A pioneering census of nearly 6,000 working musicians in the UK has found that nearly half earn less than £14,000 a year from their craft.
The first Musicians’ Census, a project it is hoped to repeat every three to five years, was created by the Musicians’ Union and the charity Help Musicians, which used a series of industry partners to try to reach as many respondents as possible.
The census finds that despite high levels of education and training among professional musicians – 70% have a degree or higher, and 50% have a music degree – more than half the respondents have to cobble together a living through a variety of jobs.
One anonymised respondent complained of “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.”
Even when working within music, a musician has between three and four jobs on average, and even those whose entire livelihood comes from music earn only an average of about £30,000 a year – more than £4,000 less than the average median UK salary for the financial year ending 2022 (according to the Office for National Statistics) and £8,500 less than the average for someone with a degree.
Forty-four per cent of musicians said that financial barriers were holding them back in their career, with costs of equipment and transport the most cited worries.
The study found a pay gap of about £1,000 between white and global majority musicians, and of £4,000 between disabled and non-disabled. Very few musicians who responded to the survey earned more than £70,000 – just 3% – but of those who did, four-fifths were men.
Eighty-seven per cent of respondents were white, but there are also more granular issues of racial inequality. Considerably fewer global majority musicians earn all their income from music – 32%, compared with 43% of white musicians – and at the other end of the earning scale, a third of global majority respondents earn less than 25% of their income from music, compared with a quarter of white respondents.
Issues with debt were found to disproportionately affect Black musicians and those with mental health issues – 17% of musicians reported being in debt, rising to 28% and 30% respectively for those groups.
There was a sign that more needs to be done around networking and social mobility, with 25% of musicians saying that not knowing anyone in the industry was also holding them back.
Naomi Pohl, general secretary of the Musicians’ Union, said the data “paints a challenging landscape for musicians”.
Sarah Woods, chief executive of Help Musicians, agreed there were “big challenges”, but added: “It 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.” She said the data would be used to inform new kinds of support.
Whether due to financial necessity or creative vigour – probably a mix of the two – British musicians are certainly multitalented: the average musician plays between two and three instruments, across four or five genres.