Insights from the first-ever UK Musicians’ Census reveal the demographic makeup of UK musicians and prevalent pay gaps, barriers to career progression, and financial challenges.
In a project from Help Musicians and the Musicians’ Union, alongside research agency Walnut, a survey of nearly 6,000 musicians maps how UK artists are doing with a career in the industry — by revealing details of revenue, lifestyle, and pay gaps.
Released September 2023, the census’ results shed light on a troublesome element: rampant financial struggle under the facade of a ‘glamorous’ music industry career.
According to the report, the average annual income of a UK musician is merely £20,700 (currently $25,881). 23% of respondents indicated it was impossible to support themselves and their families by relying solely on a career in music. This discrepancy has led musicians to seek external sources of income to supplement their music earnings. These external income sources include a constant bid for freelance projects, or finding ‘regular’ employment.
Of the musicians supplementing their income, 62% said they generated additional earnings by seeking employment outside the music industry. 75% of those with another income source (in addition to music) reported that the only reason behind their quest for ‘external’ employment was an attempt to make ends meet.
46% of musicians reported that financial obstacles and limitations hinder their musical efforts, and 44% said that a lack of sustainable income restricts their career growth.
While citing other barriers to a thriving music career, 30% named cost of equipment as the biggest barrier, 27% said the high cost of transport was an issue, and 18% claimed the cost of training was holding them back from making the most out of their music passions.
Of course, there are artists who earn 100% of their income by creating music. 40% of musicians reported earning all their income from music, averaging £30,000 ($37,510) annually. 25% of these musicians reported earning more than £41,000 ($51,262) annually, and 3% responded that they made more than £70,000 ($87,521) per year.
But many musicians working fulltime in music reported taking on self-employed music projects, and their average total revenue from their craft is similar, £38,750. However, the fact that these music-employed artists are also obligated to seek out freelance projects points to a tragic reality — even a fulltime music career isn’t a guarantee of financial stability, and most respondents have resorted to topping up lower annual earnings with extra work. Additionally, 17% of all musician respondents reported being in debt.
The report noted that of the 3% outlier high earners, 79% were men, while only 19% were women.
The census and its insights highlight several other pay gaps (besides gender), that play integral roles in determining a UK musician’s average yearly income. These included disability, ethnicity, LGBTQ, and employment status.
Regarding qualifications related to music education, 50% of respondents had a music degree, and 27% stated they were self-taught.
Musicians’ Census Financial Insight Report is supported by a vast number of organizations across the sector who have input into the project and will also benefit from its insight. These include the Arts Council England, Association for Electronic Music (AFEM), Association of British Orchestras, Attitude is Everything, Black Lives in Music (BLiM), Drake Music Org, Drake Music Scotland, English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS), Featured Artists Coalition, Ivors Academy, Music Managers Forum, PiPA, PPL, PRS Foundation, Punch Records, Royal Society of Musicians of Great Britain (RSM), Safe In Sound in NI, She Said So, The F List, The Independent Society of Musicians (ISM), and UK Music.