PiPA's Report on the experience of working lives and caring duties in classical music

Download the report: A Bittersweet Symphony

Groundbreaking research from PiPA and Birkbeck, University of London, reveals the risk of a talent exodus as vulnerable parents & carers in crisis report profound impact on income and wellbeing

Key Findings

  • Self-employed women, over 85% of whom have caring responsibilities, including mothers, reported a pay penalty of £8,000, earning the least, at £12,000, compared to £20,000 for freelance men.
  • Outdated work and caregiving structures in Classic Music that are highly gendered, with women twice as likely to turn down work due to caring responsibilities.
  • Half of respondents (50%) are unsatisfied with their work-life balance and 82% reported managing work and family commitments as moderately to extremely stressful.
  • 40% of respondents are thinking of leaving their careers in music

Additional findings reiterate the urgent need for positive change in employment culture in the sector.  The report found that:

  • Only 4% of respondents referenced a supportive employer, with the vast majority relying on a network of support from family, partners or friends to help them manage work and family.
  • Two thirds (65%) of respondents revealed that income from music never or rarely covers unexpected costs, while almost half (48%) said that income from music never or rarely covers basic needs.
  • Nine out of ten musicians, composers, opera singers and conductors reported turning down work due to caring responsibilities, indicating a significant risk to the longevity of the Classical Music workforce. Based on the results, there is a high risk of losing talent, especially freelancers. 

This report discusses the barriers to sustainable careers faced by parents and carers, a sub-sector of every protected characteristic and socio-economic background, who struggle to meet the unique requirements of the classical music sector whilst supporting children, elderly or sick family members

Challenges faced by people with caring responsibilities include: 

  • The logistics and financial demands arising from touring and working away 
  • Unpredictable and inflexible scheduling adding to the complexities of childcare
  • Lack of affordable, flexible, ad-hoc childcare
  • The need for regular rigorous practice to maintain skills requiring dependable support without support mechanisms
  • The requirement to meet inflexible demands of additional work, such as teaching, in order to sustain a career as a classical musician.

Traditional and accepted working practices combined with high job demands become significantly more challenging when people take on caring responsibilities. Classical music demands high standards to maintain quality and international reputation. Research participants reported lack of work-life balance and placing themselves under considerable stress to continue meeting such standards.  There is greater impact on women, who are likely to work and earn less, and those without social capital. Only by re-evaluating established working practices, can we begin to tackle wellbeing impacts, inclusion and diversity, and potential loss of talent. We need to jointly craft sustainable, considered and flexible practices, HR policies and processes, to address the talent haemorrhage.

Next Steps

The Report Recommends:

  • Best practice sharing and more advance scheduling
  • Flexible working
  • Inclusion and intersectionality as a key focus
  • Enhanced support for small organisations and freelancers
  • More holistic career planning during music education

Download the Report: A Bittersweet Symphony 

The research was lead by Parents & Carers in Performing Arts (PiPA) and Birkbeck, University of London. The research was supported by Help Musicians and Musicians Union.