In many ways, the long list of bands with canceled or postponed tours acts as a scarecrow for the USCIS, warning would-be applicants to fill out forms properly and in a timely manner. But on a grander scope, the ever-lengthening list of musicians with visa troubles are not the effects but the causes of a larger, far more detrimental issue, which is that an increasing number of foreign artists are starting to see the American music scene as something to be avoided.
For a smaller club-level band, touring the United States is not a profit-making enterprise. Bands face a series of challenges, not the least of which are visa issues: CD sales are down nationally, which has prevented labels from paying tour support at any meaningful degree; the US is an enormous country with long drives between venues (New Model Army drove 10,500 miles in 34 days on their most recent tour, this past April), and gas now averages more than $4 per gallon; hotel prices have increased substantially in the past five years while payment for shows has decreased; this February, the IRS started clamping down on taxing touring bands, up to 30 percent of their profit; and the falling dollar makes payment for shows even less gainful for foreign acts, while the roadies and techies often insist on payment in their native currency.
Take all of this, and then force foreign artists to pay more than $3000 up front for the privilege of applying for a visa (regardless of whether it’s accepted), and many are crossing the States off their tour-books.
“The bureaucracy involved in international entertainment personnel coming to America,” says New Model Army manager Tee, “is creating such a problem now that a lot of people are just not coming. It’s not worth the hassle.”
Dani Vachon, manager for You Say Party! We Say Die!, says, “People are on guard and kind of not really going [to the States], not going at all really, instead of trying to go and file the thousands of dollars of paperwork they have to do.” YSP!WSD! have recently toured China instead, which Vachon thinks is the way the Canadian scene is going to branch out if the US process continues to be so nightmarishly difficult and expensive.
“Anywhere except for the USA,” she says, “because it costs £135 [about $262 US] for the entire band to get a work visa for England, and it doesn’t cost anything to go to Europe. It’s like, why would you even bother? Obviously, you would bother because it’s a decent-size market, but as payment for shows is getting lower, and MTV is refusing to pay royalties on licensing, and you’re doing everything for the experience and no money, it’s going to be less and less realistic for people to actually do things in the States.”
Even if YSP!WSD!’s appeal is approved and the bassist is allowed into the country, Vachon says they’ll still need a grant from the Canadian government to be able to make a US tour financially feasible.
“When you put all the numbers together,” says Steve Ferguson, who represents a number of international acts, “a lot of people say, ‘Jesus, we just can’t afford this anymore.’ ” And unlike popular assumption, they can afford not to. “You can easily be a very successful band in Europe,” he says, “and play everywhere in the world, and make a lot of money and never come to the States.”