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Findings Show Classical Music Industry at Risk of Losing Talent and Decreasing in Diversity

The MU was one of many organisations to help fund groundbreaking research into a report which finds that the Classical Music sector is failing its parent and carer workforce.

Published: 20 October 2022 | 2:38 PM
Close up of woman playing the cello.
The report signposts an urgent need to improve employment practices to be more inclusive of its parents and carers, and in particular women. Image credit: Shutterstock.

Groundbreaking research into parents and carers in the Classical Music sector by charity Parents and Carers in Performing Arts (PiPA) and Birkbeck, University of London and supported by Help Musicians and the MU, has found that the Classical Music industry is at risk of losing talent and decreasing in diversity.

This signposts an urgent need to improve employment practices to be more inclusive of its parents and carers, and in particular women.

‘Bittersweet Symphony’, the findings

The first of its kind report, ‘Bittersweet Symphony’,reveals that parents and carers pay a significant penalty in terms of well-being, work opportunities and remuneration to maintain a career in classical music. They struggle given outdated working practices in the industry.

The findings highlight:

  • Self-employed women, over 85% of whom have caring responsibilities, including mothers, reported a pay penalty of £8,000, earning the least, at £12,000, compared to £20,000 for freelance men.
  • Outdated work and caregiving structures in Classical Music that are highly gendered, with women twice as likely to turn down work due to caring responsibilities.
  • Half of respondents (50%) are unsatisfied with their work-life balance and 82% reported managing work and family commitments as moderately to extremely stressful.
  • 40% of respondents are thinking of leaving their careers in music

The need for positive change 

Additional findings reiterate the urgent need for positive change in employment culture in the sector. The report found that:

  • Only 4% of respondents referenced a supportive employer, with the vast majority relying on a network of support from family, partners or friends to help them manage work and family.
  • Two thirds (65%) of respondents revealed that income from music never or rarely covers unexpected costs, while almost half (48%) said that income from music never or rarely covers basic needs.
  • Nine out of ten musicians, composers, opera singers and conductors reported turning down work due to caring responsibilities, indicating a significant risk to the longevity of the Classical Music workforce. Based on the results, there is a high risk of losing talent, especially freelancers.

With the majority of those working in music self -employed, career barriers identified by respondents included: lack of flexibility and scheduling; lack of affordable, flexible, ad-hoc childcare; the logistical and financial demands of touring and working away; and the need to meet inflexible demands of additional work, such as teaching, to subsidise earnings.

Moving forward

PiPA will now establish a working group of sector bodies and employers across the industry, to design a Best Practice Charter to support the sector to work towards family friendly working practices. Black Lives in Music, Help Musicians, Independent Society of Musicians, Liverpool Philharmonic, the MU, Phonographic Performance Limited, Royal Opera House, Scottish Opera and SWAP’ra are among the confirmed partners who will help address the challenges raised by the research.

The report also signposts clear recommendations for the Classical Music industry stakeholders which include:

  • Share, promote and learn from existing family friendly best practice
  • Consider and support flexible working both formally and informally
  • Conduct business research into the long-term benefits in terms of retention, particularly in freelance roles
  • Make inclusion and intersectionality a key focus: ensure continuous recording and sharing of diversity statistics to monitor progress, and to identify potentially vulnerable groups
  • Offer enhanced support for small organisations to ensure good practice and breadth of cultural capital
  • Offer training and career development as part of music education which prepares holistically for managing work and caring responsibilities.

The MU fully supports the report and its recommendations

MU General Secretary, Naomi Pohl, says of the research:

“The MU fully supports PiPA’s new report “Bittersweet Symphony” and its recommendations. Having children or caring responsibilities can limit career opportunities for classical musicians and the pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing inequalities that disadvantage women.

“There remains a culture of silence around these issues and about the discrimination that pregnant musicians experience; this report brings light to those issues and it is our responsibility as an industry to tackle them head on. There is a clear need for more inclusive working practices and that includes flexible working structures that would benefit everyone.

“The Government must also step up and provide universal, flexible, high-quality childcare that is available to all from the point at which paid maternity or parental leave ends.

“The MU looks forward to working with PiPA and the industry to create a sector that works for women and those who have caring responsibilities in all their diversity, to enable them to reach their full potential.”

To read and download the report in full, view PiPA’s research page here.


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