Dicky O’Hara: Musicians Don’t Want to Work for Free

My name is Dicky O’Hara, I am a working musician based in Plymouth. As with all musicians, music isn’t just a hobby, it is a part of my entire life. We wake up in the morning and practice for hours on end, travelling with all of the equipment for miles around to entertain audiences. I love my job, but paid work can often be hard to come by. I would like to offer my thoughts on this as a musician and try to urge you to support your local talented musicians.

Muicians not for free

I think a lot of people hold the belief that musicians just enjoy a party lifestyle, are lazy or are simply homeless buskers. This, I believe is a misconception. Some of the hardest working people I know are musicians. I know buskers that go out for 8 hours a day, despite the drab Plymouth weather, simply to pay their bills. Some musicians play gigs at pubs and clubs every single night and can only just pay their rent. I myself busked regularly to help pay for University.

So should musicians be paid? Well to me its simple, musicians are providing a service. You wouldn’t hire a catering company or bar staff for your wedding and expect them to provide food and service for free.

I can only think of a few reasons why people might think that musicians should play for free and they’re all pretty bad and some don’t even really make sense. One of the reasons I found is that people think musicians are already wealthy. If musicians can fund their equipment, lessons, and a car to transport all their gear to and from gigs then surely they’re doing pretty well, so why bother? When I read this I was completely dumfounded. How do they expect musicians to pay for all of this stuff? Busking and gigs can sometimes be the sole income for musicians. Some musicians have part time jobs so they can fund their music career but often this still isn’t enough to stay afloat.

Some people think you shouldn’t get paid because your music sucks. Well all I can say to that is everyone’s material is important. It doesn’t matter that you think it sucks and that no one will pay for it, someone somewhere will like it and pay for it. Take Ed Sheeran for instance, five years ago when I first heard some of his stuff I had no idea he’d be huge because, as anyone who knows me will know, I’m not a huge fan. But that doesn’t mean I think he doesn’t deserve a reward for his talent and work or to get paid for the material he’s created and the shows he puts on. This is the same principle for local bands.


I spoke to local musician and open mic host Amber Smith about the subject and she said “the majority of musicians are musicians because they either want it as a career or because they really enjoy doing it and you should get paid for doing something you’re professional at.” Which is a statement I agree with. If you’re putting so much time, love and effort into something it should be celebrated. It is true, that as musicians we need exposure in bars and pubs around the city, but if exposure (a.k.a free labour) is all we get, at the end of the day we can’t pay our rent.

The musicians union national gig rate works out that each musician should be paid roughly £58.50 an hour for live performances and that’s a figure I can get behind. Why shouldn’t that local singer songwriter that plays nearly every night be paid a liveable wage? Why shouldn’t that 9 -piece funk ensemble that plays weddings every weekend be able to afford their rent? If you are a doing a job and providing a service you should be treated as a professional and that means getting paid. So please go out and support your local musicians at open mic nights, gigs, or when busking around the city.

By Dicky O’hara


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