The touring musician: Steve Goss Jump to main content

The touring musician: Steve Goss

As a composer and guitarist, I have regularly worked in the EU over the last 25 years. Whether it has involved commissions for new music, playing concerts, giving lectures or masterclasses, sitting on juries of competitions, or appearing at festivals, I have always felt part of a Europe-wide musical community. Through my work in academia, I’ve been involved in many European research projects and creative collaborations – Erasmus, The European Research Council, and Horizon 2020 are among the many excellent initiatives that the EU has set-up for funding research and cultural exchanges. The ability to work without a visa has effectively removed national boundaries as obstacles and musicians have enjoyed freedom of movement and the right to work (and live) in 28 countries instead of just one.

Since June 2016, as I arrive to work in any other European country, the first topic of conversation is usually Brexit. The overriding reactions to Brexit, that I experience, are dumbfounded incomprehensibility and sadness. Interestingly, it’s rarely the decision to leave the EU itself that frustrates European employers, more the uncertainty that the protracted negotiations have generated. I have definitely experienced hesitancy on the part of European employers to engage me and other UK musicians after March 2019. At one festival in Germany, I was invited back for 2018 rather than 2019 because of fears that things would be ‘more complicated’ after Brexit. Another festival is not inviting UK musicians at all, until the visa situation is clear. Musicians and organisations from across the industry such as the ISM and Howard Goodall, have highlighted the threat that Brexit potentially poses to the life of the working musician in the UK.

For working musicians, homogeneity across the EU is an illusion as local customs persist. Conditions, contracts, and payment methods vary considerably from country to country. Many countries will only deal in cash, while others insist on payment via your bank account. Sometimes tax is taken at source, other times it isn’t. Some countries have reliable royalty collection schemes, others don’t. Adherence to copyright laws seems to be slightly different everywhere. If you’re working in a country for the first time, it’s always good to ask a friend for advice who has worked there before.

For me, the most liberating thing about working as part of the EU has been the ease of collaborating on projects with people from many different countries – applying for international funding, working from one budget, moving freely from country to country, and choosing your collaborators from a wide international field. For instance, my next project is with a German orchestra, Italian soloists, and a French conductor. The EU has certainly enriched the international music community.

What next? We don’t know. In the arts in the UK, we seem to be collectively debilitated by uncertainty and pessimism. What we can do is to make our voices heard through lending support to the lobbying that the ISM is doing.