New report reveals extent of unpaid work in UK music industry

mixing desk

Eighty-eight percent of music producers and sound engineers are expected to work for free, with 71 percent agreeing to work for free in the past three years, according to new research.

According to the Working on Spec report, authored by the Music Producers Guild (MPG), the reasons for doing the unpaid work varied, with 50 percent of respondents saying they were doing a genuine favour for a friend, while 20 percent felt ‘under pressure’ to do a favour for an existing client.

Nearly half (42 percent) said they had done on spec work, undertaken on the understanding that they would be paid if the client liked the work.

Self-funding artists were by far the most likely to ask people to work for free, with as many as 77 percent of respondents doing unpaid work for self-funding artists.

Next were indie labels, with 34 percent doing unpaid work for an indie label, and nearly 17 percent doing unpaid work for a major label.

Independent TV and film productions, as well as radio stations, commercial studios and charity projects are among the other clients who have benefited from free labour.

The average value of unpaid work per year was estimated to be around £4,000 per person, ranging from a few hundred pounds to £40,000.

Olga FitzRoy, MPG executive director, said: ‘I knew unpaid work was a problem in our industry, but I didn’t realise how endemic it was. Of course, people will do favours for friends, but it’s completely unacceptable for record labels and commercial studios to exploit professionals in this way. We don’t employ someone to put in a new bathroom and then decide to pay them if we feel like it.

‘I find it shocking that assistant engineers are being expected to work for a month for free in commercial studios before having the chance of a paid position. Nobody wins if our pool of talent is reduced to those with a bank of mum and dad to rely on. This is one of the reasons why we are launching an assistant engineer membership to try and support those at the beginning of their careers.’

Working on Spec report was unveiled at last week’s Pivotal Music Conference.