Thursday, 16 April 2015


On the 20-22 April the STUC Congress will be meeting in Ayr. The theme of this year's Congress is Decent Work and Dignified Lives. In the run up to Congress this blog will host a series of articles prepared by STUC affiliated unions. These articles reflect the positions and priorities of our affiliates and are designed to give a flavour of the disparate work that the trade union movement is undertaking in pursuit of decent work and dignified lives.

The Musicians’ Union’s Work Not Play campaign is challenging the commonly held view that it is okay to ask musicians to work for no fee. It is surprising that in 2015 we have to campaign for pay. Not just fair pay – but any pay at all.

It’s fair to say many engagers do not realise what they are asking for, whether they are booking a band for their wedding, village fete, festival, venue, or looking for a free music lesson or two. They are forgetting what it takes to be a professional musician: years of training, years of practising, of honing your craft, playing good gigs, dodgy gigs, buying all the instruments you play, instrument care, insurance, tax and other costs. Plus the event specific costs, like rehearsing, creating a set list, learning any requests, travel, expenses, and childcare. Multiplied by the number of musicians involved.

One of the most common excuses we hear for asking musicians to work for free is “it’s for charity”. And yet when we dig a bit deeper it often becomes apparent that other people working at the event – security, bar staff, waiters, caterers etc – are being paid. Musicians who are asked to perform at charity gigs should be offered their usual fee. It should then be up to the individual musician if they want to donate all or some of the fee back to the cause. Musicians should not feel under extraordinary pressure to, in effect, pay to work.

Another common excuse is that it’s “good exposure”. Sometimes it is – but only if it will truly help a musician’s career. Will it lead to more work? Will it significantly boost their fanbase? Is there someone in the audience guaranteed to be able to take the musician’s career to the next level; producers; record labels; real opinion leaders? The answer is usually ‘no’.

The Musicians’ Union started Work Not Play to give musicians a voice, and the tools to say ‘no’.

You can show your support:

Vote for the Work Not Play motion at Congress to call on the General Council to circulate information about Work Not Play, and encourage all affiliates to ensure that musicians hired for events are paid MU rates.

  • Tell us if you see an advert asking musicians to work for free using the hashtag #WorkNotPlayMU. 
  •  If you are the musician, call the organisers out on it. Say no. Don’t be afraid to ask for a fee – it works surprisingly often. And remember, you can get in touch with the MU for support. 
  • Send us your stories of being asked to work for nothing. Email us at
Musicians can make whole events viable, but walk away with nothing. We need to spread the word: this is not a hobby – it’s our profession.

Musicians’ Union

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