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Arts Council England promotes slave wages for musicians

The following advertisement has appeared on Arts Council England’s job site:

Musicians / band required (accordion, mandolin, guitar, bass and drums) for world famous singer

A world-renowned singer will be in London to perform at the Royal Opera House in April – and meanwhile he will also be performing with a small band of musicians at the 110-seat Kings Head Theatre.

So far, so okay…

The singer has a US band, but needs to put together a new group of musicians for these UK gigs (and there may be further shows on the continent as well).

Well, that’s nice. Can we cut to the pay?

The fee is £30 per show, and rehearsals will be paid at £30 per 3-hour session.

Run that by me again?

The fee is £30 per show, and rehearsals will be paid at £30 per 3-hour session.

You mean £30 for a night’s work, perhaps £23 after tax and national insurance? You mean after years of study all you will pay is less than a barman’s wage? You must be kidding, no?

The fee is £30 per show, and rehearsals will be paid at £30 per 3-hour session.

And this is advertised, supported, propagated  by the Arts Council, which is meant to promote higher standards in the arts across England?

We are looking to put this band together as soon as possible, so if you are interested please send us your CV as soon as possible, and by the end of the day on Sunday 17th February at the latest.

Please state in your application if you would also be interested in acting as MD for these performances.

Apply – do not apply – here.

ace    ace2

UPDATE: Now the union gets involved.

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  1. In fairness, nowhere does it say they are asking for professional musicians.Asking hobbyists, keen and good amateurs to play, and covering their expenses… anything wrong with that?
    If they wanted professionals I have no doubt they know plenty of them and what the going rate is, and could and would have asked.
    (It’s a similar sort of fee a non-pro might expect as an honorarium or thank-you payment for playing in a no-budget school play or am-dram performance. Many of these players would be thrilled at the chance to work with someone well-known and musically gifted… and what’s the bet that our assumption of “well-known” isn’t quite what the advert means anyway…)

    The jobs list on which this is advertised is largely full of unpaid volunteer requests, or lower-paid work / job opportunities. It is not really a list on which one expects to find well-paid work (although some well-paid posts are sometimes advertised there, presumably so a recruitment consultant can say they have covered all bases), nor is it a list you would expect professional musicians to use to find work, and therefore not where you would expect someone advertising for professional musicians to advertise.
    It’s fairly safe to say that the advertiser is not looking at that level, therefore!

    In this light, is this really so bad?

  2. yet again from the Kings Head Theatre.. This is the “opera company” that pays two or three quid or less to chorus members for a performance!

  3. Wonder how much extra the MD gets? A free beer maybe? This is absolutely crazy but of course the sad thing is there will be many musicians who are desperate for work and willing to take on the gigs even at this unacceptable fee…

  4. scandalous! how can the Arts Council condone such exploitation? I have several students who could probably teach themselves an instrument by the audition date….. I’m sure they would love to play in a band…..come to think of it, maybe some Members of Parliament could realise their childhood fantasies and form a backing group…..and earn a pittance…….

  5. Why are the words ‘professional musician’ considered to be dirty words? Professional musicians have studied much longer than doctors and their fees are astronomical.

    What a sad, sad state of affairs!

  6. that is so sad… and the trouble is that some musicians will still apply… this hardly covers the beer after. in fact they’d be better off staying at home and growing some vegetables.

  7. Anon-do you really think they would be looking for have a go hero amateurs when it’s a world class performer? No. They know that people as desperate as arts are cut left right and centre and they are exploiting that desperation, it’s degrading and pathetic. Don’t be so simplistic- of course they know professional players will apply-they are not saying they want “pros” because the fee is not pro, that’s all and they want apologists like you to jump to their defense when hard working, talented musicians who have sacrificed much for their work are being denaid fair payment on the basis that they should feel lucky to be doing it. As a very eminent principal of a london orchestra said to me recently “one day we we look back and say, we had world class musicians in london.” Many of my friends living elsewhere in europe are appaled by this kind of thing.

    • Chris, don’t be daft. No one wanting talent to support a truly “world class” performer would be advertising for it on this list. Nor will they expect truly professional players to apply – it will cost much of the fee to get there and back. It is clearly an expenses / pocket-money gig for anyone who is keen, be that a top-notch amateur (and in London there are plenty of extremely talented non-pros who would pay to do it, let alone have their costs covered), or a student keen to gain opera experience.

      We do have world-class musicians in London, and they don’t use this list to find work.

      • I’m afraid you’re the one being daft, the point is not that there are plenty of great amateur players to take this gig, but that there are lots of professionals struggling to find work and who may in their desperation, and the situation is pretty desperate, reply to this because they have some free time and would rather be playing and trying to further their caree and actually apart from the absurd fee it’s a good opportunity. Professional players, especially young professional players use any means to find work-it would be stupid not to. Do you think the only work for musicians exists on websites such as musical chairs?! Do you think people sit waiting at home for jobs to come up on there and otherwise sit at home twiddling their thumbs? No. Most musicians are highly proactive and creative when it comes to finding work and most keep a regular eye on at least 6-8 websites. Also, you have entirely missed the point about who would apply for this-no one is saying that leading players from top orchestras would be applying for these kinds of things, it’s the young players (most of whom have already done orchestra course after orchestra course with world class conductors year in year out since they were 15 and auditioned against hundreds to do them) and done some professional work already that might be enticed to apply for this and they shouldn’t feel they have to but they do. You must recognise that these kinds of opportunities are not “one offs” – I used to get e-mails about these kinds of things on almost a daily basis. It’s an attitude which is very very common and that musicians are tiring of, that musicians don’t need to be paid because there is someone nearly as good who will do it for free. Musicians are struggling to survive in a climate where their skills and training arehugely undermined every week. Tell you what anon, next time you need your car fixed why don’t you check out gumtree for someone who “has a passion for cars” or next time you need something fixing in your house such as a boiler you could probably find a handyman to do it for you for cheaper than british gas!

  8. They are obviously not looking for established musicians but instead some fresh talent who are looking to gain experience.

    If you do the sums on a 110 seat venue you are never going to get a huge revenue unless the ticket prices are beyond the venues facilities. As far as I can tell, their ticket prices range from £10 – £21 which give between £1,100 and £2,310 per performance, if they were SOLD OUT and everyone pays the top price (this never happens, some seats are always purchased on a discounted rate). Taking in consideration that in a budget each performance will have to take on their share of overheads, staff wages, advertising / marketing / VAT / box office costs etc you can see how quickly the money pot empties.

    No it is not fair that people are not paid what they are worth or that the top 1/2 percent take all the cream, but if theatre goers will / can only pay a certain amount to see something then what can a promotors do? The only alternative is not to bother with these small/non profit making ventures but what would that do to our wonderful Arts Industry? Where else would young performers gain experience and exposure? Not in the big venues with the big bucks…that its put aside for the ‘well known’ performers who guarantee a large audience who will pay for the larger ticket price.

    • Andrew Hyde says:

      “…staff wages…” – exactly. Does the person who cleans the theatre after the show get paid? Do the people who work at the bar get paid? So why not the ones providing the actual entertainment?

    • Ticket prices are heavily subsidised by earmarked funding to make classical music (to take one example) more “accessible.” It costs far more than what people pay to put concerts/operas etc pm. In reality all this does is make it cheaper for the people who will go anyway.

    • There is plenty of fresh professional talent, who don’t need exposure or experience but the opportunities to work are diminishing by the week and because they love what they do want to do everything to keep their career going. It’s an excuse used by organisations and arts managers the world over, who have probably never tried to make a living in music from performing yet preach to young professionals that they should be happy to do it. Musicians aren’t a charity and why should the theatres profit or loss be their concern? People would pay more to go and see things but this unhealthy inverted snobbery message of “music and arts being elitist” has and will continue to damage the general publics view on arts, reduce what they’re willing to pay for it and leave the subsidy to be fitted by philanthropists. It’s a self perpetuating problem that the musicians themselves are not part of and that is not their problem. Sorry but people need to realise that this is not acceptable!

  9. The Arts Jobs website has very clear guidelines on the front page about no wage/low paid opportunities being advertised. I suspect ACE will take this ad down if brought to their attention – it’s a user-submitted site; not sure if the policing happens pre- or post- listing,.

    • Quite. ACE provide the infrastructure for the adverts to be submitted, but don’t implicitly condone them. You wouldn’t expect your local shop to take full responsibility for all the adverts in the window, or sue your local paper for publishing an advert from a dodgy plumber, would you?

      • That’s a false analogy. A shop is there to sell things. The ACE exists for a specific chartered purpose – to raise standards in the arts. This is contrary to its charter. As a public bidy, it also has a legal duty to police anything that appears on its website.

        • I see the point, but don’t buy it. ACE wastes enough money as it is, let’s not persuade them to spend more on office staff to “police” such postings, which makes no odds anyway because any rejections would find somewhere else to be posted. This isn’t a noticeboard for ACE to advertise it’s own jobs or jobs where ACE funding is involved – it’s an “arts community” noticeboard featuring a variety of advertisements each day, and in providing the service ACE is trying to be helpful.
          And on what grounds, other than personal taste, would this advert have been rejected by any such policing anyway? The amount paid is above minimum wage, there’s nothing illegal or immoral about it (other than personal opinion that “the likely respondents are surely worth more than that”).

  10. I think my 14 year old child got paid that much for a very first “gig” having just passed Grade 8 – a Vivaldi Gloria for a local choral society – sitting next to her Dad and behind her teacher: that is an “opportunity” and an appropriate fee for such an event. The above is ludicrous.
    And as for the “Company” involved – they do not pay their Chorus members: they get very good amateurs to sing for free – and pay a nominal travel and subsistence feee instead.

  11. Well, I guess the internationally renowned opera singer is getting £30 a night too…?
    Re: the theatres takings: ou haven’t taken into account that they get ACE funding too. In fact most ACE funding is there so that the ticket revenue isn’t the only source of funds to pay the artists and venue overheads.

  12. King's Head Theatre says:

    We are dismayed to find ourselves in this position as we are committed to working with artists’ unions to ensure fair pay and working conditions. We have an excellent ongoing relationship with performers’ union Equity and as we do not normally produce concerts we genuinely did not realise we needed to approach the MU separately about the terms for this event.

    To give you some background, we are an unfunded theatre and opera company with a small (110 seat) venue. All our income comes from our box office. Because we are committed to paying all our staff (performers, technicians, creatives etc) but are limited by our number of seats and the desire to keep ticket prices at an affordable level, we have an ‘in-house’ agreement Equity. This states we will always pay national minimum wage or above (we usually pay about 20% above NMW) for any work done at the theatre, all worked out on an hourly rate.

    We appreciate that these rates are lower than those which many larger (usually state-funded) companies are able to pay. However, after long discussion with Equity and full disclosure of all our finances, they set these rates as approved by them as not only fair but the maximum we could pay and stay afloat.

    We are in discussions with the Musicians Union to reach an in-house agreement and will similarly disclose the business’ financial information to them.

    We value all the artists who work with us, and are well aware of the many years of training, dedication and sacrifice that goes into forging a career in an extremely competitive industry.

    The singer for these dates is not taking a fee. He came to us having loved doing similar performances in a ‘fringe’ venue in New York, wanting to repeat the experience in London.

    We’ve been at the King’s Head just over two years, and have been steadily increasing the fees we pay all our collaborators throughout that time. It is our stated goal to reach full Equity rates as soon as possible, but we want to continue to produce theatre and music, and work for artists, so we must also live within our means. We regularly meet with Equity to re-assess our rates and working environment, and really hope to have the same relationship with the MU. We’re one of the very few theatres of our size that guarantees NMW payment at all. That is a real problem in our industry, and we’re trying to tackle it little by little. It’s an issue that needs to be out in the open and we’re happy to discuss it.

    • Thank you for the detailed clarification. One question: if you are unfunded, why did you use the ACE website? It’s the state-funded link that drew the fire.

      • King's Head Theatre says:

        Dear Norman,
        The Arts Jobs newsletter is administrated by the Arts Council, but is used to advertise many jobs which are not ACE funded.

        Their criteria for advertising on the site is that the job is paid at at least NMW hourly rates (although they state that organisations may advertise unpaid internships through the site if they are part of a recognised further or higher education course). This job conforms with those criteria.

        We’d be happy to discuss artists’ pay with you further, as jobs that are unpaid or paid at less than NMW are widespread in the theatre industry, and we condemn that practice. On the other hand, many small, unfunded organisations couldn’t make theatre at all if they paid standard Equity rates. It’s a big problem and one we feel passionately about.

        Best wishes,
        The King’s Head Theatre

  13. I work for a small but high profile music organization in the states. Our standards of pay are so low you wouldn’t even believe me if I quoted them to you. This includes our highly accomplished orchestra and choir, our guest artists, even our conductor. We are in dire financial straits every year. Yet we have clamorings whenever an opening appears in the orchestra; we have guest artists who will fight with their own agents to appear here despite the embarrassingly low fees. They want to work here and be part of what we do.

    If there weren’t flexibility to give our musicians the option of performing here, to give them the option of taking our minimum wage – an option they exercise every year – we would not be able to exist. The same is true of many organizations of our profile in the US. The truth is, there is no “exact standard” of what musicians should get paid. A superstar soloist like Lang Lang might get $75,000 from one organization and $20,000 from another. Some orchestras pay every player $125,000+ per year, others pay hardly anything on a per service basis only. I highly doubt the famous singer advertised at the King’s Head is getting thousands of pounds for her appearance either.

    What good does the Arts Council do by preventing (or – what’s the alternative, bullying?) a tiny and underfunded organization from advertising these opportunities simply because they can’t afford to pay a fabulous wage? Does a small organization like this not deserve to employ professionals because they don’t pay the same rate as Covent Garden? What if, like my organization, musicians are lining up for this opportunity because they love the venue and the mission and are willing to do a gig for crappy pay once in a while?

    I know there’s a fine line between what I describe and exploitation, but you simply cannot paint with such a broad brush and accuse small, plucky organizations of taking advantage of musicians (who have free will, remember?) because they can’t afford high fees. There’s a huge difference between this situation and, say, a pop musician on a for-profit tour putting out casting calls like this.

  14. Michael Haslam says:

    How common is it for a solo artist from the USA to play one concert in an extremely prestigious venue such as the ROH and in the same trip play 5 or 6 dates in a tiny fringe venue in the same city? There’s something that doesn’t add up here.

    • Of course he’s not singing one concert at the ROH. He’s there for a run of Taminos in the revival of Zauberflote…

      • Michael Haslam says:

        Ah, thank you, Lauren. So do we suppose his UK work permit/visa is for non-specific concertising or just the performances as cast at the ROH? Maybe the relevant Equity committee should investigate.

        Certainly, on the matter of fees for his backing band, in his position I would be tempted to book professional musicians at above the MU casual gig rate, via an approved Contractor, which will guarantee a competent, musical and reliable accompaniment for his Kings Head appearances. I’d imagine the fee from just one of his performances as Tamino would provide generous remuneration to 5 musicians for 6 performances.

        • As the theatre has pointed out that Castronovo is not being paid the work permit issue is hardly relevant…

  15. ThunderKat! says:

    I can say that as a professional musician, I dismissed this advert entirely (after posting a mocking comment on my facebook page of course!). It frustrates me beyond belief when incredibly low wages are advertised, but it’s deemed as acceptable because it’s an arts council/fringe theatre/etc and we, the musician, get the opportunity to perform with a World Famous Singer. At full wage, yes. At this “wage”, no.

    This would have been far better to be advertised as “expenses covered”! A lesson learned, Kings Head Theatre?

    • If fringe venues couldn’t offer low wages, there would be no fringe venues. You are perfectly free to ignore such postings, and you may choose to mock them. But please don’t be so oblivious to the economics of such venues. If every venue had to pay “full wage” (whatever that is), the number of such venues would be cut in half and there would be a lot less music being performed by people of all skill levels at all points on the wage scale.

      • Edna Welthorpe says:

        Great comment ,Tomas! Most comments on this blog are so out of touch with the industry and what actually happens on the Fringe it is hilarious, but also slightly worrying. Elitism in Classical Music is alive and well on this blog… from what I can see, the theatre are offering £30 for a 1-hour gig, which in a small unfunded pub theatre is amazing. Why attack them for making brave and very much legal work? A little reality check I think is needed, the use of language such as “slave labour” and “exploitation” is actually offensive to the people in the world (and even London) who are actually living and working in such said conditions. Being paid £30 an hour is neither of these and the above piece and subsequent comments are facile.

        • No ones attacking the theatre, I’ve worked there before. they are attacking the arts council for advertising it. I’ve done gigs in that theatre and I was happy to do it, to help out and I had fun but what happens if you agrees to a string of such engagements and then gets an offer that will pay their rent for 3 months? These companies understand that artists need to make a living and it’s frustrating and stressful for them but they have to accept that musicians will drop out of things and find deps because they need to make a living. It just knocks standards down because these companies have to get deputies in who either don’t know the music or were not their first choice. Audiences over time will start to notice this, reviews will become less favourable and then, probably, such organisations will fold altogether. There’s no excuse-I put concerts on myself off my own back, no funding no administrator I take nothing for it and I always manage to give musicians 20-30 quid and that’s out of my own pocket and in between all my other work, performing, auditioning, conducting and teaching.

  16. Clive Blowes says:

    Surely if this very well known opera star ‘wants’ to do some fringe events he or she should subsidise these events so that the band are paid acceptable rates.

  17. I heard of a photographer who was asked to submit publicity work for free to the theatre …

  18. ThunderKat! says:

    They are not “out of touch” comments at all! I have done my share of work for fringe theatre, as well as charity gigs and arts council work. I have done it for either expenses or (at the very basic) a sandwich at lunchtime. And I will continue to play these gigs as they are great fun and more importantly, I donate my time and skills to a good cause and promote the arts.

    The problem here is a company advertising a “World Famous Singer” for which (I would expect) the band to be paid a normal rate of pay for a musician. This is clearly not the case, and as the “wage” is set out at a tenner an hour, I would not accept work on this basis. This expectation for musicians to be grateful for the very opportunity to play for someone who may or may not be internationally known is unfortunately used all over the music industry, and is often used to exploit younger players. There is then no incentive for the company hiring those performing to up their wages. Why bother?

  19. Dear Anon,
    May I ask how much you get paid for your work? And, if said company had any self-respect or, more importantly, respect for the “world-renowned” singer, do you think they would really want to hire “hobbyists” to poorly accompany such a singer. These wages are unacceptable for the amount of training an sacrifice that goes-into becoming a professional musician. It’s a slap in the face. And, the more these wages are seen as “normal” the more people will accept them as such. This will, eventually, perpetuate poor musicianship, apathy in the arts, and, eventually, the extinction of good artists–as they will no longer be able to afford careers as musicians. Please think about the greater consequences of hiring talent before you proclaim to the world that the musicians should just be happy for having a job! If this company had a good business-model, they would spend more money on their product, and less on their booking fees.
    Yours Truly,

  20. Dear Norman Lebrecht,
    Thank you for bringing this disappointing situation to light.

  21. It’s very true that without low-paid / non-paid / free-beer-only gigs that you as audience-members would miss out on a lot of new and interesting stuff.

    Likewise people who create new and maybe interesting stuff would not be able to get a track record sufficient to convince anyone to stump up the funds to pay people whatever you think the going rate should be for their decades of hard study etc. They’d certainly not be able to experiment freely with an investor or bank manager breathing down their neck.

    For me, I’m quite happy to play for nothing, or for beer, or for a few quid, or for a share of the door, provided that the artistic or fun aspect is worth it. E.g. I’ll quite happily going and play in a swing band, in a new music ensemble, or whatever; but I won’t do non-fun gigs unless I’m paid.

    (e.g. playing at weddings. Tiresome, boring and repetitive music, and the joy of watching strangers get drunk while you don’t!)

    If I was still living in London, I’d put in for this kind of thing, it sounds brilliant. Hopefully the organisers will allow people to rehearse after working hours, there are plenty of very good amateur musicians who have day-jobs who’d love to take part I’m sure.

    As for the Arts Council, don’t get me started. Pretty much anyone doing anything interesting and fringey won’t get funded by ACE. Remember that ACE are institutionally incapable of making artistic choices, they can only evaluate on meaningless things like “will it help the local community?” Much of fringe theatre and music takes place despite ACE rather than because of it. Do you know how hard it is to promote your fringe show on a shoestring in the face of publicly funded wasters with full time marketing teams?

    Three cheers for King’s Head Theatre and long may they carry on putting on shows created by people who do it because they love it, and not for the money.

    P.S. to the person who said about getting a car enthusiast to fix your car. You’ll quite often find that getting your oil/tyres changed by the car geek down the road in exchange for a few beers is a lot more effective – and with a better job done – than many professional garages. Think about that the next time you ask your IT expert friend to fix your emails, and then think about going to PC World instead…

  22. Some of your comments, Tim, are true enough. But how does a good, professional musician earn sufficient money to live on? We need to make a living, just as do other professionals. ‘Fringe’ and ‘experimental’ does not equate to amateurism. In some societies, classically trained musicians are (or were) highly respected.

    • I wouldn’t presume to tell any musician how to earn a living. But personally, I am also quite good at computer programming, and that pays well on short-term contracts so that I have plenty of time free to compose and to take on precisely those projects that I find artistically rewarding, without having to worry about the financial pay-off. My stuff gets performed all over the place (but infrequently) and I have a reasonable reputation (I think!) so it’s not as if my work suffers from this arrangement. On the contrary, I’d say.

      I know lots of extremely good musicians. A handful of them have what one might call “stellar” careers in music and do only that for a living, as far as I know. Of the rest, the ones who only do music also teach a lot, and most of them grumble about it. Of the ones who don’t do music for a living, here’s a quick list off the top of my head of what they do do: lawyer, programmer, scientist, gardener, personal financial adviser, instrument repairer, copyist – and more. I’m not counting people who are merely good at music, these are all people who you’d be quite happy to pay to hear at a “professional” concert hall, and quite possibly you have.

      These days in the conservatoires they are quite careful to get students to develop non-musical skills, and particularly to be a bit “entrepreneurial” about their future careers. It’s a fact of reality that only a very, very few will be Janine Jansen or Lang Lang. Most will indeed get some paid work as musicians – much of which they’ll hate but will do for the money – and they’ll make up the inevitable shortfall doing something else, perhaps something which they’ll also hate, such as teaching, or maybe they’ll develop another profession entirely.

      Not in any of this am I saying who should and shouldn’t get paid what. I’m just saying how it is! Personally I am very happy (and lucky?) indeed not to have to depend on a £30 gig in a pub for my next meal. On the other hand as I said above I very much like to do that sort gig, so long as it’s cool music / people etc.

      • How sad to think that musicians who have studied for so many years and put in so much practice need to have ‘day jobs’. One would not find this in other professions! It is precisely these kind of £30 gigs which force musicians to have ‘day jobs’. By the way, not all musicians who teach, hate doing so. Many musicians teach because they feel passionate about educating and helping others (teaching is frequently related to music therapy). Teaching also makes for a better performer; some of the top musicians teach and regard it as an integral part of their performing careers. Music teaching is a highly skilled profession.

        I despair at this kind of attitude towards professional musicians!

  23. PS–You pay 30 quid, you’re going to get 30 quid’s worth of musicianship. Don’t expect a better show than what you might expect from the service at the check-out of your local Tesco. This practice of thinking that it’s ok for musicians to perform only for the love of art is a travesty. Fringe companies need to be much more business-savvy in today’s economic climate–no excuses (not how few seats you have, etc–do outreach, re-organize your finances and staffing, be clever with funding and grants, etc.!). Why has this company not applied for State or Arts Council funding, why are they not on Kickstarter, performing in schools, etc.?! But what do I know? I’m a businessman! ;-)

  24. Haha! Oh, it’s the good ol’ King’s Head we’re talking about! I love this statement from their comments: “We’d be happy to discuss artists’ pay with you further, as jobs that are unpaid or paid at less than NMW are widespread in the theatre industry, and we condemn that practice. “…They only started condemning this practice since they were called-out in the media for not paying their performers. They’re big kids now. They need to grow-up and learn how to run a business.

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