A rift appears to be brewing between record labels and the Musicians’ Union in the UK.
The MU works to set rates of pay across various areas of work for musicians in the country (the world’s third-largest recorded music market after the US and Japan, respectively), from sessions on recordings to live performances and teaching rates.
MBW understands that the MU has been negotiating with the BPI, the trade body that represents major and independent record labels in the UK, over the past year, to increase the rate of payment made to working musicians for recording sessions.
A source tells us that the BPI made its final offer in January. The deadline to accept that offer was May 31. An agreement wasn’t reached by that date, and musicians have not been given an increase to their rate of pay for recording sessions.
BPI claims that it offered the MU “a historically high” increase of “nearly 40% in the minimum fees paid to session musicians working on pop and rock recordings (15% for classical i.e. working with orchestras).”
That’s according to Sophie Jones, BPI CSO and CEO, who tells MBW that the MU “dismissed” the offer, and furthermore, “declined to even put this offer to its members to make them aware and let them have their say”. (You can read Jones’ statement in full below).
Against a backdrop of a cost of living crisis, fueled by rising interest rates, rising food bills, rising energy bills and wage stagnation, the question everyone in the UK music business will be asking about this news today is:
Why would the MU dismiss an offer of an increased session rate of pay for its members?
The heart of the issue seems to be that the MU is campaigning for session musicians to be paid streaming royalties for tracks they worked on in addition to an increase to the minimum fees paid to them for sessions.
This includes “existing catalogue recordings”, according to the MU’s General Secretary, Naomi Pohl.
“The minimum session rate is due an increase and has not increased much at all in the past 10-15 years,” added Pohl in a statement issued to MBW. “It has fallen significantly behind other session rates. However, all session musicians, including those on existing catalogue recordings (who wouldn’t benefit from an increased session fee) deserve a royalty on streamed recordings. Session musicians do receive royalties on radio play, for example.”
According to the BPI’s Sophie Jones, “the demands that the MU are making on top of [its] generous deal,” are “neither viable nor reasonable”.
Jones suggested that the MU’s demand for session musicians to be paid royalties “would ultimately impact featured artist and songwriter earnings while also reducing the ability of labels to support future talent”.
Added Jones: “It ignores the way in which session musicians are paid – free to work with whomever they choose, usually as part of a portfolio career, and via a guaranteed upfront fee that is paid irrespective of a recording’s success or it even being released at all.”
Commenting further, the MU’s Pohl, told MBW that, “MU Committee members don’t feel the offer is good enough to put to a ballot of members.”
“MU Committee members don’t feel the offer is good enough to put to a ballot of members.”
Naomi Pohl, the MU
“The BPI have made an offer of a roughly 38% increase on the £130 minimum session rate for commercial recording sessions,” continued Pohl.
“There is a 15% offer on the classical rates. Even with a 38% increase, the session rate has barely increased in 15 years and would remain lower than other equivalent Musicians’ Union recording rates.”
Pohl added: “The BPI represents major record labels who are making record profits from music streaming while session musicians currently receive no royalties at all, even if they play on big hits.
“The Union is campaigning to fix streaming and get royalties for all musicians, like on radio broadcast for example. The BPI’s offer referred to remunerating session musicians for streaming but an uplift on the session fee would not help the thousands of musicians on popular catalogue who receive nothing at all. They also want to bundle in some other important rights including buying out an existing royalty stream.
“All in all, the deal doesn’t come close to addressing the music streaming issue or offering a decent pay rise. The minimum session fee has been far too low, for far too long. We hope for a better offer and will continue to campaign for royalties on streaming.”
You can read the BPI’s statement, from Sophie Jones, BPI CSO and CEO, in full below:
“The BPI and its record label members have offered the Musicians’ Union a historically high increase of nearly 40% in the minimum fees paid to session musicians working on pop and rock recordings (15% for classical i.e. working with orchestras).
“This unprecedented rise addresses the fact that session musician earnings have not increased since 2019, and have not risen as quickly as those of artists and songwriters in the streaming era. This offer also recognises the cost of living challenges faced by all workers, and is well above many of the negotiated settlements being reached in other parts of the economy.
“It is disappointing that the MU declined to even put this offer to its members to make them aware and let them have their say, and simply dismissed it – citing technical procedures.
“The demands that the MU are making on top of this generous deal, including royalty payments on past recordings where musicians have already been paid on agreed terms, are neither viable nor reasonable. What the MU is asking would ultimately impact featured artist and songwriter earnings while also reducing the ability of labels to support future talent; and it ignores the way in which session musicians are paid – free to work with whomever they choose, usually as part of a portfolio career, and via a guaranteed upfront fee that is paid irrespective of a recording’s success or it even being released at all.
“If you look to the world of film and TV for comparisons, this move would be like film companies being asked to retrospectively pay a royalty to all the cast and extras engaged to work on a project.
“The offer we have made would benefit session musicians with a guaranteed pay rise whilst enabling record companies to also support featured artists and future investment. At a time when our industry faces many common challenges, not least with AI, which poses a particular threat to musician livelihoods, it is vital that we all work together in a spirit of collaboration to grow the UK music market and music exports to the benefit of all. We urge the MU to think again and consult their members on this significant offer.”Music Business Worldwide