86% of Australian Musicians Say the Industry Treats Them Unfairly — 64% Making Less Than $10,000 Annually

Australian musicians
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Australian musicians
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Photo Credit: Srikant Sahoo

A new survey finds that 49% of Australia’s working musicians earned less than $6,000 AUD ($3,900 USD) last year, just 15% of the national minimum wage, with 64% earning $15,000 AUD ($9,800 USD) or less during the 2023 financial year.

The survey released by Musicians Australia, an initiative by the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA), shows the industry in crisis, escalating calls for improved working conditions for musicians and a national minimum fee. According to the survey, only one in five musicians derived all their income from their music career, while two-thirds were required to take up work outside the industry to make ends meet.

Over half of the musicians surveyed cite the lack of pay as the biggest barrier to working in music full time, with 40% of musicians earning income from two or three music jobs. 42% report playing unpaid gigs.

As a result, the survey revealed that poor working conditions and work insecurity have taken a significant toll on musicians’ general health and wellbeing — one in five reported being injured at work, while 62% have been bullied, harassed, or discriminated against. Overall, 86% of musicians said they felt they were treated unfairly by the industry.

“Once I have derived half my earnings from music, but rising living costs and a drop in performance fees has forced me to pivot to other work outside of music,” said folk musician Kimberley Wheeler, recently elected Federal President of MEAA. “It’s a trade-off I wish I didn’t have to make, but it’s now harder than ever to make a decent living as a working musician.”

“It is not properly acknowledged that what we do is an occupation. Musicians are typically treated as having a lesser right to earn income than other earners in the music industry. We operate as businesses. We need to earn a living wage, not pocket money,” continued Wheeler. “Most organizations are unwilling to negotiate terms or operation models. I don’t think it has to be this way.”

“There’s more we can do within the industry to set up win-win scenarios where the venue operator and the musicians can benefit. It’s a matter of public interest that we have a viable live music industry in Australia,” she concluded.

Musicians Australia launched a minimum fee campaign two years ago, resulting in six state and territory governments endorsing a minimum fee of $250 AUD per musician per public-funded gig. South Australia, Western Australia, Queensland, Victoria, NSW, and ACT have all endorsed a minimum fee, while MEAA is calling on the Tasmanian government to endorse it following the state’s recent election.