Artists say 260 per cent US visa cost increase will make touring impossible – but you can help

With artists already pulling US tours due to the costs, members of Easy Life, Primal Scream and music industry insiders tell NME how new changes could either lead to a massive increase in ticket and merch prices – or stop artists touring altogether

Artists and music industry figures have spoken to NME about the “crippling” damage that will be done to international touring if a 260 per cent price hike for US visas is allowed to go through – and encouraged music fans to have their say and help stop it.

Earlier this month, it was revealed that the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was planning to raise touring visa fees for foreign acts by more than 250 per cent – laying out that the cost of acts arriving in the US to perform temporarily, would increase from the current rate of $460 (£375.23) to $1,615 (£1,317), with a longer term work visa jumping from $460 (£375.23) to $1,655 (£1,349).

The news was met with widespread uproar from the international music scene – with the new measures proving preventative for both new and established artists – and now more have come forward to call for action. This could also lead to an increase in the cost of gigs and tickets for international acts playing in the US.


Music fans and industry workers have until March 6 to oppose the move on the Federal Register website here, with those in the industry also invited to fill in this survey from the Featured Artists Coalition.

This month also saw Leicester band Easy Life scrap their upcoming US tour due to “some insane costs“. Speaking to NME, frontman Murray Matravers explained how “bleak” a picture there already was without the “crippling” massive visa price hike.

“We just couldn’t afford it – it’s literally as simple as that,” said Matravers. “We’ve done a proper tour of the US once before with a little pretend tour before that, all pre-COVID. It’s all changed so much. The cost of visas is crazy, you have to hire a legal representative to do all the forms and their fees have gone right up.

“In the UK now, we do reasonably-sized shows with a full production. We initially put the budget in to our management to a similar kind of show in the US, but a little scaled down for the venues. We didn’t want to just show up with our instruments because it would have felt like a massive step back and we wouldn’t want to give our US fans a really shit experience compared to what we can offer in the UK.”

He continued: “We scaled things right back to us in a bandwagon with a skeleton crew, and we still couldn’t afford to do it. This isn’t because we couldn’t sell tickets – we forecast it to sell out – but even if it sold out, we’d still be losing about £30,000. At this stage in our career, we don’t have £30,000 to lose.”

Easy Life
Easy Life backstage at Glastonbury 2022 CREDIT: Eva Pentel


While admitting that cancellations were “devastating” for their wider road crew, the frontman also spoke of what a “reality check” they were for all artists – from emerging to established acts.

“There’s this perception that if you’re playing Ally Pally then you’re a millionaire, but the reality is so far from that,” he admitted. “Loads of people think we’re fucking ballin’ and that we’re loaded, which is really funny. It’s just not true – this is very much a labour of love. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve been very lucky, things have been great and we’re a relatively successful band and I wouldn’t play that down for the sake of it, but the bottom line is that we just can’t afford to tour the US.”

Speaking of changes in the music industry, Matravers said that there was now much more of an onus with things being “online”.

“Maybe 10 or 20 years ago you could have gone to a label and said, ‘It’s going to cost us £30,000 to do this tour’ and they’d have said, ‘That’s a good use of money, we’ll loan you it’,” he said. “There’s no way they’ll loan you that for live shows now because that’s not where the money is, it’s all short-form video. If you said, ‘I want £30,000 to shoot 1,000 TikTok videos’ – you best believe they’ll say yes.

With touring already difficult in the UK and Europe due to the cost of living and Brexit complications, the singer said that he felt as if “the live music industry is on its knees”.

“We did it the old-school way,” he said. “We did pubs and clubs and that’s how we got a following; I don’t know if that can still happen in the same way anymore. We cultivated a really hardcore following that way. The online following is much more passive; they’re into you one day and forget about you the next. Live shows can change people’s lives and you can give them something to remember. The internet’s a good thing, but fuck knows what the future holds.”

He added: “We’re very blessed as a band, our fans are incredible and hopefully we’ll come see them soon. The truth is that times are hard and no one’s having an easy time being a musician at the moment. No one has got any money.”

Bobby Gillespie (L) and Simone Butler of Primal Scream perform on stage at Albert Hall In Manchester on April 2, 2016 in Manchester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Jon Super/Redferns via Getty Images)
Bobby Gillespie and Simone Butler of Primal Scream perform on stage at Albert Hall In Manchester. (Photo by Jon Super/Redferns via Getty Images)

Simone Marie Butler is a DJ, radio host, Featured Artists Coalition patron and bassist for Primal Scream. Speaking to NME, she pushed for action as “the USA remains the biggest music market in the world”.

“The government have been silent on this, and to be honest if I wasn’t already working with the FAC I think I’d struggle to really access the facts on what’s going on,” she said. “The proposed 260 per cent price increase for work visas will be prohibitively expensive for new and emerging bands, as well as small to medium artists and above too. Many bands simply can’t go over because financially it won’t work unless they are prepared to make a loss. The increase of such a large amount seems unprecedented and unrealistic.”

Buter pointed that showcase festivals like SXSW would become out of bounds for artists around the world and even neighbouring Canada, and that this would prevent new talent from developing and growing their audience.

With the move also set to impact on everyone from international performers to athletes and DJs, Butler highlighted what this would mean for roadies, tech grew and session musicians.

“It’s often too expensive to take every band tech to somewhere like the USA, so bands will hire someone overseas,” she said. “If a band uses session players for shows in UK and Europe, undoubtedly they will forgo that to get to the States and use a session player over there.”

Not only that, but Butler argued that with the UK’s share in the global music market decreasing from 17 to 12 per cent, the new price instructions would only likely cause further damage to UK music as an export – compounded further by Brexit inhibiting touring, development and growth.

“The UK is a beacon for live music, it always has been,” she said. “Adding further restrictions to touring artists will just prevent more of the cultural exchange that exists within music. Festival line-ups could become far less varied, while venues, festivals, booking agents, labels, and promoters will feel the effects of this decision and US music fans could see an increase in the price fof gig tickets and merch from international artists.”

She added: “On the back of Brexit, I could see why it would simply demotivate bands to travel.”

Butler ended by arguing that the government was showing “decreased interest” in the music industry, and that it was up to fans and artists to prevent this from going ahead.

“It’s great that even this article is going out because perhaps more bands will see it and be able to make others aware,” she added. “Again, it’s a situation where if we just get apathetic and say, ‘Ugh another price hike’ and accept it, then it will 100 per cent go ahead. There is a deadline to oppose this and we are asking all of our US workers in all areas of the live music industry to comment on the Department of Homeland Security page.”

Yard Act performing live onstage at SXSW 2022
Yard Act perform live at SXSW 2022. CREDIT: Getty

CEO of the Featured Artists Coalition David Martin told NME agreed, saying that the ability to perform in the States was integral to the strength of UK music.

“The US is the world’s largest music market, access to which is critical for the growth of British artists’ careers,” he said. “The success of our recorded music sector is intrinsically linked to artists’ ability to perform live and develop fan bases. Furthermore, the cultural exchange that touring permits is immeasurably important. It is why we support mechanisms that enable foreign artists, including those from the US, to perform in the UK without the need for any visa or cost.”

He continued: Following a global pandemic, Brexit and the ongoing cost of living crisis, the proposals represent yet another barrier that will see emerging artists disproportionally disadvantaged, but that also risk ending US touring for more established acts. It would be a seismic blow to the UK’s beloved music industry which, since 2015, has seen a 30 per cent decline in its global market share.

“However, we can still impact change, which is why we are calling on the UK Government to urgently open talks with US counterparts, highlighting the damaging consequences of the plans, including for US music fans.”

Little Simz
Little Simz. CREDIT: Eva Pentel

Meanwhile, Music Managers’ Forum Chief Executive Annabella Coldrick told NME that it was already too “expensive and complicated” for artists to tour internationally without adding this to the situation.

“Arranging and budgeting for artist visas to tour the US was already a major headache for managers, and that’s before you consider the bigger picture and the ludicrous red tape and bureaucracy caused by Brexit, the impacts of the pandemic and the cost of living crisis,” she said. “For many artists, because of this accumulation of costs compounded with 30 per cent inflation, the economics of live touring do not stack up. That’s why we reignited our #LetTheMusicMove campaign to raise awareness of this real threat to touring the US.

Coldrick said that if the proposals are brought in, it was “crystal clear that an overwhelming majority of managers would simply call off their US touring plans”.

“When you think of events like SXSW, which is just around the corner, and the huge British and international presence at those events (we are the biggest delegation in the world outside of North America), then the implications don’t bear thinking about,” she said. “However, this will definitely impact artists higher up the chain. From my perspective, the ‘music industry’ is not three massive major record labels and a handful of global promoters. The music industry is tens of thousands of self-contained artist businesses. They’re the ones coming up with the music, and creating jobs and shouldering the burden of costs. They’re the ones at the sharp end.”

She continued: “Last year you saw Little Simz be incredibly honest about the costs and challenges of performing in the US, and actually pull a tour when those challenges became insurmountable. This is a hugely-respected award-winning artist, who is delivering groundbreaking albums and who has an audience. It’s shocking really. And that’s even before you talk about hiking up the costs of visas by 250 per cent.”

Commenting on the Brexit also working to shrink the touring industry, Coldrick said that “a lot of people, and particularly in government, are ignoring the situation artists have faced since 2020”.

She added: “We need some recognition from the UK Government that there is a problem, and a problem that they could help us fix by raising this directly and at the highest level with their US counterparts.  Free movement of music should be reciprocal between the UK and US not just one way #LetTheMusicMove.”

“Where we don’t want to be is for these proposals to go through, and then for UK artists and other international artists to stop performing in the world’s biggest music market. Ultimately, that’s a lose-lose situation for everyone, including US audiences.”

The NME has approached the UK government for a response.

For more information on the US visa situation, artists can visit the FAC’S #LetTheMusicMove site here.

A further threat to the talent pipeline exists in the UK, with grassroots music venues facing the “perfect storm” of Brexit, the cost of living crisis and last-minute gig-goer decisions – claiming that they’re set to “go off a cliff” without help and investment from government and larger arenas.

There is also a continued call for music venues to stop taking a cut of money made by artists’ merchandise sales.

You May Like