UK Musicians' Census reveals insights on earnings and career barriers

UK Musicians' Census reveals insights on earnings and career barriers

Last week a survey revealed the impact of Brexit on UK music creators.

Now there’s a further series of insights in the first ever UK Musicians’ Census. The results are based on detailed information provided by nearly 6,000 UK musicians, making it the largest ever survey of its kind.

The report by Help Musicians and the Musicians’ Union covers the demographic make-up of UK musicians, the barriers to career progression and economic challenges. Read on for more details…


The first Musicians’ Census found that 70% of professional musicians in the UK hold a degree or higher (50% have a music degree specifically), and 65% have been earning musicians for over 10 years.

Despite this, the Census found that UK musicians’ average annual income from music work is £20,700 – with 43% earning less than £14,000 a year from music, meaning many are left supplementing their income in other industries. The average income for those making 100% of their income from music is around £30,000, which compares to the average median income in the UK of £33,280 (ONS), and the average salary for a working-age person with a degree in the UK of £38,500.

Nearly a quarter (23%) of musicians stated they do not earn enough to support themselves or their families and for nearly half (44%), a lack of sustainable income is a barrier to their music career. Some 17% of musicians also reported being in debt, rising to 30% amongst those with a mental health condition and 28% for Black/Black British musicians.

Portfolio careers

As a result of the income distribution described above, many musicians now have a portfolio career, which has a significant impact on their ability to further develop their long-term musical careers and access to opportunity.

Over half (53%) sustain their career by sourcing other forms of income outside of music – two thirds (62%) of these generate additional funds from alternative employment, but other sources of financial support include support from family and friends (14%), and Universal Credit or other benefits (12%). Three quarters (75%) of those who have other income in addition to music report only seeking this work for financial reasons.

Career-restricting barriers

The majority of musicians (80%) reported at least one or more career-restricting barriers to building a sustainable career in music.

Financial obstacles are persistent with 46% of musicians reporting cost-related barriers including cost of equipment (30%), cost of transport (27%) and the cost of training (18%) limiting their careers. Other barriers include no clear route for career progression (36%), not knowing anyone in the industry (25%) and unsociable working hours (22%).

Resilience and agility

While most of those surveyed (80%) indicate that they consider themselves as performers, on average, a working musician holds three to four different roles in music, highlighting the need and ability to juggle different types of roles to sustain a career.

Responses suggest that a typical musician works across 4-5 genres and plays 2-3 instruments – one fifth (20%) of musicians report playing four or more instruments.

The census findings show that musicians need our continued support

Sarah Woods

Sarah Woods, chief executive of Help Musicians, said: “The Musicians’ Census 2023 not only offers unique insight into the make-up of the musicians’ community across the UK but also paints a picture of the distinctive set of challenges musicians face to sustain a career in music.

“The census information will be vital in informing our future services; with a better understanding of the career challenges that different communities within the music industry face, we can offer help on a national scale which makes a substantial, and positive impact on musician’s lives and careers.”

Woods added: “Although the data shows some big challenges musicians face, it also highlights how committed musicians are in continuing to produce the music we all know and love – demonstrating how resilient our population of musicians truly is. The census findings show that musicians need our continued support and, working collaboratively with others in the music industry, this valuable insight will enable us to do more in the years to come… Help Musicians will use the census to develop new forms of support to ensure a world where musicians thrive.”

Naomi Pohl, Musicians’ Union general secretary, said: “The first Musicians’ Census highlights the challenges musicians face carving out and sustaining a career as a musician in 2023. As the UK’s trade union for musicians, this Census will help us be more effective at representing our members and tackling the nuanced challenges different communities of musicians face.

“Whether that is working with the industry to improve diversity, negotiating better pay and conditions, or lobbying governments to secure the support our members need and deserve, the Musicians' Census gives us the vital data to take on these challenges on behalf of our members.

“As well as working externally, the Musicians' Census also gives us rich insights into how the MU can adapt to a changing world of work and be more representative of the diverse communities of musicians working in the UK.”


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