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Almost three quarters of UK producers and sound engineers doing unpaid work

By | Published on Monday 30 September 2019

Recording studio

Nearly three quarters of record producers and sound engineers in the UK have worked for free in the last three years, according to a new study by the Music Producers Guild launched at the Pivotal conference in Birmingham last week.

Almost 90% said that they’d been asked to work without payment, with major labels and recording studios themselves among those likely to ask. Of those surveyed, 88% said that they had been asked to work for free in the last three years, with 71% doing so.

Most likely to be given a freebie are self-financed artists, with 77% of producers and sound engineers who had worked for nothing saying that they had done so for artists without the financial backing of a label. However, the next biggest group was indie labels, accounting for up to 34% of unpaid work. Just under 17% of those surveyed, meanwhile, said that they had worked unpaid for a major label.

As for why people work for nothing, 50% said that it was a genuine favour for a friend, although 20% said that they felt under pressure to do unpaid work for an existing client.

Meanwhile, 42% said that they did free work ‘on spec’, on the understanding that they would be paid if the client liked what they had done. This doesn’t always pan out however, with one producer complaining: “I produced many demos of songs for an album for an artist on a major label to then have my production parts copied by another producer. They got paid and I didn’t”.

The amount of time spent on free work also varied, with 41% saying it took up less than a week of their year. However, more than a third spent up to a month on it, and 5% said that it occupied most of their time. The average value of all this unpaid work was £4000 a time – with the highest payment forgone by a producer reaching £40,000.

Having a manager or being a member of the MPG can shield producers and engineers from receiving requests to work for free, the study found. Although only slightly. The study also confirmed that, as well as being asked to work for free by artists and labels, more junior sound engineers were often expected to work for free before getting paid jobs in studios.

“I knew unpaid work was a problem in our industry, but I didn’t realise how endemic it was”, says MPG Executive Director Olga FitzRoy. “Of course, people will do favours for friends, but it’s completely unacceptable for record labels and commercial studios to exploit professionals in this way. We don’t employ someone to put in a new bathroom and then decide to pay them if we feel like it”.

She continues: “It was good to see that MPG full members were doing less unpaid work than other groups, but we will be analysing these results in depth and seeing what more we can do for our members, who already benefit from free legal advice. I find it shocking that assistant engineers are being expected to work for a month for free in commercial studios before having the chance of a paid position. Nobody wins if our pool of talent is reduced to those with a bank of mum and dad to rely on”.

The MPG plans to launch a new member tier for assistant engineers in order to better support those at the beginning of their careers.