What you need to know
If you are offered gigs or tours abroad as a freelance musician, here is some basic advice:
1. This may seem obvious but firstly ensure that all members of the band have current and full, ideally computer-readable, passports.
2. The tour or engagement should be covered by a written contract (in English) and this should be vetted by the MU. It is difficult for us to assist you in recovering unpaid fees, either by legal action or trade union representation, if we have not seen the contract in the first place.
3. Fees should never be less than those paid in the UK for similar performances. If you are working with a new promoter, it is wise to ask for some sort of deposit in advance and further payments should be made promptly during the tour at the times specified in the contract.
4. All travelling expenses from the UK to the country abroad, in that country and return must be paid by the promoter. Once again, it is wise to try and get these pre-paid so that you have return tickets in your possession before you leave home.
5. Accommodation is normally provided by the promoter. Where this consists of bed and breakfast, an additional subsistence payment should be paid to each musician. These payments are commonly referred to as per diems and should not be less than £50 per day.
6. Work permits are required in all non-EU countries.
7. Ensure your equipment insurance policies cover you abroad (the insurance provided as part of MU membership is worldwide but needs to be activated, and have your contract checked). It could also be advantageous to have up-to-date Electrical Safety Certificates for all the equipment that you intend to take with you.
8. To get your instruments through Customs on the way out and on return you will need a Carnet. Details of how the Carnet system works are available from the London Chamber of Commerce, 33 Queen Street, London EC4R lAP. Call 020 7248 4444 or visit londonchamber.co.uk
9. There is always the possibility of illness or accident during the time you are abroad and you should therefore ensure that you are covered for medical treatment and legal expenses. For details of the medical services available overseas, contact the HMRC NI helpline for non-UK residents on 0845 915 4811 or visit hmrc.gov.uk/liveorworkabroad
10. If you are being paid as individuals, rather than as a ‘company’, the promoter will often need to deduct a Withholding Tax from the gross performance fee, which could amount to almost a third. It is important to ascertain whether the agreed fee is gross or net of taxes. There could be terrible consequences for your cash flow if you rely on receiving the gross fee but in fact only get the net.
If you communicate with the promoter at the outset, they may be able to help you in structuring your fee to reduce the tax withheld. It is often possible to split your fee between production and artist’s fee.
Withholding Tax may then just be retained on the artist’s share and not the whole fee. If you do end up having taxes deducted, you must ensure that the promoter issues you with a certificate for the tax deducted on the night. Do not rely on the promoter to send it on later.
This can then be used as a credit against any UK tax liability and so should be kept in a safe place as it could save you money. See Foreign Tax Credits in the MU Tax Savings Guide for further advice.
11. Public Performance Levies. As in the UK, when you perform your songs you should be paid a royalty through the local equivalent of PRS for Music. This money normally comes to PRS for Music and to you, as a PRS for Music member.
To assist you in getting your money as soon as possible, PRS for Music has suggested that if they receive the following details, they will pursue the recovery of monies, rather than waiting for the local society to account to them:
- Writers and PRS for Music membership numbers.
- Detailed tour itinerary.
- Details of the promoter(s).
- Copies of any final show settlements (upon completion).
12. If you are travelling by van, it is sensible to join the AA/RAC/Green Flag and take advantage of their free advice on motoring abroad.
13. If you are taking along amplifiers or other electrical equipment, ensure that you have information concerning plugs and power supply for the countries you’ll be visiting.
14. Members should be aware that requests for legal assistance in relation to foreign claims must be considered against the MU’s criteria for legal assistance. Such claims are often not cost effective to pursue (as is required by Criterion 3) and the reality is that if no upfront payment is obtained, members may remain completely unpaid for their services.
If a band is at the level where it is able to take on freelance musicians and foreign tours, there will usually be a tour manager whose job it is to make all the travel arrangements.
A competent tour manager can take a large portion of logistical stress off the musicians’ shoulders when they are touring overseas, as MU member and Kasabian drummer Ian Matthews discovered when travelling with the indie rock band as a hired hand, before becoming a permanent member.
‘When I started out as a session guy, Kasabian already had a tour manager and a guitar/backline tech, so things like my drum kit were being dealt with for me,’ he says. ‘The tour manager was dealing with logistics, so my visa was dealt with, except for the US. No matter who you are, you end up queuing outside the US Embassy.’