The Musicians’ Union has just published a report which profiles how working musicians today make a living (or don’t!) This ‘Working Musician’ research is based on almost 2,000 responses to a UK-wide survey, including in-depth interviews. The key findings of the report include:

  • 56% of musicians earn less than £20k, with 1 in 5 earning less than £10k as a musician. And an incredible 78% of musicians earn a gross annual income of less than £30k, which is particularly low given that 65% undertake 4 years or more of formal education and training and 61% have been working as musicians for 10 years or more.
  • 60% of musicians say they have worked for free in the past 12 months. And a sizeable minority report regularly working below the agreed industry rates.
  • There is no such thing as a typical musician. Over half have no regular employment. And only 59% are working full-time. Developing a portfolio career is a necessary part of many musicians’ careers – working in roles from music arranger and producer to music therapist and music typesetter. And around 34% work additional jobs not connected to their music careers.
  • 65% of musicians have no independent pension – which compares to 22% of employees and 29% of self-employed workers.
  • Over half of musicians who receive royalty payments describe them as being ‘economically valuable’.

Within this already precarious environment – exacerbated of course by the rise in illegal downloading/ piracy – there have been some other worrying developments.

There is a recent HMRC decision to consider self-employed musicians as falling within the regulations for Class 1 National Insurance contributions: where performing musicians’ fees are computed by reference to time (e.g. for a recording session or live gig) this may now mean the employer has to deduct from the fee and pay HMRC 12% Class 1 NI (the employees contribution). In fact, the problems with the tax and benefit system go even wider than this – failing to respond fairly to fallow and fertile periods, so that when working time is spent creating, musicians aren’t credited with NI contributions, but when a musician receives a one-off royalty, the tax assessment can be distorted. 

And secondly, the growing trend of asking musicians to perform/arrange music etc for free. Anecdotally, we are hearing more and more of these stories – for example, of music arrangers who were about to start work on a project, only to be told the job had been taken by someone willing to work for nothing. If we don’t start getting a grip on this situation, music could become the preserve of the amateur, and of the privately-educated and independently-funded.

But identifying the problem is of course easier than identifying the solutions. The MU has launched a ‘Work not Play’ campaign to try to ensure that musicians are paid for their work, but as the culture of expecting people to perform for nothing – or even worse, pay to play – has spread, can musicians really afford to turn down unpaid gigs when there are plenty of others ready to step into their shoes?

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