Following recent government proposals to change junior doctors’ salaries in the UK, the issue of musicians’ pay and livelihood sprung to mind. It’s no secret that after years of vigorous, dedicated and professional training, more than half of professional musicians are paid no more than £30,000 per year (with a large proportion of those having worked for free at several points). True, there are the few that make it to the big league, but what about the rest?
Government funding for music has already been reduced by over £20 million in the past 4 years, and several councils have already implemented restructures and redundancies. Despite the best intentions of the government in 2011 to launch The National Plan for Music (resulting from the 2011 Henley Review) as a way of enabling every child to be able to learn an instrument, there is currently less money than ever to go around. With house prices rising and the high cost of living in London, can musicians without job security, pension, sick pay or benefits lead a good quality of life (let alone obtain a mortgage)? Difficult? No doubt. Possible? Absolutely.
As with any industry, the music industry is ever-changing. And in order to stay successful and progress, the ability to adapt to those changes is essential. Mind-set alone obviously cannot change certain circumstances beyond one’s control, however, there are various things musicians can do, today, to make sure that when circumstances change, they at the front of the queue and ready to pounce on that golden opportunity:
1. It's a Circus out There! – the need to embrace juggling various income streams is essential. As the nature of the music industry does not lean towards a full time 9 – 5 job with a neat package of benefits, musicians need to rely on multiple sources of income. This involves careful organisation, budgeting, familiarity with tax, and also authoritative negotiation (where appropriate) in order to get the recompense you deserve for any job.
2. Back To The Future - classical music is a traditional, established genre of music. However, the mind-set of a classical musician must shift into more modern times. The importance of the internet and social media should not be overlooked, and the ability to raise income from streaming and selling online is essential. Musicians should be savvy on understanding their legal rights and in doing so, will avoid selling themselves short and can instead maximise on opportunities.
3. I'm a Musician, Get Me Out of Here! - the commercialization of air travel has made the majority of industries international. Countries in Asia greatly value a British educated musician for nurturing its own national talent, whilst orchestras in the USA are known for recompensing its orchestras significantly more than their British counterparts (at an average of £86,000 in the US versus £37,000 in the UK). This is by large due to US orchestras being funded almost completely by private money, however is also illustrative of its loyal and gutsy unions which protect musicians’ working hours and pay like a Rottweiler does it owner. In short, the ability to work abroad, for however long, is within reach, and should not be ruled out during a musician’s career. So, from the moment a musician graduates, sniffing for opportunities abroad should gradually become second nature.
4. Yes, Yes, Yes! - the past 5 years has seen increasingly popular fields such as video game audio, music therapy (see 'What's the Deal with Music Therapy?' article), session work and private function gigs gaining prominence within the music industry. These provide considerably higher pay than more traditional gigs, and should one of these land on a musicians’ doorstep, the overwhelming advice is to say YES.
Whilst the classical music industry does not make you think ‘cha-ching’, the 21st Century has also brought with it so many opportunities. If it’s possible for someone to start a business in their cupboard and grow it into a multi-national success, so too is it possible to face the music (no pun intended) and use the resources available to ensure that after years of professional training, musicians take control of their careers and get the recompense they deserve.
For further information and helpful links:
Musicians Union: http://www.musiciansunion.org.uk
Music Mark: http://www.musicmark.org.uk
Performing Rights Society: http://www.prsformusic.com