Olympic organisers respond to musicians but payment row still rages on

The organizers of the London 2012 Olympic Games have responded to the growing anger surrounding the possible exploitation of musicians in the run up to this summer’s sporting spectacle.

Over 3,500 supporters have so far signed an online petition to try and pressurise LOCOG  into offering musicians a better deal.

The response from LOCOG states that they were not aware of any official approaches to professional musicians asking them to work at the Games, or related events, for free.

However Musicians Union claim to have evidence to the contrary: “example after example of exactly that – professional musicians being asked to play Olympic gigs for which there is no budget. We have the emails to prove it – and they are coming from LOCOG staff’.

The MU has written to London Mayor, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to ask them to put pressure on LOCOG over what has become a topic of heated debate amongst musicians.

As we posted about last week, some people have defended the approaches made towards musicians, regardless of the agreements made between the various unions and organisational bodies.

The idea of playing “for the exposure” to enhance a player’s profile has become the fall back position for those suspicious of the MU and stance of others who demand payment for their services.

While its true that the headlining acts (who have waived their fees) are likely to benefit enormously from their appearances in record sales and future ticket sales, professional musicians working outside of the more mainstream and commercial channels will not be allowed to actively promote themselves or their music at all.

As reported by Music Education UK, Horace Trubridge, Assistant General Secretary of the MU, says he wants answers:

“If they want musicians to entertain thousands of people, then they should pay for it. It is difficult enough to earn a decent living as a professional musician these days – where does this idea come from that musicians should be happy to work for free? Who else would be?”

In fact, according figures from the MU, around 70% of its members earn less than £20,000 per year from music. Below the top-end of platinum selling artists, salaried orchestral musicians and sought-after opera singers, times are as hard for musicians as any other profession.

Ivan Hewitt, blogging for the Telegraph, has written about the pressures musicians often come under due to an unfair perception that they are happy to play “for the love of it” or to further some aspiration of self-promotion. This leads to lower payment offers which are accepted by sometimes desperate professionals:

“Inevitably many have other jobs on the side, and this further undermines their status as professionals. And it has to be said that some musicians connive at their own exploitation, accepting beggarly fees because it’s better than no fee at all.”

Do plumbers or a taxi drivers satisfied with their job and trade not deserve to be paid for their work? It seems the fact that musicians have a passion for what they do has become a stick to beat them with rather than an admirable source of pride in their work.

While many of their detractors would like to believe differently, perhaps to avoid paying the going rate, the majority of working musicians in the UK don’t live in a different world from the rest of us. They too have rent to pay and need money to buy food just like everyone else.

As Ivan Hewitt put it: “The headline acts have no complaints; they can afford to play gratis and have agreed to do so. And the hundreds of amateurs invited to liven up the Olympic Park are happy too. It’s those in the middle who aren’t: the “working stiffs” who make up the bulk of the music profession, some of whom have been asked to play for nothing.”

Let’s go back to that evidence that the MU claim to hold of approaches by LOCOG staff towards musicians to play for free.

Steve Haynes is the leader of professional brass band, Barbican Brass. He  received an invitation that stated “this is an UNPAID event but chance to showcase the groups talents to worlds press. It would be great if you wanted to take part. It’s a chance to be involved in the Olympics.”

In a letter to Jeremy Hunt and LOCOG, Mr Haynes retorted: “Perhaps the workmen who built the Olympic Stadium should not be paid either, this being a wonderful opportunity for them to showcase their craftsmanship to the world.”

Another example came from organisers of an Olympic event at Eton Dorney, Buckinghamshire. The message sent “from London 2012” stated that “your talents will be instrumental in creating a fantastic and memorable experience for our Spectators.”

Unfortunately not instrumental enough for a corresponding fee however, as the letter continues: ‘Our current budget allows for £50 per act per hour.’

With no travel expenses offered, and the sale or promotion of merchandise and CDs prohibited, such an offer would be likely to leave professional musicians seriously out of pocket.

There has been some backtracking from LOCOG. A spokesperson told Rhinegold’s Classical Music magazine: “It’s possible that one or two mistakes have been made. We know that one or two individuals took their own initiative, mistakenly, and contacted people they knew asking them to play for free. That was a mistake and where mistakes have been made it will be put right.

“Professional musicians will be paid. The only exception is one or two high-profile, top-name bands performing in high-level events who have agreed to waive their fee. All sorts of events have been taking place, such as the torch relay, where there are lots of amateur musicians or local bands performing who are not paid. But the position on professional musicians is clear and the policy is clear.”

Classical Music went on to ponder whether LOCOG may be incorrectly defining professional musicians, quoting Deborach Annetts, chief executive for the Incorporated Society of Musicians.

Ms. Annetts said: “In April, Ruth Mackenzie of the Cultural Olympiad told us that all their partners like the BBC, ABO orchestras, etc, would be offered their usual terms. But thousands of gigging musicians are not contracted to these organisations. Those are the ones being exploited. And those are the ones Locog is trying to claim are not professional musicians.”

Over in the comments section of Ivan Hewitt’s Telegraph blog, one reader, ajikan, offered up their own experiences of playing at a previous Olympic Games.

In their comment ajikan wrote: “I happen to be a musician for whom one of the main events at the start of my career involved giving a series of performances in the Englische Garten in Munich during the 1972 Olympics upon invitation from the West German government.

“I recall having earned enough in a week to support myself for the next three or four months. Maybe the UK today is far more impoverished than Germany was in 1972, but if so what on earth is this country holding the Olympics for in the first place?”

With five official Olympic songs released, a big budget opening ceremony planned and a Games budget that has run well over its initial limits, no wonder many musicians are feeling as though they’ve been left behind and devalued by some churlish cost cutting exercise.

What do you think? Do musicians have a right to complain or are LOCOG playing fair? Perhaps you disagree with both sides and believe musicians should negotiate their own conditions as individuals?

Let us know your thoughts with a comment below.

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  1. Sean Shevety says

    London has the largest professional music scene of any city in the world: largest classical music scene (in each of its orchestral, opera & ballet divisions), largest musical theatre scene, largest pop scene, largest and most diverse world music scene, arguably the largest jazz scene, and much more besides.  Whilst voluntary amateur music-making is a welcome part of the Cultural Olympics It is beyond the comprehension of London and the UK’s professional musicians as to why this unique jewel in London’s crown is not being fully showcased and properly paid for at the 2012 London Olympics especially given that the games have apparently come in under budget by some £476m.  Given that the booking of musicians usually happens towards the end of event organising this has only recently come to light, as the capital’s professional musicians have been shocked and outraged to start receiving requests to play at the Olympics for free in order to “showcase their talents” as if they haven’t spent their entire careers doing so already, often for quite inadequate and infrequent pay.  Their greatest fear is that maybe it is too late for LOCOG to rectify this, but either way perhaps at least some of the £476m that is to be “returned to the treasury” could alleviate the £22.5m cuts per year to England & Wales’ Music Services and genuinely create a lasting Olympic legacy by providing affordable music tuition to children of all backgrounds and abilities.

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