The Show Must Go On: How Touring Barriers Impact the Music Sector

The following article is extracted from the WIN Annual Report 2022-23. © Worldwide Independent Network Limited

For years, during rampant piracy and plummeting record sales, artists were told to make a living by touring. Further, when they complained that digital platforms were not paying them fair royalties, they were told to use streaming as a promotional tool to get gigs. These were fallacies then (not all recording musicians are touring musicians to begin with), and they are becoming less valid with time.

The COVID-19 pandemic was eye-opening. Its impact on touring musicians was significant and far-reaching. Travel restrictions and social distancing measures forced the cancellation of concerts and other live events around the world, and many musicians saw this source of income disappear almost overnight. The pandemic also had a knock-on effect on other related jobs, such as those of sound engineers, lighting technicians, and merchandisers, some of whom opted to switch professions.

The United Kingdom left the European Union just weeks before lockdowns were enforced. Brexit has introduced a new set of regulations and red tape for musicians touring the European continent. These include requirements to obtain visas, work permits, and instrument carnets as well as a host of other paperwork that is expensive and takes weeks to process. Despite numerous calls and campaigns, Brexit continues to make touring particularly difficult for smaller, independent artists, limiting their ability to reach new audiences and generate income.

Barriers Over Troubled Water

Anti-competitive behavior from bad actors in the live sector also puts a strain on the ability of independent artists to operate in a fair environment. Music fans face inflated ticket prices, exorbitant fees, and restrictions on ticket transferability. Antitrust practices also limit opportunities for independent promoters and venues and hinder artists’ ability to negotiate favorable contract terms. As the Future of Music Coalition put it, “monopolies make it harder for businesses to be run in artist-friendly and fan-friendly ways.”

Earlier this year, the US Department of Homeland Security proposed a significant increase in the cost for obtaining touring visas, raising the base price from $460 to $1,655 and the processing time from 15 calendar days to 15 business days. Visa applications are already complex, consistently backlogged, and unaffordable for smaller acts. This would upturn the financial barrier, making it impossible for many international artists to perform at American festivals and venues or participate in recording sessions. In March 2023, WIN, A2IM, CIMA, IMPALA, and other organizations issued calls to oppose the proposed increases. During A2IM Indie Week in June 2023, WIN convened an international stakeholder meeting, and a task force was created to work with US lobbyists on strategy related to artist mobility. Amid pressure from local and international stakeholders, implementation has been postponed until at least March 2024.

The Effect on the Independent Ecosystem

In addition to these challenges, the music sector must deal with the effects of inflation. The costs of manufacturing and shipping records, t-shirts, posters, and other merchandise all tend to rise as the value of money decreases, putting additional financial pressure on artists and their teams. The costs of fuel and transportation also skyrocket, making it even more challenging for artists to tour and perform at different locations and make a living from their craft.

The obstacles not only impact musicians’ revenue but also dramatically affect their mental health. Santigold and Animal Collective were among the first to announce tour cancellations last fall owing to logistic, financial, and emotional hurdles. Most artists will not be able to tour as they did before COVID-19 and Brexit. Fewer windows for collaboration with foreign colleagues will be available. Artists will lose contact with their fan bases. Cultural exchange between territories and regions will decline.

Artists being unable to perform not only affects the live music sector but also has a rippling effect on the entire industry value chain and hinders the growth of the independent recorded music scene. As Dr. David C. Lowery explained in an insightful 2016 article, “the main reason lower level artists tour is that it is the most reliable way to stimulate sales of recordings.” Direct-to-fan sales at concerts, record signings, and promotional showcases—a huge percentage of physical sales is lost if bands cannot travel to other countries.

Moreover, touring exposes artists to new audiences that may be unfamiliar with their music. By performing in front of live audiences, musicians can gain new fans who are likely to listen to their music on streaming platforms. Announcing concerts is also a great way to generate buzz on social media and increase artists’ chances of being included in playlists. Live music is key to streaming discovery, and touring barriers negatively impact digital revenue.

Governments Must Implement Support Measures

Brexit, COVID-19, inflation, monopolies, visas, and more—touring barriers affect all revenue streams across the music value chain, hinder economic growth, and stifle cooperation and cultural exchange. The global independent community will continue to call for all governments to implement support measures for the live music sector with a focus on SMEs and independent artists and venues.

For more information and resources on the topic of mobility visit

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