Almost half of music producers and engineers have worked for free during the pandemic. This was despite nearly two-thirds of respondents facing an income reduction due to COVID-19. The 25-34 age group the worst affected with 45% saying they have worked for free since start of the Covid pandemic, with 41% agreeing to work for free averaged across all age groups.
However, the practice of working for free had reduced slightly compared to 2019, when the MPG carried out a similar study.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, 58% of producers and engineers have reported they have been asked to work for free, which is down 30% since 2019. However, the subsequent amount agreeing to work for free has remained at 70% of those asked.
As expected, conducting work for free in personally owned facilities such as home studios was by far the most common, with 70% of respondents saying they have done it. However, 24% of those worked for free in commercial studios. We found that mixing and producing still dominate the work conducted for free.
Overall, only a small percentage perceived any benefit from doing unpaid work, with only 16% saying it led to paid work and 20% saying they learned new skills. 43% reported a negative effect on their mental health.
Self-funding artists were still the most likely to ask people to work for free by a large margin, up by 8% on the last report to 85%. Similarly, to 2019, Indie labels were next; however, this has reduced by more than half since our first investigation, down to 16%, and with major labels dropping to 9%.
MPG Executive Director Matt Taylor, who led the research, said: “Our study shows the damaging impact of working for free, particularly on mental health. It also devalues the skills of our members. We are really pleased to see that labels have begun to act on our previous work in this area, and the incidences of them relying on unpaid work have reduced since 2019; however, there is clearly still work to be done.”
“The MPG’s #KnowYourWorth campaign shines a light on the exploitative practice of unpaid work and will support our members to negotiate fair rates of pay ”
MPG Full Member and Grammy-Winner, Andrew Scheps, who backs the campaign said: “Your work is worth exactly what you charge for it. If you work for free not only are you not being paid, but your efforts are worthless in the eyes of those you are working for.”
The findings from the report were shared at the MPG’s KnowYourWorth Panel discussion at XpoNorth Music Conference on Thursday 17th June and the full report will be published later this month.
The MPG also support the Ivors Acadmy’s Pay Songwriters Campaign, and last week signed the Broken Record Campaigns letter to the Prime Minister for a fairer distribution of streaming income to writers and producers.
“I’m regularly asked to co-write with signed artists in my studio. I’m expected to provide my studio and engineer for free and I’m expected to produce and perform for free. I will be given a share of the publishing as recompense for my writing work on the song and, if the label decides to use the song, I may be asked to mix it for a fee. I have no control or input over the use of the song. I also have no say if the label or artist decide to do further writing work on the song usually reducing my share of the publishing and changing the song without my input or approval. I’m happy to do this type of work with an artist where we already have some sort of long-term working relationship, or if we’re trying to build that sort of relationship. However, often the artist won’t know much (or anything) about the type of music I make and the label seems to be using a scattergun, see-what-sticks approach to developing the artist, usually with little input from the artist and at my expense. I try to avoid doing these sessions!” Ben Hillier (Producer)
“I was asked to assist on a session for a producer and artist who clearly can afford to pay for an assistant, but chose not to. I said yes because I wanted the credit and to learn something new. I did enjoy it but struggled to remain enthusiastic for the job when I was working so hard, doing 12+ hour days and wasn’t paid. There is a view among some veteran producers/engineers that if they did it for free, so should you, and if you decline the work you show less passion or care less. It’s never about less passion, it’s about being able to afford your rent. Unfortunately, no matter how much you care about the job, saying yes to unpaid work constantly is unsustainable and can’t keep you in London, that’s why those from affluent backgrounds continue to progress in the industry and those from low socio economic backgrounds struggle to continue.” Anon (Producer)