Musicians singing the blues in an underpaid industry

Sophia McCaughan |

Only one in five performers in a recent survey said they were able to work in the industry full-time
Only one in five performers in a recent survey said they were able to work in the industry full-time

Australian musicians are turning up the volume on a campaign for better pay and conditions as fresh figures reveal half of the workforce earn less than $6000 per year for their artistry.

A Musicians Australia survey of more than 550 performers found only one in five of the cohort were able to work in the industry full-time, while most others had to take supplementary jobs to make ends meet.

More than half of the respondents cited a lack of pay as a barrier to giving up their extra work to exclusively pursue their music careers, according to findings released on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, just under half of those surveyed by Musicians Australia – which is overseen by the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance – reported playing unpaid gigs.

“This confirms that musicians are the face of Australia’s insecure work crisis,” union campaigns director Paul Davies said.

“They are expected to get by on extraordinarily low incomes, inconsistent and often unpaid work.”

Two-fifths of musicians said they typically earned less than $250 per gig, which was under the Musicians Australia minimum fee.

The majority of state and territory governments, including NSW, Victoria and Queensland, have endorsed the minimum fee for publicly funded gigs.

With the live music industry struggling to bounce back from COVID-19 control measures, Mr Davies said union members’ pay and working conditions had also worsened compared to before the pandemic.

“The majority of musicians work multiple jobs, make sacrifices to pursue their music careers, having to fund their projects and artistic development, and that’s on top of supporting themselves and their families,” he said.

Folk musician Kimberley Wheeler said due to the cost-of-living crisis she was more reliant than ever on streams of income from outside the music industry. 

“Once I would have derived half my earnings from music, but rising living costs and a drop in performance fees has forced me to pivot to other work outside of music,” she said.

“It’s now harder than ever to make a decent living as a working musician.”

The survey also revealed that poor work security and conditions were taking a toll on musicians’ health and wellbeing. 

One in five respondents reported being injured at work, while 86 per cent said they felt like they had been treated unfairly by the industry.