Musicians’ Union denounces ‘Play For Free’ policy

'This is not a hobby, it’s our profession'

As the UK government lets some English music venues re-open, the Musicians Union (MU) is receiving reports of venues asking musicians to play unpaid.

Musicians, venues and the wider live music industry have all shared the pain of lockdown. So, the Union is understandably concerned that venues such as the Bristol Hippodrome Piano Bar have been asking performers to work free of charge.

The social media backlash against the Hippodrome’s owners, The Ambassadors Theatre Group resulted in a rapid climb down from the company but the MU is hearing that other venues are preying upon musicians’ desire to return to performing.

The MU says many of its members will see nothing of the government’s £1.57 Cultural Recovery Fund, which excludes grants to individual artists or groups. This comes on top of news that 38 percent of MU members are ineligible for the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) or the furlough scheme, leaving thousands of professional musicians with no income, at all.

With streaming income being negligible for most musicians and increasingly limited opportunities for work in the film and television sector. Thousands of MU members rely on live performance income to survive.

Many venues have been supported by funding from the Cultural Recovery Fund, reductions in VAT on hospitality and the Eat Out To Help Out scheme. Closures have occurred despite this but the MU is calling on the whole industry to pull together.

‘Supporting the region’s theatres and venues is essential, but that must include support for the musicians and performers as well,’ said MU Regional Organiser for Wales & South West England Andy Warnock.

‘This is not a hobby, it’s our profession,’ states the MU Facebook page. ‘No-one should feel guilty about turning down unpaid “opportunities”. If you’ve been asked to work for no fee, let us know via http://www.theMU.org/contact.’

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