Today the ISM has released a major new report, Dignity at work 2: Discrimination in the music sector.

Dignity at work 2 exposes the devastating scale of discrimination (including sexual harassment and racism) in all parts of the music sector, including education. Those working in the music sector have come forward and shared with the ISM their deeply felt personal testimonies and we thank them for taking this step. We hope that this important report will be a vehicle for change in the music sector, making it unacceptable for anyone to commit discrimination or harass their fellow workers.

The first-hand evidence which forms the bedrock of the report paints a picture of unsafe workplaces where perpetrators face no repercussions and there is a scandalous lack of action by contractors and employers.

Very often the fear of being subjected to reprisals stops those who have suffered discrimination from making a complaint. Many of those working in the music sector are freelancers and do not have access to the type of HR functions which the rest of us take for granted. They are a particularly vulnerable workforce and as a result the fear of victimisation stalks our sector. This must stop. It is down to all of us in the music sector to be part of the solution to eradicate these practices.

The report is based on data collected through a 2022 ISM survey which received 660 responses from those who work or have worked within the UK music sector.

The report’s key findings include:

  1. 66% of survey respondents said they experienced some form of discrimination while working in the music sector.
  2. 78% of reported discrimination was committed against women.
  3. 58% of discrimination was identified as sexual harassment.
  4. 76% of workers within studio and live music event settings experienced discrimination, the highest level by type of work.
  5. 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 results are clear. Being a freelancer exposes musicians to unsafe workplaces where it is extremely difficult to raise concerns. If concerns are raised, then the person making the complaint invariably suffers repercussions rather than the perpetrator. The culture of fear extends to those who are employed and if concerns are raised then this part of the workforce can also face victimisation, even though this is unlawful.

This latest report from the ISM suggests that over the past four years since our similar survey in 2018, the prevalence of discrimination and inappropriate behaviours in the music sector has increased.

Alongside direct quotes from the music workforce, the report makes a series of recommendations that both the Government and the music sector should implement without delay. Recommendations include trade bodies taking a much more active role in policing their members, extensive training across the sector, amending the Equality Act 2010 to protect freelancers, reinstating rights around third-party harassment (which accounted for 27% of discrimination in the report) and extending the period of time to bring claims in the tribunal. (All recommendations can be found on page7 of Dignity at work 2.)

Co-author of the report and ISM President Vick Bain said, ‘Dignity at Work 2 uncovers enormously concerning levels of discrimination and harassment in the music sector. Everybody deserves to be safe at work and it’s a scandal that our brilliant music workforce is being let down in this way. As we highlight in the report, there are solutions to the problems we face. There are meaningful actions that both the Government and the music sector can and should take to irradicate these problems. We need to take action now because we don’t want to have to highlight these issues again in another four years’ time.

I’d like to thank every person who took the time to share their experiences with us. I appreciate how difficult that can be, but without your support and trust we would not be able to reveal the scale of the issues in our sector.’

ISM Chief Executive Deborah Annetts said, ‘All those in leadership roles in the music sector need to work together to formulate the most effective solutions to tackle the unsafe workplaces which the ISM’s latest Dignity report portrays. The music workforce is primarily freelance which makes it particularly vulnerable to victimisation if concerns or complaints are made. This must stop. Those who are discriminated against must feel safe to come forward and raise their concerns. If we do not engender this cultural shift then nothing will change.’

Anonymised quotes provided by survey responders to the ISM include:

‘Discrimination is endemic in the whole music profession’

‘The awful treatment of people in this industry compared to others needs to stop’

‘Not reporting as I was told “it’s your fault you’re a very attractive young lady.” Disgusting.’

‘I was told as a female musician I would only advance my career if I was prepared to give sexual favours.’

‘Hard to prove anything, would get a bad reputation.’

‘Orchestra conductor said he wanted to kiss me and when I refused, he did not rebook me.’

‘Inappropriate comments about my breasts.’

‘Being asked to wear high heels and low cut, thigh split dresses that were too small for me and which I said made me feel uncomfortable.’

‘I had section leaders refuse to shake my hand because I was a woman’

‘In a sad way, I got used to being discriminated due to being a female performer so grew quite a thick skin…’

Roger Wilson, Director of Operation, Black Lives in Music, ‘This report clearly shows the challenge ahead for the music industry in addressing the issue of discrimination in the workplace. Vulnerability of the individual, their innate desire to progress in their chosen profession, and the unchecked power wielded by those in senior positions are a potent formula for discrimination to thrive. Honesty is the baseline for progress to be made. The industry needs to acknowledge, review, and address its detestable systemic flaws. Equally, there is a crucial role to be played by the Government to review legislation and provide effective support for those victimised. Both the government and the music sector itself need to play their part and help make the music industry a safe place to work for everyone.’

James Ainscough, Chief Executive of Help Musicians, ‘The depressing survey results in this report show starkly that there has not been the positive change we hoped for in the last 5 years. We need a shift in culture and this insightful report from ISM makes some practical recommendations towards that. The vast majority of us in the music industry long for a day when the Help Musicians Bullying & Harassment helpline is no longer needed, so we must work together with urgency to create an environment where discrimination, harassment and victimisation have no place.’

Dr Aoife Monks, Director, Arts and Culture, Queen Mary University of London, ‘The vital research that ISM has done for this report makes it clear that urgent action is needed from government and the music sector itself. Until the inequitable conditions of a largely precarious freelance workforce in the music industry are confronted, challenged and legislated for, arts workers will remain vulnerable to the frankly horrifying experiences recounted in this report. Furthermore, the music industry must challenge its ingrained habits and hierarchies, which only serve to ensure that the most vulnerable workers are made ever more vulnerable by inequitable cultures of harassment, coercion and discrimination. Change is long overdue. Government and the industry should work together to ensure that reports like this will no longer be necessary in the future.’