Is it ever acceptable for professional musicians to play for free?


Hazel Davis asks string players where they draw the line between opportunity and exploitation

In November 2012, the UK Musicians’ Union (MU) launched a campaign under the banner ‘Work Not Play’, in a bid to explain why musicians should not be expected to play for nothing. It followed revelations that many musicians had been asked to (and did) play for free at Olympic events over the summer, for the privilege of being involved. The campaign’s message was underscored by an MU report, ‘The Working Musician’, which was published in December. Two of the starkest findings from this survey of almost 2,000 professional UK musicians were that over half earn less than £20,000 per year and that 60 per cent had worked for free at some point during the previous twelve months.

The problem, says MU general secretary John Smith, is that many people see playing music as a hobby rather than a job: ‘And as soon as the word “charity comes up, people think it’s all right not to pay people, but it always seems to be the musicians who are asked to work for free and no one else...

Subscribe now to keep reading …

This article is available exclusively to subscribers – subscribe now

Already subscribed? Please sign in

Strad subscription

We’re delighted that you are enjoying our website. To access this content you need to be a subscriber.

As a subscriber you’ll receive:

  • Monthly issues* packed with news, interviews and features
  • Special supplements including Accessories, Degrees, Cremona and String Courses
  • A monthly digital edition and an archive of online issues going back to January 2010
  • Full access to all premium online content on
  • Two posters a year and the annual Strad Directory*

*To receive the posters, the Strad Directory and issues and supplements in print, you will need to take out a print + online package

 If you are not ready to subscribe, register now to enjoy a selection of free content (excludes premium subscriber-only articles)