Industry news & advice blog

Work Not Play - getting fair pay as a professional musician

We’re campaigning for fair pay. We believe anyone who plays as a professional musician should be paid for their work. It doesn’t matter if you’re 13, 30 or 103, the principle is the same.

As a working musician, you will frequently be asked to work for nothing. It’s fair to say many engagers – 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.

They are forgetting years of training, years of practicing, years of honing your craft, gigs played for expenses or to get ‘experience’ for your CV. Add to that 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, learning any requests, travel time, expenses and perhaps even childcare costs.

That’s why we started the Work Not Play campaign (#WorkNotPlayMU). We are fighting against the commonly held view that musicians should work for free. 

Event organisers wouldn’t ask the caterers to work for free. They wouldn’t ask bar staff. So how can they justify asking you?

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 you how much you donate. And it’s only “good exposure” if it will truly help your career. Will it lead to more work? Will it give you the line on your CV you need to get the job you want?  Will it significantly boost your fanbase? Is there someone in the audience guaranteed to be able to take your career to the next level; producers; record labels; real opinion leaders?

So what should you do when asked to work for free?

Call the organisers out on it. Ask for a fee – it works surprisingly often. If the engager doesn’t budge, tell them about Work Not Play. Show them testimonials from fellow musicians. Talk to them about what performing for free really means for you, and your industry. And if you need support, get in touch. We’ve got your back.

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