From the TUC

It’s not my hobby, it’s my profession: Fair pay for musicians

19 Feb 2015, By Guest

Spare a thought for freelance musicians this Fair Pay Fortnight, and what it must be like to fight for fair pay every day that you work.

Working musicians are frequently being asked to work for nothing. It’s fair to say many engagers (someone booking a band for their wedding, village fete, festival , venue or someone looking for free music lessons) don’t realise what they are asking for.

By asking musicians to work for free, they are forgetting years of training, years of practicing, years of playing rubbish gigs for rubbish money to get ‘experience’ for the CV, buying an instrument (often more than one), instrument care and other costs. Then there’s the event specific stuff: putting the band together, rehearsing, creating a set list, taking time to learn any requests, travel time, expenses and childcare costs.

That’s why my union, the Musicians’ Union have started a fair pay campaign ‘Work Not Play‘. The MU is not just fighting for fair pay for its members, but against the commonly held view that musicians should work for free. That’s just not right. Event organisers wouldn’t ask the caterers to work for free. They wouldn’t ask bar staff. So how can they justify asking the performers? Musicians deserve to be paid fairly for their work. Is that really expecting too much?

Here’s what some of our members have told us:

“The sales patter was very good, and initially I was even a little intrigued. However it then became clear that what I was being asked to do was give away my skills and time for absolutely nothing, whilst this company took all of the income. I might have understood if the income was divided but as it is, it’s complete exploitation.” – Anon

The most common excuses we hear are “it’s for charity” and “it’s good exposure”. Well, if it’s for charity then it should be up to musician how much to donate. It’s the ‘exposure’ excuse that really burns. The implication is that if you’re a musician, you should work for kudos alone and live on what, on air? are they forgetting it’s still possible get exposure and be paid? – so you can at least afford to feed yourself and pay the bills?!

“My band agreed to play a gig for a local charity who do a very good job of helping people in our town. The charity made £3k on the day, which was great. The pub running the event must have made three or four times the amount the charity did. The staff got paid, the security got paid, the sound guys got paid, the burger van got paid, the guy running the kids rides got paid, and the candy floss man got paid…but guess who was expected to donate their time for nothing? Ah yes, the musicians.” – Sean

That’s why the TUC’s Fair Pay Fortnight campaign is so important. Everyone deserves fair pay for a fair day’s work but somehow this culture of ‘donating’ your time and labour as a musician has run rife in the industry. Yes, musicians are good people and yes of course they want to help raise money for charity but this is their job, their livelihood, how many people would expect to go to work and not get paid on a regular basis?!

So what should you do if you see an ad asking musicians to work for free? What if you are the musician and asked to work for nothing? Call the organisers out on it. Say no. Ask for a fee – it works. Tell them about Work Not Play. Show them testimonials from musicians. Talk to them about what performing for free really means for you, for your colleagues, for the industry. And if you need support, get in touch with the MU.

Together we are stronger.

Should I work for free?

One Response to It’s not my hobby, it’s my profession: Fair pay for musicians

  1. Mary Wightman
    Feb 24th 2015, 8:47 am

    Organists are the same. ‘But you enjoy playing the organ’ You are playing for God who gave you the gift….

    Those who refuse to receive a fee are undercutting those who are dependent on the fees to live. It encourages the public to think that they don’t need to pay. It demeans all musicians everywhere. No wonder music and musicians are disregarded in the UK. If you are offered a fee take it and give it back if you want. But let it show up in the accounts that the musicians were recognised for their years of practising, training and for being professionals.