Research Findings

1) Equality and diversity

While some progress has been made, female musicians continue to face a range of challenges. Women have outnumbered men at conservatoires for a long time and yet, they remain under-represented in the workforce. Existing research suggests that around 40% of players in British orchestras are female, but that the representation of women is lower in more prestigious orchestras. In Germany, the female membership in orchestras is currently around 30% (DOV, 2014). Women also face vertical and horizontal segregation. This means that they are less represented in positions of authority, such as conducting, and concentrated in other sectors of the profession, such as teaching. There is also a gender pay gap. In the music industry as a whole, men earn £7.92 per hour while women’s hourly pay is £6.92 (Creative and Cultural Skills, 2010). Germany has an insurance scheme for freelance artists, which includes musicians. And the latest numbers are sobering. Women musicians make 22% less than their male counterparts (Deutscher Kulturrat, 2013). The parts of the industry where pay is highest are conducting and composing, which are both male-dominated fields.

These gender inequalities cut across class and racial inequalities. A report (ABRSM, 2014) on music education has shown that children from lower socio-economic groups continue to be disadvantaged. As Anna Bull has explained, the middle-class history and culture of music education remains a significant barrier to participate in music training. This may lead to under-representation of musicians from less privileged socio-economic backgrounds. And in relation to research on the ethnic backgrounds of musicians, a report on the entire music sector by Creative Blueprint has shown that 93% of the industry was white in 2011, which was not representative of the UK population. Further research is needed to explore the demographic makeup of the classical music workforce in Germany and the UK in relation to gender, racial and class background. One starting point is the research report Equality and Diversity in the Classical Music Profession

Classical music is not the only sector that continues to be marked by inequalities. Women and ethnic minorities are also under-represented in other cultural and creative industries (Creative Skillset, 2012). As recent academic research has demonstrated, informal work settings, flexibility and reliance on networks tend to make it more difficult for women and workers from minority-ethnic as well as working-class backgrounds to advance in creative careers. These trends throw into question commonly made claims about the importance of skill and talent, rather than demographic background. The fact that inequalities are on going and not a thing of the past highlights the need for research on equality and diversity in the cultural and creative industries.

2) Entrepreneurialism

Many musicians are wholly or partly self-employed and hold multiple jobs, ranging from teaching to performing. In such an environment, it is important to pursue employment opportunities actively through networking and self-promotion. Indeed, researchers and career advisors have argued that entrepreneurial skills are increasingly important to succeed in the industry. ‘Young, female and entrepreneurial?’ both supports and problematises this argument. While entrepreneurial skills may be important, they are not necessarily evenly distributed. As my paper ‘Blowing your own trumpet: exploring the gendered dynamics of self-promotion’ demonstrates, self-promotion is a gendered practice. The advice ‘just sell yourself’ may pose particular challenges to women. And, crucially, the call to be entrepreneurial does not address underlying and wider issues such as the oversupply of well-trained musicians and the lack of jobs and employment opportunities.

Indeed, entrepreneurialism is widely discussed in the academic literature and from many different perspectives. This project takes a broadly sociological approach to entrepreneurialism, which argues that individuals increasingly relate to themselves as if they were enterprises. This means that the logic of enterprise has been extended beyond the economic sphere to all spheres of life including friendships, work, relationships, and the body. Musicians, for example, frequently talk about themselves and their work as a business or product that has to be marketed successfully. But what does it mean when we refer to our selves as a business? And how is the expectation to relate to oneself as a business experienced? I recently explored these questions in a blog entry for the journal Theory, Culture & Society and you can read it here.

3) The ups and downs of the profession

Creative work, such as the work of musicians, is often described as work that you can’t help doing. Indeed, many musicians love playing music and experience the ability to pursue their passion as a great privilege. In addition, most musicians are freelancers and therefore enjoy comparatively autonomous and flexible working lives. Their work is also characterised by a lot of variety, which relates to the kind of music played, the different contexts (e.g. performance, teaching, or outreach), and the collaborative nature of the work. Flow moments, or what has been described as being in the zone are experienced as particularly pleasurable and fulfilling.

However, the perks of the profession come at a cost. As a report by the Musicians Union (2012) has demonstrated, many musicians have portfolio careers, which are marked by low incomes (less than £20.000 a year for 56% of those surveyed), uncertainty, and lack of workplace benefits such as pensions. Only 10% of surveyed musicians were full-time salaried employees, half reported not having regular employment whatsoever, and 60% stated that they had worked for free in the past 12 months. Given the high rate of playing related injuries amongst musicians (Help Musicians UK, 2014), the relative lack of social security is worrying, particularly for freelancers. Whilst the profession offers some autonomy, flexibility and the pursuit of creative fulfilment, it also bears risk and difficulties.

For reports on the precarious nature of musicians’ working lives in the UK, see:

Musicians’ Union (2012). The Working Musician. Commissioned by the Musicians’ Union. Researched and produced by: DHA Communications.

Help Musicians UK (2014). Professional Musicians in the UK: Health and Wellbeing Survey.

For reports on the precarious situation of musicians in Germany, see:

Deutscher Kulturrat (2013) Arbeitsmarkt Kultur: Zur wirtschaftlichen und sozialen Lage in Kulturberufen.

Bossen, Anja (2012). Einkommenssituation und Arbeitsbedingungen von Musikschullehrkräften und Privatmusiklehrern.

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