To pay or not to pay? Should musicians be paid at the London 2012 Olympics?

The UK will host two of the biggest events of the decade this summer – the London Olympics and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. But a debate is emerging about whether or not musicians should be allowed to play for free.

Reports have been made to the Musicians’ Union (MU) of a number of instances of professional musicians being asked to perform unpaid at events marking either celebration. But the organisation is urging musicians not to accept any offer of unpaid work.

It claims that the London Olympics organising committee (Locog) has signed a Principles of Cooperation with the TUC that states that professional workers will be paid for any work they do and are not considered part of the unpaid volunteer workforce.

Other sectors involved in the Olympics events and Jubilee celebrations, such as security and staging, are paid their usual fees and so the MU argues musicians should be too.

However, some musicians may be happy to perform unpaid. Aside from the joy and experience some may take from performing at such iconic, worldwide events – and those related to them such as the Cultural Olympics and local celebrations – musicians may benefit from some free publicity.

By being attached to the Olympic ‘brand’, musicians could boost their profile and visibility to audiences that might not have been aware of them before.

Many musicians and artists have put their name under the Cultural Olympiad brand and produced work for free, as well as countless charities and musical organisations, bringing the arts to a wider audience.

But the MU has said of the situation that it is “completely unacceptable and we will take the matter further”.

“Professional musicians should always be offered a fee for their work,” it said, calling on individuals to report any offers they are made – paid or unpaid – to the Regional Office.

What do you think? Do musicians deserve to be paid for their performances when it comes to the Jubilee and Olympics? Or should they work for free for the benefit of the spectacle?

Let us know what you think in a comment below!



    Share Your Thoughts

  1. Graham Clark says

    “Musicians Union!” – What a load of old bollocks! Most of the musicians I know actually have brains of their own with which to do their OWN thinking. If they want to perform for free that is up to them.
    I am a musician, and I have chosen to play for free on the odd occasion – usually if I get paid for it in other ways – such as getting exposure that I may not get the chance to get any other way. I don’t want or need some collective telling me how I can and cannot spend my time. I say negotiate your own contract.

  2. says

    I’m from Ze Trio featured in the photo at the top of this article. I completely agree that musicians must be paid for their work. I have, as many musicians have, had the experience of playing for nothing, but as a professional musician today I want to earn a salary – a living – a career, from what I have trained to do. Support your music, and support musicians. Don’t let promoters of all sorts use you for your skills and reap the benefit for themselves.

  3. John says

    Free publicity??

    I can just see a record label talent agent sitting there going: “WOW listen to that third horn player from the right in the seventeenth row! I’ve got to get that guy on my label!”

    Aren’t the caterers getting free publicity? The airlines? The security? They should all work for free as well, then.

    You need to examine your ethics, my friend.

  4. GregJohnson says

    Thanks for all your comments!

    It certainly isn’t right that musicians are all too often expected to perform for free or for the benefit of others just because they’re “the entertainment”.

    Promises of “free publicity” too can just add to sense that there is very little respect or appreciation for the skill and craft of writing and performing music.

    Andrea Vicari, professor of jazz piano at Trinity College of Music has waded into the debate with a letter published in the London Evening Standard too. Check it out on the musicroom Facebook page:

  5. gmt says

    Shame on you, all you who agree to perform for free, to give up the product of many years of study, practise, love, care, and passion, to a conglomerate of corporate monoliths, who are doing nothing but exploiting the talents of these individuals in order to avoid paying for it. Every time one musician agrees to take on employment for free, they make it that little bit harder for musicians all over the country to justify their financial worth and value. The notion that a musician may gain any thing from this ‘experience’, by the ‘opportunity to get exposure’, is the oldest con in the book, and I am saddened and disgusted that anyone is getting involved in all of this. Shame on you.

  6. Phillippa Evans says

    I said this on the other blog and I’ll happily say it again:
    How difficult is this for people?????? I’ll try and make it as simple as possible:
    Jeez, there must be loads of people who can blow a trumpet or bang a gong who are happy to do it for free, so if they want to why not let ‘em? And if you’re too precious to get involved then don’t bother and just stay in bed instead and watch it on TV.

  7. Gen Palmer says

    Phillippa–I’m sure that you would love to work for free as well…I mean, since you can do it you obviously love it enough to not get paid, right?

    How much money do you think those musicians have invested to be where they are today? How much money has anyone with a “real job” invested? A lot, probably more for a lot of those musicians. More relatedly, try to find someone that will play for free at the Queen’s Jubilee or the Olympics and see how talented they actually are.

    I’m a musician in the States, and believe me, it’s a big investment to even call yourself talented, let alone get the gig.

  8. gmt says

    Phillipa- From your comments, it sounds like you are not a professional musician yourself, so, obviously, I think we’ll ignore your advice, and instead take some from people who are actually qualified to do so! Gen Palmer has reinforced the argument with her astute comments; I feel the point has been more than made now.