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2023 End of Year Round Up

MU General Secretary Naomi Pohl reports back on the work that the Union has done through 2023, as well as setting out some of MU’s intentions for 2024, and more general food for thought about the music industry.

Photo ofNaomi Pohl
By Naomi Pohl Published: 30 December 2023 | 1:46 PM Updated: 30 December 2023 | 5:31 PM
General Secretary Naomi Pohl stands in discussion outside of the Royal Opera House
“Everything we achieve is a collective effort and I am deeply grateful to all of our activists…Your every contribution matters.”

In this end of year message, I will update you on the work of the Union during 2023 and bring to your attention some of our achievements on your behalf. I will also trail some of our plans for early 2024 and hopefully give you some food for thought over the festive period.

It goes without saying that this has been another very challenging year for many of our members and we will have a lot of campaigning, lobbying and negotiating to do collectively in 2024. However, it is important to reflect on the progress we are making and the work you contribute to as a Union member.

Everything we achieve is a collective effort and I am deeply grateful to all of our activists; whether you sit on a Committee, sign petitions, wear a campaign t-shirt, wave a flag or banner, submit a Motion, attend Conference, write to your MP or simply share information with colleagues online or in-person. Your every contribution matters.

Firstly, I am pleased to report that we now have around 34,500 members. Membership has been growing consistently since workplaces opened post-pandemic and this means we are a stronger and more authoritative voice for musicians.


Read on for our key news stories from 2023, which include updates on:

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Music streaming
  • Arts funding
  • Protecting music at the BBC
  • Political activity
  • Equality, Diversity & Inclusion
  • Distributions to members
  • Unpaid fee recovery
  • Delegate conference
  • Climate emergency
  • Members' services


Artificial Intelligence

Along with other creator and performer representatives, we have been advocating fiercely for our members' rights regarding artificial intelligence.

While AI presents some opportunities and can assist musicians in the creative process, it also poses a threat to our members' work, pay and even their identities as artists. Assistant General Secretary Phil Kear has discussed the issue in the press throughout the year, most notably on Newsnight.

@wearethemu Nick Cave described ChatGPT as “replication as travesty.” But what does that mean for musicians’ rights? And what does it mean for audiences? Musicians’ Union Assistant General Secretary Phil Kear spoke to #BBCNewsnight about it all #MusiciansOfTikTok #WeAreTheMU #MusiciansUnion #TradeUnion ♬ original sound - WeAreTheMU

It is important that our members' views are represented in policy-making and we have been doing this through various organisations we belong to: UK Music, the Council of Music Makers (CMM), the Creators' Rights Alliance, TUC and Federation of Entertainment Unions. It has also been a subject of discussion at the International Federation of Musicians (FIM).

As part of the Council of Music Makers (CMM), we published five fundamentals for AI in music on the CMM website.

We would love to hear members' experiences with AI; the good, the bad and the ugly, so we can continue to represent your views into 2024.

Music streaming

Following the DCMS Select Committee Inquiry which started in 2020 and examined the economics of music streaming, we have continued to campaign for a fair deal for our members. There have been two Government-convened working groups meeting in 2023: one on transparency and one on metadata. Both have resulted in codes of practice.

However, there has not yet been a meeting to discuss creator remuneration. This is very frustrating, especially as the labels and platforms have recently announced new revenue distribution policies which purport to be ‘artist centric’ but where musicians have not been consulted.

We are pushing for the promised Government-convened creator remuneration working group to meet as soon as possible. We expect this to happen early in 2024 and will keep members informed.

Negotiations between the Union and the BPI (representing the larger UK labels and the majors) stalled earlier this year because they wanted an increase in the upfront session fee to address issues with streaming for session musicians.

Our members are very resistant to this idea, as it will only reward performers on new recordings and won’t compensate musicians who performed on the millions of UK recordings already in existence and being streamed daily. We continue to seek a deal that will provide ongoing payments to musicians who performed on the recordings that are actually being streamed.

The creator remuneration working group, while welcome, would most likely only deliver an industry negotiated package. However, the Government haven’t ruled out legislation.

Arts funding and protecting members' jobs

It has been an extremely challenging year for the orchestral sector and ten years of standstill funding, compared to inflation, are beginning to have consequences for our members' jobs and freelance opportunities.

Royal Opera House

The Royal Opera House orchestra voted in favour of potential industrial action which resulted in action short of a strike over several months before we reached an improved deal with the management.

Northern Ballet

Northern Ballet are threatening to tour next year with a recording instead of their live orchestra. We are campaigning to prevent this from happening and preserve work for our members.

We have had a lot of support in the dispute, both in the UK and internationally, as well as press coverage. We held two demos, one in Nottingham facilitated by our team in the Midlands and one in Newcastle with support from the Regional TUC there. I attended with Paul Nowak, General Secretary of the TUC, and we both spoke alongside one of the Northern Ballet musicians. The campaign will continue next year.

English National Opera

English National Opera (ENO) are proposing to cut their employed orchestra's work down to six months of the year. We know this won't work for our members at ENO who will struggle to earn a living under those conditions. It will be very difficult to maintain a freelance or music teaching career with six months of solid employed work.

A bizarre proposal driven by the Government and Arts Council England's insistence that they move out of London. They have announced a new home in Manchester but it is unclear who the performers will be as ENO say they can't afford to take their company members. We are in consultation with the management as well as lobbying for an improved settlement for them.

Protecting music at the BBC

In March, the BBC announced it planned to close the BBC Singers and make 20% job cuts in its three England-based orchestras. Since then, we have been in regular talks with the BBC to explore alternatives.

The BBC say the BBC Singers now have a secure future thanks to the intervention of a third party funder. While they still want to make savings as a result of financial challenges, our talks have focused on ways the BBC can better utilise and promote its performing groups within the organisation and externally.

The Proms season included all the groups, including the Singers, and was incredibly successful. Thank you to all our BBC Stewards who have been involved in the regular meetings and dedicated a huge amount of time and energy to consulting and representing their colleagues.

The incredible support for the groups from the wider music industry, members of the public and amateur choirs was possibly a surprise to the BBC and has no doubt helped to focus minds on a secure future for all six ensembles.

@wearethemu Episode 3 | “The looks on the children’s faces when we come in and sing to them is something you can’t describe in words” For Peter, who grew up on a rough estate in Camden, being part of an education outreach project changed his life forever. Now as a tenor with #BBC Singers, he gets to do the same for other children and young people. Did you know that the #BBCSingers are fighting for their jobs after the BBC announced it was axing the group a couple of weeks ago?  Head to to #SaveTheBBCSingers! 👉 Leave a message of #solidarity in the comments  👉 Sign the petition to save them 👉 Email your MP using the template letter #WeAreTheBBCSingers #WeAreTheMU #BBCProms #MusicStudents #ClassicalTok #ChoirTok #FreelanceMusician ♬ original sound - WeAreTheMU

Recent news about the licence fee settlement suggests the BBC have further financial challenges ahead. We will always fight to protect music at the BBC which is the biggest employer and engager of musicians in the UK.

Political activity

We have been engaging heavily with the Labour Party as well as the Conservative Government and devolved Governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland on a wide range of issues affecting our members. As well as artificial intelligence and music streaming, we have lobbied on arts funding, the ongoing impact of Brexit on European touring, music education and more.

We have a seat on the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee, we attended their Party Conference and several MU representatives took part in their National Policy Forum. As a result, the National Policy Forum document published recently contains many commitments on issues affecting our members. If Labour are elected, this policy will be taken forward so it is a clear sign of hope for MU members.

In the meantime, we continue to engage with the Treasury, DCMS and the Department for Education regularly and are calling for interventions to support the orchestral and theatre sectors, assist with the high cost of UK touring, improve the situation for our members touring in Europe and support our members who teach music.

Political activity in Scotland

In Scotland, we have been fighting cuts to arts funding and the Scottish Government recently promised a 100% increase. While this was positive news, details of how it would be funded and when it would happen are yet to be shared with us. You can write to your MSP to ask the Government to deliver on their promise.

Scotland in general has better policy for musicians than we see in England currently, although sometimes it doesn't translate into action. For example, there is a commitment to all children having access to free music education but this hasn't been rolled out fully.

Political activity in Wales

In Wales, we also see better devolved policy and their National Music Service could provide a template for Labour to adopt in England if elected. We are currently lobbying for it to be sufficiently funded and we also await a promised review of visiting music teachers' pay and conditions which we hope to be involved in.

Political activity in Northern Ireland

MU Officials recently went to Stormont to talk about the impact of Brexit and we intend to increase our activity there. The Executive Committee have approved a proposal for a part-time Union Officer to be based in Northern Ireland in the second half of 2024. This should improve recruitment and engagement of members there, delivering on my promise to represent and serve members equally wherever they are based.

Political Fund

The MU is required to run a ballot every ten years in order to keep operating a political fund. The fund is used for our political activity such as attending Party Conferences. It is crucial to our work and without it we would have significantly less influence on behalf of members. It enables us to lobby effectively on issues including music education, international touring and arts funding.

Please vote yes in the postal ballot to ensure we can keep the fund going. Even if you don't make contributions yourself, many members do. We need a majority vote so please use your vote.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

This continues to be a key thread of our work, running through all our activities as a core principle.

Over the past two years, the MU has been working to progress the aims and targets set in its published Equality Action Plan. We have positioned the Union as a leader on EDI issues in the music industry and are working to ensure that the MU is an equitable, diverse, and inclusive trade union.

We carried out the Musicians’ Census in conjunction with Help Musicians UK which had around 6,000 respondents. The resulting data has given us a detailed picture of the issues facing musicians in the UK today. It covers issues such as pay, health and wellbeing and discrimination and will enable us to lobby Government and industry more effectively and authoritatively. The insight reports we have produced are available for members to read on our website.

We now hold nearly 50% of our members’ EDI monitoring data, which is a fantastic achievement. If we have a clear picture of who are members are and how they identify, we can represent them more effectively.

We continue to campaign for a safer music industry and our Safe Space service sadly remains busy with complaints of sexual harassment, abuse, bullying and harassment. We are supporting the Creative Industries Independent Standards Authority (CIISA) which is being established as an independent body where complaints can be investigated, including where freelancers have complaints and don't have recourse to workplace procedures.

The MU’s fantastic Equality Networks have met regularly this year to discuss issues that impact their respective communities and feed into the work of the EDI Committee. Each of the networks are now populated by over 600 members and the Women’s network has almost 2000 members.

In 2024, we will be establishing a new MU Members' Assembly which will be a policy forum involving diverse representatives of the Union's existing Regions, Sections and Networks. I am very excited about the possibilities this offers in engaging more members in our work and bringing more diverse perspectives to our campaigning, lobbying and policy-making.

We are campaigning for more representative syllabi and curriculum. In partnership with other music organisations, the MU recruited six composers from communities currently underrepresented in the music education sector to take part in a six-month mentoring programme.

Distributions to Members

In 2023 our Recording & Broadcasting team collected over £1.84 million of income from the further and secondary uses of recordings which were originally made under MU agreements. This is an incredible total, 40% higher than the historical average annual collection total.

The increase has been fuelled by some excellent negotiated increases in annual licence fees for dubbing commercial audio recordings into television programmes, and increased focus on chasing down debt related to unpaid invoices.

Over £1.51 million has been distributed to musicians, which is again significantly higher than the historical average distribution. Temporary dedicated resource was also employed to focus on line-up research and tracking down payee details in order to reduce the amount of undistributed money held on account.

Unpaid Fee Recovery

Through its in-house solicitor or external legal consultants, over £350,000 of unpaid fees were recovered for MU members up to the end of Q3/2023. This figure includes a combination of fees from freelance live engagements, from royalty contracts or where employment has been terminated without meeting the statutory requirements like redundancy or holiday pay.

Delegate Conference

The MU had its 130th Birthday this year, and held its 40th biennial Delegate Conference. On 25 and 26 of July at the Park Regis Hotel in Birmingham with over 125 attendees, including regional delegates, executive committee members, union officials and industry guests, gathered to hear a report on the Union's work of the last 2 years, pass 19 rule changes and debate 18 motions submitted by members on the direction they would like the MU to take moving forward.

Motions passed include calls for Welsh language provision in Musicians' Union communications, and future planning for a pandemic to make sure that musicians are not forgotten in Government support schemes.

Debates were also held on providing domestic abuse support for survivors and how the union can best support carers and those with childcare needs. Motions on both topics passed with unanimous support.

It was a fantastic event to be a part of and we would like to once again thank all those who organised and attended for their positive attitude and overwhelmingly supportive participation. Bring on Conference 2025!

Climate Emergency

The MU has established a Climate Emergency Action Group of members which meets regularly and will hold the Union to account on issues of sustainability. In 2024, we will audit our investment portfolio to look at our ethical and environmental footprint.

We have already carried out an environmental audit of our London office and are reducing the physical materials we produce, moving to digital resources where possible.

Our Membership Department are reducing the physical letters and materials we produce and we will be launching a new more sustainable welcome pack in 2024.

Members' Services

Finally, we improved our equipment and instrument insurance this year so that it covers £3000 instead of £2000. While we need to increase subscriptions for 2024 due to our increased running costs in many areas, we believe MU membership provides excellent value and we are working all the time to improve what we do for you, our members.

I hope you all get some rest over Christmas period as well as taking part in some wonderful and productive musical events.

Wishing all the best for 2024.

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