare. Warner Music to be specific, one of the “big three” major labels, which relies for its distribution on a firm based in Germany.

Without a customs union in place, I worry for vinyl getting into the UK on time

“We’ve been working hard and planning for a potential no-deal Brexit for quite a while now,” Warners’ commercial department senior vice-president Derek Allen told Music Week recently.

“We’ve secured a warehouse in the UK which is stocked with all our key peak season releases and this year’s top sellers.”

A healthy music industry eco-system benefits from success at all levels, and so good on Warners for being alive to the no-deal risk. But spare a thought all the more so for the UK music scene’s vast independent sector – from record labels to shops and artists themselves.

Many of which rely on vinyl sales to turn a profit, yet lack the cash and resources to stockpile. The majority of vinyl is manufactured on the continent – indeed, the world’s largest producer of vinyl records, GZ Media, is a formerly state-run communist-era plant in the Czech Republic.

“Brexit is the biggest challenge for this record shop, and I daresay many others,” said Jon Tolley, co-owner of Banquet Records in Kingston upon Thames, quoted elsewhere in the same Music Week article. “Without a customs union in place, I worry for vinyl getting into the UK on time.”

Bearing in mind that he doesn’t really seem to care all that much about people fighting in the supermarket over the last can of Spam in the event of no- deal, or literally dying because they can’t get essential medication, it probably shouldn’t come as a shock to learn that neither does Boris Johnson care about sales of forthcoming new albums by the likes of Warmduscher, Squid and Floating Points. And it doesn’t end there.

Touring Europe may become more complicated and costly if not off-limits altogether for many UK artists

“We had a band meeting and we’ve decided that after Brexit we’ll be doing weddings and parties around the UK instead of expensive European tours,” wrote Barry Burns from Scottish post-rock band Mogwai on Twitter recently.

He was joking – I think he was anyway – but he might as well not have been. Thanks to issues ranging from the new need for working visas and carnets (instrument permits) to potential problems surrounding something as simple as the validity of UK driver’s licences, all-important touring on the continent may become much more complicated and costly if not off-limits altogether for many UK artists in an immediate post-Brexit world (likewise for European artists coming in to the UK).

Are Brexiters secretly hoping for a retreat to the 1960s days when even the likes of The Beatles at the height of their powers used to trot around on tour to the unglamorous likes of Stockton-on-Tees Globe and Walthamstow Granada?

When the molecules-rearranging loud sound of Mogwai’s Glasgow Mega-Snake starts rattling dentures at tea dances in Great Yarmouth and Thurrock, only then will Brexiters begin to realise the error of their ways?

All joking aside, it’s sad to see new and unnecessary existential threats faced by a music industry which has already had to adapt so much to survive in the turbulent digital era.

The so-called vinyl revival – which has seen global revenues increase for 13 consecutive years – has been a small lifeline in an age when precious few people see fit to pay for music any more. To see it disrupted in the short and especially long term would be a shame.

Which is one reason among no doubt many why you’ll generally only find well-off august ex-pat rock stars like Ringo Starr and The Who’s Roger Daltrey speaking out in Brexit’s favour – or desperately attention-seeking old battleships like Morrissey.

But, of course, that’s easy for them to say, flogging some records is something they don’t really have to worry about anymore.

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Bikini Kill star and riot grrrl legend Kathleen Hanna: 'I'd ask my younger self why she was doing meth'
Kathleen Hanna
Letter to my Younger Self

Bikini Kill star and riot grrrl legend Kathleen Hanna: 'I'd ask my younger self why she was doing meth'

Bob Vylan: 'Is it OK for me to cry? As a man you can feel there's not space to be vulnerable'
Bob Vylan
Music

Bob Vylan: 'Is it OK for me to cry? As a man you can feel there's not space to be vulnerable'

Soweto Kinch on ripping up the jazz rulebook and how his new BBC show is building community
Soweto Kinch
Music

Soweto Kinch on ripping up the jazz rulebook and how his new BBC show is building community

Iron Maiden legend Bruce Dickinson: 'You don’t need some rock star saying war is a bad thing'
Bruce Dickinson
Letter To My Younger Self

Iron Maiden legend Bruce Dickinson: 'You don’t need some rock star saying war is a bad thing'

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know