22nd October 2021Musicians Union – Case Study

We’re proud to work with some fantastic clients and we love to celebrate the brilliant work they are doing.  We spoke to the Musicians’ Union about how they have navigated the challenges of the last year, and what they will be focusing on going forward into 2022 and beyond.

Tell us a bit about who you are, and please introduce your organisation in 3 sentences telling us a little bit about what it does

I am Naomi Pohl, Deputy General Secretary of the Musicians’ Union. We represent 31,000 professional musicians in the UK. We are a small trade union that punches above its weight in terms of negotiating with employers and representing our members to the Government. As a Union, we are member-led and all our decision and policy making involves consultation with musicians who either sit on our many specialist Committees or take part in ballots.

How has the last 18 months affected your organisation

Like most of the UK workforce, in March 2020 we moved all our activities online. We closed our offices temporarily and staff relocated to home. As musicians were largely prevented from working by Government regulations, for the first time in the Union’s almost 130 year history, the nature of our work completely changed. We opened a Hardship Fund which we donated £1m to from our investment portfolio. We gave our members six months free membership if they were in financial hardship and gave out small grants to keep them going. We also engaged with Government Ministers, Officials, MPs, and the wider music industry to try to get workplaces reopened as swiftly and safely as possible. The lack of in-person meetings and travel has saved the Union money so, aside from the £1m we put into the Hardship Fund; our finances have been better than we anticipated. We lost a few members while they weren’t working but now our numbers are rising again, which is encouraging.

Give us an example of the risks and opportunities that surfaced as a result

The biggest risk was losing members because most of them weren’t earning. The pandemic has been a complete disaster for musicians and many of our members have suffered financial hardship. Offering a subscriptions holiday was a financial risk but we knew it was the right thing to do. Thankfully, it paid off and our membership levels have remained relatively steady in the most difficult of circumstances. We are also looking to downsize our headquarters and keep some of our activities online which will save money and make us more productive. The pandemic has shown how we can operate more efficiently but without reducing benefits and services for members, something we have aspired to but perhaps wouldn’t have achieved to this extent in other circumstances.

We’d love to hear any real successes which you think have come about because of how you adapted

We had planned to sell our headquarters and downsize prior to the pandemic and now it’s clear what a timely and pertinent decision that was. We are all excited about a fresh start in a more modern, open plan environment and we’ll be hot-desking so we can operate with less space. It will still provide a proper London home for the MU that our members can visit, but without the burden of high running costs, repairs, and maintenance. The important thing for colleagues is that it feels like a step forward not back. We will be better located, and it will facilitate more collaboration between teams. Plus, we expect most people will want to work from home half the week which should afford a better work-life balance. All in all, a really positive change for us as an organisation and as individuals.

What are the biggest lessons learned about yourself or your leadership team

I’ve been impressed how everyone in the organisation has adapted to change. However, it has been tough on all of us at times and I think many colleagues have opened up about the challenges of working from home, including the impact on mental health. Speaking to colleagues based in their home environment and hearing about who they live with, the caring responsibilities they have and how they’re coping made me feel much more in touch with them all on a personal level. I am keen to maintain these relationships. It is important to recognise that we all have lives outside of work and there are challenges shared across every level of the business. We can support each other.

Who was your biggest inspiration during the pandemic?

I am inspired by the resilience of our members who have been through the toughest imaginable time and keep making music against all the odds. Many of them adapted to move their music teaching and gigging online, started writing and recording, learned new skills or found temporary jobs to subsidise their activities. Most of them are freelance and many didn’t qualify for Government support, but they kept performing, rehearsing, creating, practising and supporting each other.

How are you feeling about the future and what are your hopes for the next 12 months?

Now that the music industry is recovering, I feel hopeful for the future. I am off to see a West End musical and going to a music festival in September, as well as the Ivor Novello Awards. Finally, some live music and in-person events! It’s great to hear from members who are getting back to what they do best, and I think we are going from strength to strength as an organisation. One of my big hopes for the next 12 months is that some of our campaigning work comes to fruition. For example, we are lobbying for guaranteed royalties for musicians from music streaming and we have some big opportunities to influence Government this side of Christmas. We also hope to make some headway on the challenges presented by Brexit for touring musicians, which is a very important issue for our members.


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