The Sad Fate of Professional Musicians in U.S. : Outsourced to London, Part II – The Pay Model Connection


Photo Scoring Session West Side Story
Scoring Session West Side Story

In the last post, (Part 1) I talked about the loss of studio musician jobs in the U.S. to London as a result of the removal of music education from our schools, the lack of paying venues for musicians and the lack of practice time for musicians because they are so busy supporting themselves with non-music jobs. All of these factors result in a lack of qualified U.S. musicians according to entertainment company executives. Today I want to look at another reason we are losing music jobs to London players and orchestras, and that has to do with our countries’ respective employee pay models.

As the music panelists of the Hollywood Future of Entertainment forum stepped off the stage, I turned to the two music industry reps at my table and told them that I was still confused. During our table introductions, the woman executive from the musician royalty paying agency had told me that this digital age is, in fact, a great time for musicians in that they have so many more royalty income revenue streams. She had explained how a studio musician who played on a soundtrack  in the past was only paid when a film or TV show was in its first run, and a bit more during re-plays or re-runs. Today with all the various distribution outlets (DVD, Netflix, online streaming, hotel distribution, etc.) musicians are earning money from many more sources.

“Something doesn’t add up,” I said to her and the Union Rep at my table now, post panel. “You earlier explained to me how studio musicians are making more money today than ever, due to the increase in income royalty revenue streams from movies, TV and recorded music. But the panel just told us that producers are all going to London to record music, and there is a huge loss of work for musicians in the U.S.”

The Union Rep told me she did not know what was going on. “How is the Musicians Union fairing?” I asked. “Is this outsourcing of work to London something you all talk about?” She did not know.

I pondered aloud, “London is supposed to be like the second or third most expensive city to live in today. If London musicians are being paid so much less than their U.S. counterparts – making it cheaper for U.S. producers to travel all the way to Europe to score/record, how can those London musicians afford to live? And if they are paid so much less, how can they afford the time to educate themselves thoroughly and constantly practice to keep up their skills?”

(Remember in my first post on this, the panelists explained that U.S. musicians are paid so little that they can’t afford practice time because they have to work “day jobs.”)

The Union Rep shrugged. The Royalty Exec had to ask:  “How long have you worked for the Union?”

“Nine years,” she said.

I guess she’s been listening to streaming music all day rather than her constituency.

Finally the Royalty Exec filled in for me. But this is where she told me she had to be off the record. Sad.

It all comes down to the difference in work and pay models and governmental support.

In the U.S., we have taken music out of the schools, so anyone who learns music does it on her/his own without the lessons and practice time and music exposure that schools could give them. There are no longer sufficient paying venues for musicians, and most that do exist pay very little. All but a relative few U.S. musicians have to work other jobs and play music “on the side.” For those few who do manage to get studio work, the pay is good, thanks to unions and, now, numerous new digital revenue streams. But the operative term here is “those few musicians.”

Musicians in London have it vastly different. They live in a society that has not removed music from the schools, that respects musicians.

“But, how do they manage if they are paid less than studio musicians in the U.S.?” I continued to press.

“Because for one, they have plenty of work – since they are taking it from U.S.” she explained.

“How ironic, but still not enough to tip all this in their favor if they are working for much lower wages,” I thought. Aloud I responded, “How can the simple fact of lower hourly rates for musicians really make it more affordable for an entire film or TV show post-production staff to pack up and travel across the ocean to hire an orchestra and score all their music? I would think that  travel and lodging would pretty much offset the musicians’  hourly wage savings.”

Her next statement finally shed the light.

“Not only do they work for lower wages, they don’t take royalties. This makes them even more attractive to producers from a financial standpoint.”

“No way!” I was stunned. “How can British musicians afford to live with low wages and no royalties?”

“Because their government, in addition to supporting music education, also subsidizes the health care and pensions of musicians. They have financial security.”

Couple that with plenty of work, and the musicians in London are set.

But, this is just wrong. Because of government subsidies people in England can afford to be musicians. No such luck for citizens of the U.S.

I sat back in my seat deflated. Outsourcing of U.S. jobs took on a whole new meaning. It is not just about lower wages. We are not just competing with workers in developing, low-cost-of-living  nations, who can afford to work for a fraction of what U.S. workers need to earn. We are not just competing with foreign companies who are exploiting their workers for lower wages. We are competing with foreign governments! And what chance do we stand against a foreign government who underwrites their workers when the U.S. government meanwhile rails against even a living wage much less worker subsidies or universal healthcare!

Well, as luck would have it, I happened to tell this story to a staff member at the Verdugo Workforce Investment Board a few weeks later. And from him I learned that this form of government sponsored competition is illegal – well, caveat, it used to be illegal, and may still be illegal. That is what I will write about it Post III.  Stay tuned. . . .




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