UK musicians face ‘devastating’ discrimination at work

UK musicians face ‘devastating’ discrimination at work


norman lebrecht

September 29, 2022

A survey by the Incorporated Society of Musicians, published today, finds high levels of sex, race and disability discrimination in the music profession.

The summary:
66% of survey respondents said they experienced some form of discrimination while working in the music sector.
78% of reported discrimination was committed against women.
58% of discrimination was identified as sexual harassment.
76% of workers within studio and live music event settings experienced discrimination, the highest level by type of work.
88% of self-employed respondents did not report the discrimination that they experienced when working; for 94% of them, there was no one to report to.

The survey is based on just 660 responses, a small percentage of a membership of eleven thousand.

You can read the ISM report here.


  • Lecturer/Researcher says:

    660 people is an adequate sample set if the survey was just of ISM members, which I don’t think it was. If you take the full number of working professional musicians in the UK as being around 40-50k, then the sample is on the lower end, but is still would produce meaningful results.

    That means there is definitely still a problem in the industry in the UK and it shouldn’t be undermined.

    • Symphony musician says:

      On page 40 it says participants self-selected, which means the results are, unfortunately, less reliable, especially the statistical numbers. I don’t wish to downplay the issue – there clearly is a serious issue, that calls for a serious response. The resulting figures are genuinely shocking. It’s just that the exact numbers shouldn’t be considered definitive or dependable, and should only be quoted with caution.

      • Giles says:

        To say in one breath say the results are unreliable then in the next say there is clearly an issue is illogical in itself.

        The only issue clear with a self-selecting sample size that small is that you should not extrapolate any data whatsoever with regards to an entire profession and that would be well understood by any statistician.

      • Anthony Sayer says:

        Bravo and duh. It’s widely-known that if you’re happy with a service you’re far less likely to comment than if you’re dissatisfied. If participation was voluntary then, yes, expect many bitter people to take part.

      • Prof says:

        quite right — if they self selected, then people with a (legitimate) axe to grind were the first to sign up — others, not so energetic

    • Anon says:

      We don’t know how the study was done, despite what it claims to have found. I’ve come across many sociological studies recently, that invariably found whatever they wanted to find.
      This, at a time when the victim mentality is encouraged more strongly than ever.

  • Dominic Stafford says:

    You can find an awful lot of that discrimination in the comments section of this site…

  • Maria says:

    Not sure how this is going to be solved, particulartly in the UK where we don’t have the forthright American suing culture. Certainly as a freelancer, make too much noise, or be difficult to work with, and then won’t get further work, or even petty jealousy of ability, from others gossiping to those who hire. But it’s hard to prove. The worst discrimintors against women, and not ard to prove, starts with those male dominated churches and cathedrals who don’t allow women and girls to sing in their choirs or make any provision for them – 50% of the church going population. Hardly equal in the eyes of God!

  • Singeril says:

    It depends on what is called discrimination. Discrimination is occurring in the process of diversification as well. If allowed to include that, the number could be even higher.

  • lamed says:

    Even if it’s 1%, it’s 1% too high.

    It should be zero tolerance.

  • Mark Mortimer says:

    Quelle surprise. Truly shocking story & statistics. A dreadful time to be a musician in this country. Young hopefuls should recall the immortal words of Noel Coward ‘Don’t put your daughter on the stage Mrs Worthington’.

  • Helen says:

    I was a freelancer for 20 years and recently retrained. When I entered my new salaried position I had to fill in a survey about workplace behaviour, for which I used the music profession. For every single question, I had either experienced the toxic behaviour (the survey’s wording), or I had seen – or heard of – that behaviour being directed at another colleague.

    The result of the survey was that there were serious issues within the workplace that I had previously inhabited.