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Almost half of working musicians in UK earn less than £14,000

A new census has shed light on the financial challenges for professional musicians

By Joe Goggins

Stock image of drummer
The census was conducted jointly by the Musicians' Union and Help Musicians. (Photo: Josh Sorenson/Pexels)

Nearly half of the UK’s working musicians earn less than £14,000 a year from their work, according to a new census.

Per The Guardian, the first-ever Musicians’ Census, a new project from the Musicians’ Union in association with the charity Help Musicians that it hopes to repeat every three to five years, found that almost half of the nearly 6000 working musicians surveyed earned under £14,000 a year. This was despite the fact that 70% of respondents had a degree, with 50% specifically having a music degree. 

One of the musicians surveyed, speaking anonymously, said there was “a real glass ceiling in terms of performance pay with fees for most performance opportunities the same as they were 20 years ago…the hours are unsociable, rehearsals are often unpaid and there is much unpaid waiting around. Being a full-time musician and trying to be present as a parent is effectively impossible.”

The survey found that even musicians who work entirely within music have three to four jobs on average to make a living, and that those musicians who make their entire living from their craft earned an average of £30,000 a year, which is £4000 less than the UK median. The survey also presented troubling pay disparities between demographics, with white musicians earning on average £1000 more a year than non-white musicians, and disabled musicians bringing in around £4000 less on average than non-disabled musicians.

Only 3% of respondents earned more than £70,000 a year, but of those who did, 80% were men. The data, “paints a challenging landscape for musicians”, according to Naomi Pohl, general secretary of the Musicians’ Union. Meanwhile, Help Musicians chief executive Sarah Woods said that musicians were facing “big challenges”, but went on to say that the survey “also highlights how committed musicians are in continuing to produce the music we all know and love; demonstrating how resilient our population of musicians truly is.”

The Musicians’ Union and Help Musicians reached respondents via a range of industry partners; the latter have said that the information gleaned will be used to inform new financial initiatives aiding working musicians.