Berlin survey: 1 in 3 musicians are giving up

Berlin survey: 1 in 3 musicians are giving up


norman lebrecht

January 25, 2021

A survey by the Landesmusikrat Berlin published today finds that, due to Covid, 29 percent of freelance musicians see no professional future in music, are planning career change or have already taken another job.

Just over one fifth, 22.1 percent, are optimistic about the future. Almost half, 46.6 percent, are on income support.

The survey is based on a small sample, just 485 Berlin musicians.



  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    Sadly, this was absolutely inevitable. But I do find the generosity of people giving up their careers, incomes and freedoms to save primarily the baby boomer cohort very admirable indeed. Saint-like, really.

    • Greg Bottini says:

      What the hell do you have against baby boomers, “Sue”?
      Just because people born in the post-WWII era are getting old now, you’re complaining?
      Just wait – old age will come to you someday, if The Plague doesn’t get you first.
      God, you’re a cunt.

      • Christopher Clift says:

        Greg, your point of view would have resonated more with many readers had you omitted your obscene final remark. Totally uncalled for.

        • Eric says:

          It may be uncalled for but it certainly resonates. She must be a masochist or just not very bright considering how many thousands of thumbs-downs she has accumulated over the years.

          • BruceB says:

            Nah, they consider them badges of honor. That’s why people with names like Doug and Karl (who seldom, if ever, evince any interest in music) keep coming back. They’ve said so.

            I think they just like trolling an audience that is so easily trolled. (example: this comment by Sue and its replies)

            BTW, @Christopher – as I understand it, “cunt” isn’t considered nearly as obscene on the other side of the pond as it is in North America.

          • 18mebrumaire says:

            Absolutely correct, BruceB. This particular expletive is commonly used as a term of endearment south of the river. For a masterclass in demotic finesse see the splendid documentary “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”.

    • Hayne says:

      What are you talking about Sue?
      The Great Reset is going splendidly!

    • Rogerio says:

      Your comment makes more sense when read backwards.

    • Miko says:

      I genuinely hope I never have the “pleasure” of meeting you.

    • True North says:

      Sue is feeling complacent about COVID due to the relatively low death counts in Australia, where she lives. But I can assure her the situation is much more dire in other parts of the world, where people of all ages are dying of the disease.

      • SVM says:

        Be that as it may, protracted lockdowns are causing far more harm than they are preventing (deterioriation to mental health, missed cancer diagnosis, suspensions to childhood vaccination programmes in the Third World, people dying of heart attacks because they were too scared to go to hospital, &c.). And whilst some younger people have succombed to this virus, the overwhelming majority of victims have been elderly and/or had several co-morbidities (unlike the Black Death and the Spanish ‘flu, both of which *were* truly devastating across *all* age-groups). Lockdowns are not even that effective in preventing the proliferation of COVID-19 (the UK, despite having imposed severe restrictions for over 10 months, has had over 100000 deaths attributed to COVID-19). Given that it is possible to identify the factors that make a person particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, it would surely make more sense to focus on enabling such vulnerable people to shield (e.g.: guarantee that they can receive home deliveries of groceries; and give them a legal right to work from home, or, failing that, to be furloughed). It cannot be right that, for instance, a 60-year-old diabetic nurse is still compelled to go on the front line and risk catching COVID-19 (unless he/she can afford to lose his/her job), whilst a 20-year-old healthy office worker is compelled to stay at home.

      • Joel says:

        Hopefully you’ll contract it soon ‘True North’.

        Just think, you will be a champion of diversity right up there with that senile China Joe!

  • Jan Kaznowski says:

    ==small sample, just 485 Berlin musicians

    It’s probably not too bad a metric. Can anybody estimate how many musicians there are in Berlin ? This sounds like one of the recruitment questions they used to give at Microsoft !

  • Patrick says:

    Good. More jobs for those who don’t give up. Music isn’t easy, and it takes much more than merely talent.

    • PHF says:

      Yeahhh, probably tons of incompetent people who were previously making a living as freelance musicians in Berlin.

    • SVM says:

      If those who remain in the profession are better and more dedicated than those who leave, this apparent exodus *may* just be a good thing.

      However, if those who remain in the profession do so primarily by virtue of having more savings or family money/support, the profession would become (even more) dominated by persons from more socio-economically privileged backgrounds, and for non-artistic reasons.

      So, if the latter (savings or family money/support) be more influential than the former (being a better and more dedicated musician) in determining who stays in the profession, this apparent exodus will be very bad news.

    • Dragonetti says:

      Talent doesn’t pay the bills unfortunately. It might well be a time for sheep/goat sorting but it would have been nicer if it were done purely on talent and not on how much private income one might have.
      These are extraordinary times. Let’s not start victimising any sectors of society, musicians included..

  • John Borstlap says:

    It seems to me that 485 people cannot represent a correct picture. But no doubt many musicians will be doing something else in the future. What will be the components of such a decision? That there is ‘no future in music for them’, says nothing – how do factors like talent, dedication, moment in the career trajectory, circumstances (just bought a house, just got twins, etc.), age, range of interests, pressing spouse or parents affect such a drastic choice? And what about highly-skilled musicians who have no talent or capacities whatsoever outside music?

    No doubt, after some time (one year? two years?) music life will be restoring. People can decide to come back to the profession.

    • Christopher Clift says:

      Has anyone considered that a great many freelance musicians already have second or even third jobs with income from which they supplement already meagre proceeds from music making?

  • Same in the US says:

    Working is no longer an option to survive in America.

    Music venues have been buried and forgotten about on the whole. Specific restrictions targeting the venues haven’t budged since March and surrounding businesses have seen restrictions vasalcate back and forth. Going bankrupt and out of business forever is the new normal.

    Bright spots in the form of scheduling from the Met are cute but one can’t live off of uncertainty particularly when 10 months of income suddenly are stolen from you. The Met’s greed and selfishness have been well documented like the emergency gala money nobody received help with or investments never shared from republican Gelb.

    Those in other professions additionally supporting themselves have seen the same or manic furloughs, then working for a few days or weeks then furloughed again. Unemployment ran out in many states and lots of people NEVER got through.

    Lots of broke, homeless out there unless they were able to move out of an expensive city like NY.

    Just waiting for Biden and Harris at this point.

    • Bone says:

      I’m willing to bet their first artistic priority will not be genres that were primarily developed by white Europeans.

    • Hayne says:

      Waiting for what? Who instituted all these lockdowns? Who killed all those elderly people in NY by forcing senior care institutions to accept covid19 people? Now you’re waiting for Biden and Harris. Sorry, but you deserve it.

    • Craig says:

      It likely worse in the US. The supplemental aid to the arts and musicians here is basically nonexistent. The arts organizations themselves don’t really appear to be doing much about it other than “hunkering down” at best. Most just seem to be quietly waiting for some magical green light and assuming when the curtain is raised again, things will be just like they were in March 2020. They will not.

      I also worry this is not just an acute extinction level event, but rather that there will be follow on repercussions many don’t seem to be thinking about at all. That includes the impact from generational loss of audience to streaming and other media to the legions of amateur musicians who have become disengaged. Those amateurs account for disproportionate amount of spending and advocacy in the arts. The band director here has run kids out of the band in droves but even the ones who are trying are losing kids with all the remote learning. They will never come back into the pipeline.

      The net: yes, it’s awful for musicians who are giving up and having to leave the industry to put food on the table. I wouldn’t assume those who remain are home free. This isn’t an organizational or a musician problem. It’s an industry problem. And a big one.

  • RW2013 says:

    Maybe a photo other than the Deutsche Oper (where I believe everyone is getting their pay packet) would have been more appropriate.