New research by the Music Producers Guild shows that many recording professionals are not being paid for their work.
According to its study, 88% of producers and sound engineers reported being asked to work for free, with 71% agreeing to work unpaid in the past three years.
Having representation reduces the instances of people working for free, though. Among MPG full members, 61% have worked for free in the last three years, while 64% with managers have provided recording services without remuneration.
The reasons for doing the unpaid work varied, with 50% saying they were doing a genuine favour for a friend, while 20% felt "under pressure" to do a favour for an existing client. The research found that 42% had done on spec work, undertaken on the understanding that they would be paid if the client "liked" the work.
Self-funding artists were by far the most likely to ask people to work for free, with as many as 77% of respondents doing unpaid work for these artists. Next were indie labels, with 34% doing unpaid work for an indie label, and nearly 17% doing unpaid work for a major label. Independent TV and film productions, as well as radio stations, commercial studios and charity projects are among the other clients who have benefited from free labour.
The MPG survey found that 41% spent one to six days a year on unpaid work, and 36% spent one to four weeks. For 5%, it was how they spent most of their working time. The average value of unpaid work per year was estimated to be around £4,000 per person, with the range of value going from a few hundred pounds to £40,000.
I knew unpaid work was a problem in our industry, but I didn’t realise how endemic it was
“I knew unpaid work was a problem in our industry, but I didn’t realise how endemic it was," said MPG executive director Olga Fitzroy. "Of course, people will do favours for friends, but it’s completely unacceptable for record labels and commercial studios to exploit professionals in this way. We don’t employ someone to put in a new bathroom and then decide to pay them if we feel like it.
“It was good to see that MPG full members were doing less unpaid work than other groups, but we will be analysing these results in depth and seeing what more we can do for our members, who already benefit from free legal advice. I find it shocking that assistant engineers are being expected to work for a month for free in commercial studios before having the chance of a paid position. Nobody wins if our pool of talent is reduced to those with a bank of mum and dad to rely on. This is one of the reasons why we are launching an assistant engineer membership to try and support those at the beginning of their careers."
One unnamed producer said: "I produced many demos of songs for an album for an artist on a major label [only] to then have my production parts copied by another producer. They got paid and I didn’t."
"Everyone is asked to work on spec now and then," said another producer. "If the artist is someone truly extraordinary and undiscovered, when I'm also writing the songs then maybe I do a couple of days free to see if it's anything. Don't we all do that if time allows? It's part of the deal with the devil, isn't it?"
The MPG will be launching the full report at Pivotal Music Conference in Birmingham on September 27.