Time for tech giants and Government to give creators and musicians a fair deal

Michael Dugher says creators and artists must do better out of this multi-billion pound industry

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The UK music industry contributed £4.4 billion to our economy last year and gave immeasurable enjoyment to millions of people.

A key part of that success story was the popularity of British artists like Ed Sheeran and Adele who are now global stars.

In total, musicians, composers, songwriters and lyricists added £2 billion in goods and services, or Gross Value Added (GVA), to the UK’s economy.

However, this masks the fact that the majority of people involved in the music business in the UK earn nothing like the famous chart-toppers.

According to research carried out earlier this year by the Office of National Statistics, the average wage in the UK was £27,271 a year. 

After analysing the earnings of more than 21 million people, it concluded that musicians earned significantly less at £21,410 than many other professions.  The same is true for other parts of the music business. 

Recent changes to the rules on IR35 anti-avoidance tax legislation have made life even harder for musicians. When it comes to music tuition, there is a real fear that those changes could mean schools have little or no spare cash to cover extra costs such as responsibility for employers’ National Insurance at 13.8%. This could lead to either the price of tuition increasing or tutors having to take a pay cut.

For most people, the music industry is a labour of love and not about a love of money.

And just like in football, “average earnings” figures are skewed by the fact that a small handful of people in the music industry do earn very large sums. The truth is that many artists and creators are trying to make a living in a low wage sector.

But there are changes that we can make to improve both the pay and working conditions of an industry that brings so much pleasure to so many people in the UK and across the world.

The Musicians’ Union found that over 60 per cent of its members surveyed last year had worked for free at some point in the last 12 months.  Their excellent 'Work Not Play' campaign is aimed at tackling this issue.  Musicians are no different from anyone else and have to pay the rent or mortgage every month. 

But it’s not just down to employers and those who consume the fantastic live and recorded music produced every year to properly reward creators, musicians, publishers, producers, composers and others in our sector.

Orchestras need to be properly funded so they can pay decent wages to their members.  The grassroots gig circuit also needs far more support so that more artists and bands get the chance for their big break.

The Government should play its part in helping the 142,000 people employed in the UK’s music industry, for example by overhauling the rules on parental leave.

Around 44 per cent of those working in the creative sector are self-employed. At present, self-employed parents are not eligible for shared parental leave and pay.  The Government should change the rules on eligibility for shared parental leave to support the work-life balance among the many self-employed people in our industry.

Another crucial area where action is urgently needed to boost the earnings of creators in the music industry is the issue of the “value gap”.  Many outside the creative sector might not have heard of the value gap, but it is of critical importance to the music business and everyone who makes their living making music.

At present, non-subscription streaming sites like YouTube fall under what’s call the “safe harbour” legislation which means they are not held responsible for user-generated content or uploaded content they host.  The result is that YouTube pays an unacceptably low amount for the music enjoyed by its one billion users.

That simply has to change and the Government has to play its part by supporting change so that creators are fairly rewarded for their work.  Tech giants like YouTube and Facebook need to start paying fair rates.  Their free ride must come to an end.

Closing that value gap would make a real financial difference to thousands of people and help safeguard our vibrant and diverse music industry.

Furthermore, Sir Peter Bazalgette’s review of the creative industries, published in September, called for industry and government to develop a joint plan to increase take-up of existing R&D tax credits by creative industries businesses. 

If the Government take this up, it would realise a proposal in our UK Music manifesto for the 2017 election to extend these fiscal incentives to creators.

Rewarding people properly for their work and fixing the value gap problem should not be a political issue or a dispute between the UK.  Digital Minister Matt Hancock told delegates at the Conservative conference that the Tory belief in property rights meant that they had a duty to protect intellectual property.

Equally, Labour's old 'Clause IV' committed the party “to secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry.”

Whatever your politics, making sure that creators and artists do better of out this multi-billion pound music business should be something we can all endorse.

Read further coverage from Huff Post here.

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