David Bowie amazed American audiences with multiple tours throughout his lifetime, but would he have been able to be a breakout success with American fans in 2016 considering all of the restrictions and expensive visa costs currently placed on British musicians?
David Bowie’s death on January 10 has produced many conversations about how his career started and the events that came into play that helped him ascend to fame. Noted among these important features in David Bowie’s career timeline is his first USA concert in Cleveland, Ohio on September 22, 1972.
About David Bowie’s 1972 USA tour, NME described it in 2013 by stating “In the history of The Best Decisions Ever Made In Music, this is up there.”
However, if David Bowie was attempting to start his career in music in 2016, he might find that his visa to perform in the United States would be denied, cost over $7,000, or be delayed to the point where his tour planning would be ruined.
It can be difficult for fans to grasp that the fame that David Bowie garnered from his first US tour in 1972 would have been impossible in today’s world without a visa — and David Bowie might have died an unknown without it.
As it appears, many future music talents from the British underground are being barred because of visa restrictions — and America’s visa requirements have grown to unacceptable proportions, according to touring musicians from David Bowie’s home country.
On the other hand, David Bowie did have problems with his visa to perform in the United States in 1970 — but the parameters of that situation are far different from those experienced today.
According to the Daily Mail, David Bowie wanted to tour America for his 1970 album, The Man Who Sold The World, but forgot to apply for a work visa and was unable to perform. Instead, David Bowie still got into America without the work visa, but could only promote The Man Who Sold The World by doing radio interviews and smaller performances.
In the blog Louder Than War, the author is a member of the band The Membranes, and the focus of their recent writing has been filled with attempts to explain how British musicians are no longer afforded the same rights to music visas as Americans performing in England.
In other words, if David Bowie wanted to perform in America as an unknown musician in 2016, he would have to jump through more hoops than if an unknown Jay Z had wanted to perform in David Bowie’s home country of England.
Explaining the situation, Louder Than War wrote in October, 2015, “For a British band to tour America, it costs $7,000 to even get into the place and the visas arrive so late so you have to cancel your flights and gigs and re-book everything losing money and gigs before you even get there.”
In contrast, American musicians that want to perform in the U.K. only pay $50 for their visa and may experience less red tape.
Adding to this, Louder Than War updated the USA music visas situation on their Facebook page stating that they had a meeting with British officials in January 2016.
Sadly, Americans may be oblivious to this issue facing musicians — and it means that artists that could be as great as David Bowie are missing their chance to have a worldwide audience.
Fortunately, Canada seems to be supporting the situation and wants the future David Bowies of the world to have the opportunity to play for Canadians. In an update on the Louder Than War blog on January 15, they report the following about Canada’s former rules that caused restrictions for musician visas.
“The established fee was $275 per band member, which, when compounded with the work permit fee of $150 for an individual musician or $450 for a band, meant that a musical act would pay a minimum of $325 to perform, and bands with six or more members would pay upwards of $2,000.”
Naturally, a fan of David Bowie’s would likely want other unknown talent to have a chance to make their break in America without paying thousands of dollars for an erratic tour.
How important is a single tour visa for a foreign musician like David Bowie? Cleveland stated the following about David Bowie’s first show in America as Ziggy Stardust on September 22, 1972.
“The show at Public Auditorium was just the beginning of an epic run for Bowie. He sold out New York City’s Carnegie Hall a week later and spent the remainder of the 1970s releasing landmark albums like ‘Aladdin Sane,’ ‘Low’ and ‘Young Americans’.”
In addition, Ultimate Classic Rock writes about David Bowie’s first Ziggy Stardust Tour concert date in 1972 and quotes Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer writer, Jane Scott, talking about the show in 2011 with the following.
“Orange-haired Bowie, one of the most important figures of ’70s rock, seemed a little awkward at an earlier press conference, but after his smash show, he eluded his security guards and was eager to talk about coming shows. We reporters sensed that a star was born that night.”
Furthermore, touring may be the only way for musicians to make money in a world that no longer buys albums and prefers streaming music. This point was first emphasized by Forbes in 2003 and the conclusion was that in order for musicians to make money, they must tour.
This idea has not deviated much since Rolling Stone re-covered the idea that David Bowie and other British musicians are heavily dependent on American concert dollars in 2012. About the importance of touring, they added that selling merchandise was another primary goal at concerts in order to bring in the cash that streaming online music for free does not provide.
On top of that, American fans are important to international musicians like David Bowie to make most of their money. According to a Music Business World report from January 2015, in 2014 Nielsen reported that Americans spend more money on concerts than streaming and downloads.
How important would touring America have been to David Bowie if he was starting his career in 2016? On January 8, Digital Music News reported that “in 2015, 52 [percent] of all music spending went to live concerts.”
For now, until Americans vote to change the laws that affect musicians from other countries, musicians visiting from David Bowie’s home country of England or another country can find support at the Artists From Abroad website.
[Picture by Hulton Archive/Getty Images]