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First census of UK musicians highlights the challenges of a career in the music industry, with low earnings proving a career barrier for many and significant numbers struggling to support their families.

Two cellists performing in public
The Musicians' Census collected data to build a picture of the issues faced by those in the UK music industry

Scharfsinn86 via iStock

The average annual income for UK musicians is just £20,700, with 43% making less than £14,000, resulting in many sustaining their careers with other forms of income, a major study has found.

The first ever Musicians’ Census, a joint project by the Musicians' Union and Help Musicians found that a lack of income from the profession has significant implications.

A quarter (23%) of musicians stated they do not earn enough to support themselves or their families and for nearly half (44%), a lack of sustainable income is proving a barrier to their music career.


Conducted earlier this year, the census questioned around 6,000 musicians on demography, diversity, health and wellbeing, and the breadth of working patterns and income, with the exercise due to be repeated every three to five years to establish long-term trends.

The average annual income of £27,000 is 18.9% lower than the median income in the UK of £33,280 as calculated by the Office for National Statistics.

Debt was reported as a problem for 17% of musicians, rising to 30% amongst those with a mental health condition and 28% for Black/Black British musicians.

More than half of musicians said they had to sustain their career by sourcing other forms of income outside of music, with 62% taking on alternative employment. Other sources of financial support included help from family and friends (14%) and Universal Credit or other benefits (12%). 

The majority of musicians (80%) reported at least one or more career-restricting barriers. Financial obstacles affected 46% of musicians, with the costs of equipment (30%), transport (27%), and training (18%) cited as limiting their careers. 

Other hindrances encountered included no clear route for career progression (36%), not knowing anyone in the industry (25%), and unsociable working hours (22%).

Distinctive set of challenges

Sarah Woods, Chief Executive of Help Musicians, said that the Musicians’ Census 2023 “paints a picture of the distinctive set of challenges musicians face to sustain a career in music” and will be “vital in informing our future services”. 

The Musicians’ Union General Secretary, Naomi Pohl, added, “As the UK’s trade union for musicians, this census will help us be more effective at representing our members and tackling the nuanced challenges different communities of musicians face.

“Whether that is working with the industry to improve diversity, negotiating better pay and conditions, or lobbying governments to secure the support our members need and deserve, the Musicians' Census gives us the vital data to take on these challenges on behalf of our members.

"As well as working externally, the Musicians' Census also gives us rich insights into how the MU can adapt to a changing world of work and be more representative of the diverse communities of musicians working in the UK."

A headshot of Mary Stone