A week ago, along with other musicians and professional bodies, I signed an open letter drawing attention to the significant damage Brexit, in any form currently proposed, will do to our industry.
Why should anyone care? The fact is that we as a country should care a great deal about the negative economic effects of Brexit for an industry that is so important an export for the UK, both in terms of financial and soft power. While it’s true that better known people’s voices are more likely to be heard, the vast majority of musicians in all genres are neither well-off nor well known; this is true of the entire creative sector.
The concerns highlighted – particularly restrictions to freedom of movement – are common anxieties for the entire services sector. Just to remind ourselves, the creative industries last year contributed £94bn to the UK, second only to financial services as our lead exporter. Thirteen per cent of jobs in the UK are now in the creative sector.
As for music’s role in this, one in eight of all records bought on Earth in 2017 were by a British artist.
The coming restrictions of Brexit will hit us in multiple ways. Take one example: in order for us to maintain our pre-eminence, after Holly- and Bollywood, in the field of film music scoring, we need a critical mass of studios large enough for a big orchestra. These three or four state-of-the-art studios run on tight margins and must be fully booked round the clock to survive.
As well as needing, at short notice, a ready supply of orchestral players who can play, note-perfectly, anything put in front of them at sight, the studios need other ways to fill their spaces with orchestras. One substantial new source of revenue for both studios and professional musicians is in providing scores for video games. Britain is a world leader in the development of video games: did you know that? Did you also know that the UK’s video game industry is gravely threatened by Brexit and that because of it, like many in tech, VG enterprises are looking at Berlin as an alternative hub? When they go, so will the work that is a lifeline to many British musicians and studios. Auf Wiedersehen, tech.
One by one, UK industries have presented politicians with the dire consequences of Brexit for our sectors. What have we had in response? Ministers who say, “We know your industry better than you”, or, “You’re making this stuff up to scare people”, or, simply, “F**k business”.
The response to the musicians’ letter last week is typical. Jacob Rees-Mogg MP scoffed: “Handel did not need the free movement of people to come to England to write the Messiah.” Rees-Mogg should ask Eton for his money back since there are sinkholes in his education. In order for Handel to settle and work in Britain a bespoke act of parliament had to be passed in 1727, precisely because free movement was not available to him and other Germans who came to work in London at that time.
Some came because a German had become king, or, like the pioneer piano-maker Johannes Zumpe, fleeing the Seven Years’ War. Without emigre Zumpe, Britain would not have become a world centre of piano design and manufacture for the next half-century.
Handel’s Messiah was first performed in a public concert in Dublin, then in a political union (albeit a very unequal one) with Great Britain. It would theoretically have been possible to premiere it in, say, Dresden, but it would have been considerably less financially viable, and a logistical nightmare. Present-day musicians will face similar obstacles when we withdraw from the single market with our 27 neighbours in Europe (including Ireland).
Rees-Mogg (deliberately, I presume) misconstrues the argument about the creative arts and Brexit: musicians are not, and have not ever, claimed that “writing” music will be impaired by Brexit (though the EU has proved a tougher protector of creators’ copyrights than any UK government). It is the performing, collaborating, touring and promoting of music in a home market of 500 million people that is at risk. Thus the end of freedom of movement will disproportionately disadvantage young musicians at the start of their careers.
None of the detail about Brexit’s impact on our industry – about the job losses, the closing and relocating of businesses – was known to the public when they voted in June 2016. I do not believe many sincere people would have voted Leave if the truth about its consequences had been clearly explained to them. That is why they need the chance to reconsider, and why we are calling for a people’s vote.
Howard Goodall CBE is a composer