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First Ever UK Musicians’ Census Provides Unparalleled Insight into the Careers of the UK’s Musicians and Music Creators

The Musicians’ Census reveals UK musicians’ average annual income from music work is £20,700 – but nearly half earn under £14,000.

Published: 11 September 2023 | 11:33 AM Updated: 11 September 2023 | 1:58 PM
Woman playing acoustic guitar at a table with male musician, paper and pen are on the table next to them.
"Even though the Musicians' Census paints a challenging landscape for musicians, I believe the MU has never been in a better position to tackle them head on.” Image credit: Shutterstock.

The initial findings of the first ever UK Musicians’ Census are being released to the public for the first time today by Help Musicians and the Musicians’ Union. The results are based on information provided by close to 6,000 musicians, making it the largest ever survey of its kind.

The first report provides a detailed insight into the demographic makeup of UK musicians, the barriers to career progression and economic challenges.

It reveals:

  • UK musicians’ average annual income from music work is £20,700 – but nearly half earn under £14,000
  • Over half of musicians need to sustain their career by sourcing other forms of income outside of the industry
  • Nearly half (44%) report a lack of sustainable income is a barrier to their music career.

Nearly half of musicians earn under £14k

The first Musicians’ Census found that 70% of professional musicians in the UK hold a degree or higher (50% have a music degree specifically), and 65% have been earning musicians for over 10 years.

Despite this, the Census found that UK musicians’ average annual income from music work is £20,700 – with 43% earning less than £14,000 a year from music, meaning many are left supplementing their income in other industries.

The average income for those making 100% of their income from music is around £30,000, this compares to the average median income in the UK of £33,280 (ONS), and the average salary for a working-age person with a degree in the UK of £38,500 (GOV.UK).

Nearly a quarter (23%) of musicians stated they do not earn enough to support themselves or their families and for nearly half (44%), a lack of sustainable income is a barrier to their music career. 17% of musicians also reported being in debt, rising to 30% amongst those with a mental health condition and 28% for Black/Black British musicians.

Many musicians have portfolio careers

As such, many musicians now have a portfolio career – needing jobs outside of the music industry to support their career as a musician, and this has a significant impact on their ability to further develop their long-term musical careers and access to opportunity.

Over half (53%) sustain their career by sourcing other forms of income outside of music - two thirds (62%) of these generate additional funds from alternative employment, but other sources of financial support include support from family and friends (14%), and Universal Credit or other benefits (12%).

Three quarters (75%) of those who have other income in addition to music report only seeking this work for financial reasons.

Most musicians report at least one career-restricting barrier

The majority of musicians (80%) reported at least one or more career-restricting barriers, demonstrating the challenging nature of building a sustainable career in music.

Financial obstacles are persistent with 46% of musicians reporting cost-related barriers including cost of equipment (30%), cost of transport (27%), and the cost of training (18%) limiting their careers.

Other barriers include no clear route for career progression (36%), not knowing anyone in the industry (25%), and unsociable working hours (22%).

Musicians are resilient and agile

Despite a seemingly challenging career, musicians are hardworking and persistent. While most (80%) indicate that they consider themselves as performers, on average, a working musician holds 3-4 different roles in music, highlighting the need and ability to juggle different types of roles to sustain a career.

Musicians tend to have a breadth of creative outputs too. Responses suggest that a typical musician works across 4-5 genres and plays 2-3 instruments - one fifth (20%) of musicians report playing four or more instruments.

Tackling the challenges musicians face

Naomi Pohl, Musicians’ Union General Secretary comments:

“The first Musicians’ Census highlights the challenges musicians face carving out and sustaining a career as a musician in 2023.

“As the UK’s trade union for musicians, this Census will help us be more effective at representing our members and tackling the nuanced challenges different communities of musicians face.

“Whether that is working with the industry to improve diversity, negotiating better pay and conditions, or lobbying governments to secure the support our members need and deserve, the Musicians' Census gives us the vital data to take on these challenges on behalf of our members.

“As well as working externally, the Musicians' Census also gives us rich insights into how the MU can adapt to a changing world of work and be more representative of the diverse communities of musicians working in the UK.

“Even though the Musicians' Census paints a challenging landscape for musicians, I believe the MU has never been in a better position to tackle them head on.”

The union thanks all our members who took the Census earlier this year, and all our ambassadors for helping us achieve close to 6,000 responses.

Informing how the industry supports musicians

Sarah Woods, Chief Executive of Help Musicians commented:

“The Musicians’ Census 2023 not only offers unique insight into the make-up of the musicians’ community across the UK but also paints a picture of the distinctive set of challenges musicians face to sustain a career in music.

“The Census information will be vital in informing our future services; with a better understanding of the career challenges that different communities within the music industry face we can offer help on a national scale which makes a substantial, and positive impact on musician’s lives and careers.

“Although the data shows some big challenges musicians face, it also highlights how committed musicians are in continuing to produce the music we all know and love; demonstrating how resilient our population of musicians truly is.

“The Census findings show that musicians need our continued support and working collaboratively with others in the music industry. This valuable insight will enable us to do more in the years to come.

“Thank you to everyone who responded and to those organisations who helped us share it – Help Musicians will use the Census to develop new forms of support to ensure a world where musicians thrive.”

Charisse Beaumont, Chief Executive of Black Lives In Music commented:

“The Musicians’ Census is an important tool that will help to understand the lived experience of all musicians working across the country.

"Through the Census we hear the voices of musicians, their challenges and their needs.

"It is essential that the music industry uses this data to help inform strategy to make much needed change to ensure all musicians thrive.”

More Musicians’ Census insight reports to come in 2023 and 2024

The first report from the Musicians’ Census 2023 has been published and is available to read now.

Further reports with insights into other aspects of UK musicians’ lives will be released over the coming months.


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