An interesting email popped into my inbox this last week. This particular email was from the Musicians Union, urging members to let them know if they were asked to play at Olympic or Jubilee events for free.
It went on to say ” Our understanding is that all other sectors involved in putting on these events e.g. security, staging, equipment hire etc. are being paid their usual fees but not the musicians.”
The following appeared in the Evening Standard.
It’s an interesting question. As a professional musician who does sometimes perform for free, whether one feels taken advantage of is generally the deciding factor. I try to give something back on occasion by taking part in charity concerts for free when I can. Indeed, last December I co-organised a concert in Cardiff in aid of Live Music Now www.livemusicnow.org , a scheme of which I am an Alumni, and the MS Society Cymru http://www.mssociety.org.uk/near-me/branches/ms-society-cymru . In September I am hoping to take part in a concert in Bristol for Cots for Tots.
I go to the St Endellion Summer Festival and don’t get paid, but that is in the spirit of the festival; it allows for the opportunity to rediscover the joy of playing music away from the inevitable politics of the “music as a career” world, and allows for different creative musical experiences.. These are priceless.
However, I started to play the violin at age 3, and am now 35. I studied until I was 25 to allow me to do what I wanted to do, and worked very hard for it. It’s my career, my job, a service, if you like. Why should I not get paid to perform?
I read recently in the papers about the tanker drivers who earn £45,000 a year and were going on strike because various benefits were in jeopardy. Whilst no doubt there is skill involved in their jobs and they have their own concerns which I can’t understand, not doing that particular job, I doubt they studied for over twenty years to perform it. I earn nowhere near that sort of amount. I want to be paid for my skills and paid fairly. I don’t ask ridiculous sums of money or expect them – unlike some sportsmen who get paid more money than I can imagine what to do with.
So the Evening Standard snap judgement that we should be “glad to play our part” shows a lack of understanding and respect. Does this opinion apply consistently to all people performing their jobs during the Olympics? To the author of this particular paragraph? Of course in a performing career, there might be the odd opportunity that arises that is so once in a lifetime that some musicians would be prepared to perform for free or for expenses only to be involved. However, that’s a personal choice, and I imagine, would depend entirely on what that opportunity was; I think that’s likely true of any profession. But the idea that musicians should pay to be involved with the Olympics; is that how this writer wants Britain wants to be seen on the world stage? As a country that takes advantage of some of its most professional and skilled creative people?