Musicians ‘dropped by Strictly after they asked to be paid’

Musicians ‘dropped by Strictly after they asked to be paid’


norman lebrecht

December 02, 2020

A Guardian exclusive:

Amaraterra, a band who perform traditional southern Italian music, said they were excited when they were approached by producers who were enthusiastic about them appearing on the BBC  companion programme It Takes Two.

However, when they asked for a fee to compensate them for a day’s work the BBC producers told them, in emails seen by the Guardian: “We just don’t have money in the budget to pay for contributors.” Instead, they were offered a free lunch …



  • anonymous says:

    I am highly dubious of this claim. If it is true, then the producer made a silly mistake. The BBC is one of the best employers for paying musicians and paying them correctly. There are entire pages of MU agreements for this…

    If the claims in the article are true, Amaraterra should get the MU to give the BBC a call.

    In support of the BBC: it is the only arts organisation to have given me any paid performance work as a musician since Covid. I was paid in line with mu agreements and promptly – as always.

    • Mark Glanville says:

      Amaraterra is my group. Please do not accuse me/us of lying, anonymously or otherwise. You are completely wrong and out of order.

      • anonymous says:

        I really did not mean to accuse you of lying. More truthfully, I’m saying that I’m staggered that this producer did not know of the agreements.

        Did you contact the MU as soon as you were asked to play for free? They should have been on to them like a shot.

        Strictly hires and pays musicians all the time. How did they get it so wrong?

        • Mark Glanville says:

          If you read the Guardian article, you will have your questions answered. This story is gaining considerable, well-deserved attention which we hope will lead to benefits for our industry. I really don’t have time to waste on the handful of doubters, not least if they’re anonymous.

          • C Rogers says:

            To Mark Glanville. I noticed how very touchy you are about this matter. It’s clear to me that ‘Anonymous’ is making perfectly good points in a respectful way, which you don’t come across as doing. I wonder what you’re really angry about and why you’re so uptight you can’t except an apology?

          • Randy Hedges says:

            Totally agree with your anti semitic remarks Mark. Well done. You are courageous and brave

          • Bill Birr says:


        • says:

          The BBC have always interpreted the ISM and MU minimum rates to mean THE rate to be used…they are notoriously bad at paying musicians – any musician who has worked for them will tell you this!

          • anonymous says:

            I can only comment from my experience working with the BBC orchestras and not in other circumstances (e.g. appearing on Strictly It Takes Two, bands on Later… with Jools etc.) I have always found the BBC/MU orchestral rates to be very good, and often higher than comparable orchestras. I have always been paid.

            I did read the article in full and note that Amaraterra asked for MU rates.

            The MU-BBC rates is more than just a fees guide – it’s a binding contract, specifically for the BBC. The BBC have to offer those fees. If they don’t, they are breaking that contract and, as far as I understand from the MU, could face penalties. Hence why I ask whether representatives from the MU were directly involved from the moment Amaraterra were asked to play without a fee. I’m not sure, but I think the MU would have been very interested regardless of whether Amaraterra are MU members.

            Again, I can’t comment for other musicians, and other than the orchestral fees, I am no expert on this particular aspect of the MU-BBC agreement, but if you add up all the audio-visual fees, expenses etc, my estimate is not too terrible.

            I am, of course, appalled that the producer of Strictly It Takes Two treated Amaraterra in this way. It is immoral and I hope it results in penalties from the MU.

            I was merely trying to provide balance. I have been sad to read stories over the past day where the BBC has not paid musicians correctly, but I personally have never found this to be the case.

            This blog seems to find fault with the BBC at every opportunity. The editor has assured me he wants to save the BBC by highlighting its deficiencies to the new DG but this blog seems to be fuelling the fire to ‘defund the BBC’. This would only be yet more catastrophic for UK musicians and professional musicmaking in the UK, some of whom do get paid by the BBC from time to time.

            Of course, I hope that the Guardian article raises awareness that musicians should be paid for their work and are regularly treated very badly indeed. But I worry that for some readers it will encourage them to stop paying the licence fee.

            I mean no malice at all and have only good wishes for Amaraterra.

    • Francis Wood says:

      Mr anonymous . . . . I’m puzzled that you find this claim dubious. Ms Cassandre Balosso-Bardin (who is not anonymous) is well known to me as a person of integrity. Additionally she is an admired performer and much respected academic.
      It is genuinely good to know that your own financial arrangements with the BBC were satisfactory. Since too many other musicians have reported similar instances of a refusal of professional reimbursement from the BBC, perhaps we might agree that their practices are variable?

      • Mark Glanville says:

        Thank you for this support, Francis. Cassandre is my friend, and colleague in Amaraterra. At least you and I have the courage to identify ourselves. And you are very right about Cassandre.

  • 18mebrumaire says:

    Don’t they realise that music should be free?

  • pianoguy says:

    hmmm…. that is not very good at all. who wants a dried out sandwich from the Beeb canteen? no one! A poor show, considering the loyal viewing audience of Strictly and its spin off. They have budget for Zoe, Rylan, even Gethin Jones, I bet!

  • di says:

    yep…sounds about right…

  • Anon muso says:

    Appearing on In Tune (BBC Radio 3 drivetime programme) used to merit a modest fee. Those days passed a few years ago. Quite how they expect chamber groups to come in the programme especially when players have additional commitments that they need excusing from. Its ridiculous. I can well believe this story. The wedge is getting thinner and thinner.

  • V. Lind says:

    There seems to be some confusion, especially as to who is in charge here. None of the combatants above acknowledged the conclusion of the article:

    A BBC spokesperson said the decision to drop the band from the programme was made for editorial reasons, rather than because they asked for a fee. They said: “As we do with lots of artists, we discussed a proposed performance with Amaraterra for It Takes Two that ultimately didn’t happen for editorial reasons.”

    Despite producers telling the band repeatedly there was no budget available, the BBC spokesperson insisted they would have been eligible to be paid. They said: “Had they performed they would of course have been paid for their appearance.”

    • SVM says:

      The article cites direct quotations that imply very clearly that the producer did not intend to pay the ensemble. The BBC spokesperson’s claim at the end of the article therefore does not seem credible.

      It is possible that everyone was telling the truth, which would then point towards a rogue producer going against established protocol. If so, I would be interested to know what disciplinary action (if any) is going to be taken against said producer, and what steps the BBC plans to take to prevent/discover/rectify other occurrences.

  • Dawn says:

    It amazes me that the FAT CATS at the BBC, can pay their selves big wads of cash, but claim there isn’t any money for Musicians
    Yea right

  • Dave Potter says:

    I have noticed a couple of inaccuracies in this article – 1. the current ‘covid allowance’ is 80% of profits for self-employed. Perhaps the story was done a while ago before the rates changed back up although it can’t have been that long ago seeing as Strictly is only in week 6. I can’t find a history of the SEISS rates and when they changed etc but either way this seems a bit helpfully sloppy from the Grauniad. 2. Cassandre B-B is quoted in the article as saying they have no albums to sell. This does not appear to be true as they do have an album of sorts available on the website for a minimum of £5. Small details but when they both favour the ‘victim’ of the story it undermines credibility and makes it look more like a conspiratorial puff-piece.

    Having said that absolutely NOT supporting the BBC. They have clearly messed up here, whether it’s bad communication and that a fee would have been available after all or if they were trying to get a band to play on TV for a Strictly show for no fee which does seem very stingy even by their standards.

    Would welcome a constructive response to the above from anyone in the band/followers.

    • Dave Potter says:

      Also whilst not being offered a fee is disappointing when undertaking any kind of work, to say that the ‘exposure’ is pointless as there are no gigs etc seems very short-sighted and churlish.

      It is not unfair to say that the exposure from playing on live terrestrial TV could indeed have been MASSIVE, especially if harnessed in the right way with social media etc. Every pro musician has done unpaid work at some point in their career when it benefits them in some other way, especially at the beginning of a career or with a fledgling ensemble.

      Doing some cursory research on Amaraterra, their social media accounts are not run professionally at all (their twitter page looks like a typical left wing/progressive personal account), they have nothing on Spotify to listen to, a handful of Youtube videos with only 149 subscribers and from the sounds of the article all the members appear to have other sources of employment. With all due respect, they aren’t the Berlin Phil…

      Anyway I suppose they have got the exposure that for them was meaningless in lieu of payment by going to the Guardian with the story, albeit in a much more negative and less musically enriching manner.

      And again let me emphasise the BBC does NOT come off well from this either – complete shambles. But sometimes there is more nuance to a situation than good v evil, david v goliath, merry band of musicians v nasty big corporation.

      Constructive responses very welcome.

      • SVM says:

        Re: “they have nothing on Spotify to listen to, a handful of Youtube videos with only 149 subscribers and from the sounds of the article all the members appear to have other sources of employment.”

        The same could be said for a lot of excellent professional classical ensembles in the UK, including many with very experienced players. Spotify and Youtube are not the only platforms for disseminating music, although they are very influential (and far too powerful). Judge an ensemble on the quality of its music-making, not on its online discoverability (by the way, one can “subscribe” to a Youtube channel without ever paying any actual money). If an ensemble is good enough to provide music for a primetime television dance show, it is assuredly good enough to be paid properly.

        And can Mr Potter name any UK-based professional ensemble where none of its members has “other sources of employment”? I cannot think of any (not even among the big-name orchestras). Mr Potter cites the Berlin Phil as a gold standard, but does he realise that many of its players *do* have other jobs (e.g.: conservatoire professor; chamber-music player; concerto soloist; member of one or more ‘festival’ orchestras, such as Bayreuth)? If anything, an ensemble whose players *never* did any outside work would be regarded with suspicion.

        • Dave Potter says:

          Hi SVM, thanks for engaging.

          Re your point about spotify/youtube etc, I was not judging their standard by their online presence. I was arguing that it would be reasonable based on their online presence (or lack thereof) to think that they might very well welcome the exposure of playing on live BBC TV, as I’m sure many ensembles of a similar standing would. Their musical standard or quality is irrelevant with regard to this.

          And re the other employment point, I was more referring to other employment outside of music performance (eg academia or a ‘day job’) and again was referring to this not in terms of judging how good they are but in terms of their level of prominence and therefore what they may or may not think doing is worthwhile to promote themselves. If you booked the Rolling Stones and said there was no fee but the exposure would be good it would be ridiculous because they don’t need to gain exposure by playing for free. But could you really say the same about Amaraterra in good faith?

          The article and quotations from Cassandre B-B imply that it is never acceptable to do performance work for no financial payment even if there is beneficial exposure or other such non-financial reward. I think this is wrong especially in a profession that is based on the notion that people do it first and foremost because they are passionate about it (although by the by many other professionals/organisations do free work because it will boost their own reputation or something similar). I think the attitude expressed in the article is unhelpful to performers and potentially insulting to all the many professional performing artists who HAVE done work for free or similar because they have felt that it would be beneficial for themselves in some other way.

  • Robert says:

    This band would only be one of the BBC’s current misdemeanours when it comes to unfairness of pay.