in Articles

Musicians and money - prospects in the UK and Italy

In her article Paying the piper (FMQ 3-4/2015) Merja Hottinen writes about incomes of musicians and composers in Finland today. What is the current state of musicians' earnings and employment in the UK and Italy? Read Andrew Mellor's and Federico Ermirio's reports.
Maestro music game drawn by Henna Salmela.

Maestro music game drawn by Henna Salmela.

In her article Paying the piper (FMQ 3-4/2015) Merja Hottinen writes about incomes of musicians and composers in Finland today. What is the current state of musicians’ earnings and employment in the UK and Italy? Read Andrew Mellor’s  and Federico Ermirio’s reports.

Musicians’ earnings in the UK

BY Andrew Mellor

It’s a familiar refrain in the UK: musicians don’t earn enough. The average salary for an orchestral player in Britain still hovers around the £30,000 mark. That might be comparable to a tutti orchestral salary in Finland given the strength of the pound against the Euro right now (with the five-year experience supplement offered by the likes of the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra) but it’s still dwarfed by average salaries in US orchestras. As the American orchestral scene looks to a future that has been described countless times as “unsustainable”, a reduction of those high salaries (averaging around €83,000) seems inevitable.

Still, we might consider those with salaries the lucky ones. Around 1800 students graduate from the UK’s eight conservatoires and 66 university music courses every year. For the majority of those who wish to become performing musicians, a freelance career beckons (according to the most recent statistics, only 55% of 2008 music graduates in Britain entered employment immediately). For those freelancers, income is often divided between teaching and playing, the former marginally more predictable than the latter.

“For me, every year is a different financial picture,” says Lucy Downer, a 30-year-old clarinet player and teacher based in London. “As most of my income comes from teaching, I need to budget for the Christmas, Easter and summer months when I know I won’t be getting work. Sometimes playing work comes in those months, sometimes it doesn’t.”

An unpredictable income might be palatable; applying for a mortgage on an unspecified income is frustratingly difficult. Not only will it affect the amount that can be borrowed, it can also, some musicians tell me, engender a general feeling of mistrust from banks and mortgage lenders.

For those who want to move to a purely performance-based income, there are many hours of “unpaid” work organising and promoting your concerts, especially if you play an unorthodox instrument.

Freelance musicians are still faced with the challenge of unpredictability and the necessary financial planning that entails – saving for holidays, secondary income sources and accepting last-minute work. The situation appears to get easier as a musician’s career progresses and their reputation as a freelancer is built. But the financial challenge of the “early years” straight out of education remains the most acute, not least as graduates in many parts of Europe will emerge with significant debt given increased tuition fees.

Britain’s 15 full-time, non-BBC symphony orchestras (four of them attached to opera companies) are working around a 10% general cut in government grant income from 2011 which is expected to increase to 30% following renewed funding decisions this year (public funding generally constitutes less than 30% of those orchestra’s incomes).

Increasingly, however, those institutions are offering transitional schemes to graduates that provide three-stranded support: experience, guidance and some financial security. David Butt Philip, an operatic tenor, recently completed two years on the Royal Opera House’s Jette Parker Young Artists Scheme following nearly a decade of study and “not particularly well-paid, seasonal” work in an opera chorus. “I would have struggled financially without the [Royal Opera] salary,” he says. “It gave me two years to think about and plan what would come after, without the stress of wondering how I was going to pay the bills for the next six months. It’s a luxury not afforded to many young musicians.” Mercifully, though, these schemes benefit more and more young musicians.

Andrew Mellor is a journalist with a special interest in the music and culture of the Nordic countries. He is founder-editor of Nordic culture website and tweets about live performance via @operalastnight

Outlooks for musicians in Italy

BY Federico Ermirio

In Italy, musicians’ employment  have been worrying for a long time. Some useful background information: There are 71 conservatories or equivalent institutions in Italy (compared to 52 in Spain, 25 in France, and less than 20 in Japan, Australia and Finland). In 2000, there were around 33,000 music graduates, and in the last years that number has nearly doubled to a total of more than 54,000 graduates. There are currently around one hundred music high schools (upper secondary schools) in Italy,  and more than 500 lower secondary schools that have a special focus on music.

There are more than 10,000 music teachers (of whom 7,000 are employed by conservatories). But there is virtually no teacher  turnover as 70% of teaching positions are permanent, and teachers remain in place until they retire at 66-68 years of age. The legislation around these issues is still very confusing, partially due to to the new government.

These figures should give us reason to think. The first consequence is that graduates between 26 and 35/40 years of age are unable to find teaching work. And obtaining teaching qualifications – without any guarantee of a job – requires three more years of study!

There are about 70 orchestras in Italy: 14 opera orchestras (Scala in Milan, La Fenice in Venice, Petruzzelli, San Carlo etc.), many of which are in financial difficulties, have an average of 60-70 employees and whose primary programming focus is on operas rather than on symphonic music; 14 regional orchestras (partially supported by the state); local orchestras and other orchestras which are subsidised with public and private money but which have very limited activity. RAI (Italy’s national broadcasting company) used to have four symphony orchestras (in Milan, Turin, Rome and Naples), but they were closed down in 1994 and replaced by the RAI National Orchestra.

In this chaotic context, which is partially uncontrolled (too many conservatories, which offer every level of study from the basic to the highest!), we are now paying the price for the legislative disarray and the “uncontrolled authorisations” which were commonplace in the 70s and 80s. It is really difficult to imagine how at least 30,000 professionally trained “new musicians” (out of those 54,000  who have finished their studies in the last 15 years) will be placed for  employment in the music field.

This situation has led to the creation of numerous new chamber ensembles, many of which operate at a high level and attract young people who have a desire to perform, as well as a large number of private associations that organise concerts. All of this is done with a very small budget and largely through self-promotion. The net salary of a musician in a local orchestra, for example, varies from 40 to 60 euro per day, with no formal contract in place. “Today I work, but tomorrow… who knows.”

We need to urgently think about and create new professional opportunities to cater for those who have graduated with a music degree.

Federico Ermirio is a composer and the Artistic Director of the SibeliusFestival – Golfo del Tigullio (Italy, 8-12 October, 2015).