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Brexit proving real bum note for Ulster musicians, warns union

By Michael McHugh

Published 11/11/2016

Low-paid musicians in Northern Ireland could be put out of business by Brexit, a union official has warned. File image
Low-paid musicians in Northern Ireland could be put out of business by Brexit, a union official has warned. File image

Low-paid musicians in Northern Ireland could be put out of business by Brexit, a union official has warned.

And the cost of buying CDs here has increased by around a fifth since the vote to quit the EU, a record labels boss said.

They were speaking at a conference as part of the Sound of Belfast 2016 festival.

Caroline Sewell from the Musicians Union said many earn less than £10,000 a year from weekend gigging and the introduction of work permits to move around Europe and funding cuts from the EU may mean the end of the road for some talent.

The industry benefits from £1.4bn funding under the Creative EU programme which is in jeopardy.

Ms Sewell said: "I think driving some people out of business is a very real possibility and not actually just for musicians but for any workers who are in a casualised workforce, those who don't work under employment contracts, who are self-employed or freelance."

She added: "I think that it could potentially drag small businesses out of business, it could potentially drive freelance musicians to stop practising music and that would be the worst thing really, that the talent that we currently have in the pool has to stop what they are doing as a musician because they cannot afford it."

Half the union's members earn less than £10,000 a year from music, combining weekend gigging with jobs like teaching during the week.

She added: "You are not at One Direction level or that crazy level of success.

"The nature of the work in the music industry is freelancing, it is essentially hand-to-mouth, essentially low-paid and casualised."

She envisaged European touring becoming more expensive post-Brexit.

"Musicians are going to have to fork out for work visas and work permits, the cultural industries are constantly under threat from spending cuts."

Meanwhile, Ian Moss - director of public affairs at the British Recorded Music Industry trade body - warned that the Brexit vote had pushed up the price of CDs.

Most are made in Germany and the plummeting value of the pound against the euro has caused the dramatic price inflation, he said. He warned introducing tariffs following a hard Brexit would create other costs for music producers.

"There are serious problems along the way but the fundamentals are that the British are really good at making music and that should not change," Mr Moss said.

He said it was costing around 20% more to manufacture physical music and the industry would have to consider establishing plants in Britain instead.

Victims’ issues won’t be rushed: Brokenshire

The Government will not rush to artificial deadlines in its effort to resolve a political row over stalled mechanisms for Troubles victims, the Secretary of State has said.

James Brokenshire said it was vital to “get it right” on dealing with the legacy of the conflict, rather than make hasty decisions.

His comments came a week before the first anniversary of the Fresh Start Agreement between Stormont’s leaders and the British and Irish governments.

While the signatories to that accord hailed it as a new beginning for power-sharing in the region, the deal faced heavy criticism for its failure to address victims’ issues.

Mr Brokenshire told a conference on Brexit in Belfast: “I remain committed to ensuring we find that way through to get this right. That is about getting it right and that focus, rather than necessarily rushing to artificial deadlines and timescales.”

Plans have been stuck due to a wrangle linked to the potential non-disclosure of state papers on national security grounds.

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