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A Story As Old As Time – guest post by Horace Trubridge, Assistant General Secretary, Musicians’ Union

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In the first of our guest blog posts, Horace Trubridge, Assistant General Secretary of the Musicians’ Union, writes about the up-coming London 2012 Olympics and finds that, as usual, musicians are getting a raw deal.  If you have had a similar experience or would like to join the debate, please do leave a comment underneath the post.

A Story as Old as Time

John and Peter are busy putting together the final arrangements for the last supper:

“Venue?”

“Check.”

“Caterers?”

“Check.”

“Booze?”

“Check.”

“Security?”

“Check.”

“Well that’s it then,”

“Yep, lucky too cos we’ve run out of money, that’s the budget all gone.”

“Oh, that’s a shame, I thought of something else that would really make the party go with a swing.”

“What’s that?”

“A band!”

“Oh but that’s a brilliant idea, Jesus loves music!”

“Yes, but we’ve got no money to pay the musicians, remember, budget all gone and stuff”

“Oh yeah……. hold on though, us disciples are pretty important people right, so why don’t we just tell the musicians that we can’t pay them but it will be great exposure for them?”

“Brilliant! I’ll get on to it.”

Whilst it may be the case that Leonardo Da Vinci encoded musical notes in his masterpiece depicting The Last Supper, the Bible makes no mention of musicians performing at the gathering which suggests to me that when approached by John they turned him down and let it be known in no uncertain terms that exposure does not pay the bills.

Fast forward 2012 years and hop over to the UK where everyone is contracting Jubilympic fever. The London 2012 Olympics and the Queens Jubilee celebrations are carving a swathe through all other activities during 2012 and we’re all being told that we can look forward to events and celebrations the like of which we have never seen before. Literally gazillions of pounds of my money and yours has been spent on London 2012 and those monolithic titans of corporate sponsorship McDonalds and Coca-Cola will be all over everything.

The arts community in the UK has seen millions of pounds of money otherwise destined for cash-strapped arts groups diverted to the Cultural Olympiad at a time when arts and culture in the UK is suffering from the most swingeing cuts in funding seen for many years.

So, how do I feel when I get a call from a professional musician telling me that his band has been offered a shed load of work during games time but that there is no money to pay them? In fact, those immortal words “you should do it because it’s great exposure” were, of course, uttered – that’s a rhetorical question needless to say.

Over £240M spent on security, lord (yes, him again) only knows how much spent on staging, lighting, equipment, porta-loos, catering and the like but exactly how much spent on musicians? I ask because I simply don’t know. In fact I have yet to speak to a musician who has been offered a paid gig during the Jubilympics and I’ve spoken to quite a few who have been told that there is simply no money to pay the musicians.

It’s a disease. Otherwise perfectly decent, honest, fair-minded people genuinely believe that musicians do it simply for the love of it and are happy to turn out a tune whether paid or not. It’s no wonder that so many of the MU’s members have to supplement their income from music by doing other jobs like tiling, plastering and plumbing. So try this, next time you hear your plumber whistling a theme from Wagner’s Tannhauser with a smile on his face, tell him that he doesn’t need paying because he’s clearly enjoying himself and anyway it’s great exposure because you’re going to tell all your friends what a great plumber he is. Good luck.

Horace Trubridge
Assistant General Secretary, Musicians’ Union

HT100412

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  1. I have a pal, a fellow musician from way back who is also still an agent. He tells a version of the Plumbers’ story which is that if he quotes a price for a band on (say) a Saturday evening and gets a negative comment about the price he invites those booking/promoting to get quotes from four/five local plumbers for three hours work plus travelling time on such an evening. He’ll then match their combined price.

  2. This story has musicians’ blood boiling around the world. I hope it helps draw some attention to the fact that we are professionals and deserve to be paid as such. pompeypop — I love your story, and I’m stealing it 🙂

  3. While visiting the MU recently, I had the pleasure of reading “How cheap is free?” by Mr. Trubridge , and now I find this article. The loved and respected Canadian songwriter, Connie Kaldor, once said “Where I come from, one can die of exposure”.

  4. Pingback: Curfews askew: Some thoughts on gigs and the games |

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