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The MU/BPI Agreement is one of the five main agreements the MU negotiates with the TV, film and recorded music industries setting the minimum terms and conditions for our members working as recording session musicians or singers.

Our agreement with the BPI specifically covers the recording of music for commercial release.

In most cases the engager will be a record label under one of the three “major label” groups: Universal, Sony or Warners, but our members are also engaged by many of the UK’s independent labels, individual self-releasing artists and by overseas record labels and artists.

The other recording agreements we have in place usually have a specified term, either three years or five, and often have agreed increments in rates of pay for each year of the term in order to try to keep them in line with inflation. The BPI, on the other hand, have always resisted agreement to set renegotiation dates or include any incremental uplifts in their agreement with us.

It is in the BPI’s interest to make you wait

A general issue with collective bargaining from a union perspective is that of time versus inflation.

With inflation, costs are always rising. That means the moment a deal is struck, the agreed rates start a slow and steady decline in value for members in comparison. This can be combatted, to an extent, with built in incremental uplifts and regular renegotiation.

Conversely, from the engager - or more likely their representative trade body’s - perspective, every day that passes means a better deal with no need to actually do anything other than wait out time and avoid agreeing to any increase. As you can imagine, that is far easier to do than trying to positively engage with an unwilling and unreceptive negotiating partner.

And so it has been with the BPI, and as a result each iteration of the agreement has dragged on un-renegotiated for periods of up to ten years whilst the rates and terms fall way behind those of our other recording agreements.

No employer can justify an 8% increase in 13 years

The current non-classical 3-hour session rate under the BPI/MU Agreement is £130, which is 65% lower than the average rate for comparable rights across our other recording agreements.

The agreement was last renegotiated in 2019, when the above rate saw an increase of just £10 from £120, which it had been set at since 2011. So, essentially, musicians working under the agreement have seen a £3.33 per hour (8%) increase over a thirteen-year time period. I think you would struggle to find any employer in any industry across the entire UK that would manage to justify such a paltry attempt to address their workers’ needs.

When you then consider that the musicians working under this agreement are some of most highly regarded in the world – such that a significant number of US film and television project soundtracks are recorded in the UK just to make use of their talents, and that UK recorded music industry revenue has increased by 57% (£400m) since 2015 – it is hard not to become angry at the utter unfairness of it all.

The BPI doesn’t want to pay session musicians streaming royalties

So, to the most recent re-negotiation process. Against a backdrop of the DCMS Select Committee report into the economics of streaming and the resulting recommendations from government to address the established and evidenced disparity in the share of streaming revenue between labels and musicians, an offer was received from the BPI to increase the 3-hour session rate by 38% from £130 to £180. Wow, you might think! Bite their hand off! But look again at the bigger picture behind this seemingly huge hike.

Assuming that any future renegotiation is potentially five years away, which could politely be judged as optimistic, this would take cumulative increases to 50% over an 18-year time period. By way of comparison retail prices have increased 94% in the last 18 years. An increase to £233 would leave members at a standstill rate for the period in comparison to inflation.

But the BPI don’t want to just increase the rate with nothing required in return. They want an end to additional payments to musicians whose audio performances are subsequently dubbed into the promotional music video for any of the tracks recorded, which amount to several hundred thousand pounds per year across all members.

They also want extra studio recording time, and they want an end to additional fees for use of studio recordings as backing tracks, often referred to as “stems” in live performances.

Most importantly, as part of the agreement, they require the MU to formally acknowledge that the increase deals with the streaming disparity for session musicians, thus removing any argument we might make for an ongoing royalty stream for our members from the music streaming model.

The BPI’s offer is not worth putting to members

Firstly, this offer actually has a negative value for our members in real terms before any additional rights giveaway. Secondly, even if accepted by members the offered increase would only be reflected in payments for sessions taking place from that point onwards.

This would leave the thousands of session musicians who contributed to the entire history of UK recorded music up until that point – much of which is still being streamed constantly every year – without any financial reward for the ongoing evergreen successes they played a part in creating.

Agreeing to such a deal would be unconscionable, so we have refused to put it to a ballot of members.

It’s time to organise to get you the recognition you deserve

Cataloguing this all has left me feeling incredibly angry, and I hope reading it has had the same effect on you. We have put up with this injustice for too long. We need to make a stand as you have seen us do in the orchestral sector of late.

We have a seat on the IPO’s Creator Remuneration Working Group, and we will take these arguments into that forum. If we come out empty-handed, we will then look to our members to organise, in order to achieve the level of recognition and reward that their incredible talent truly deserves, finally.

Photo ofPhil Kear
Thanks to

Phil Kear

Phil Kear is Assistant General Secretary at the Musicians’ Union. He has over 25 years’ experience in the music industry, with a specific background in royalties, copyright and licensing. Phil’s current role has oversight of the Union's four industrial departments: Education, Live Performance, Orchestras and Recording & Broadcasting. He is also responsible for the Union's Membership Services department.


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