Forever pro rata


This year has been one of the most difficult during my career in music. As a freelance musician for over 30 years I have experienced many changes of opportunities in the business. Most of the Mecca dance halls had a resident covers band (as well as the Disc Jockey) in the late 1970s which were gone by the early 1980s, the opportunities for musicians in television (and radio) changed significantly with the restructures and mergers in the BBC and independent channels during the 1980s, the cancelled tours due to artists not wanting to travel during times of conflict (Gulf wars, Balkan wars…), changes in technology and the consequences of going digital.

With these major upheavals in the work environment it seemed prudent to take on work with some regular income (and the PAYE tax system). In my case this grew to a role in teaching and eventually academia with the majority of colleagues in the freelance world following similar work patterns. After a decade of bringing my freelance values of getting the job done and doing it very well into this situation I was not prepared for redundancy even though I knew it was coming.

Fortunately I have found a few hours here and there so feel as though there is a slight return towards normality.   Most of the jobs that jump off the page or out of the screen show an annual salary with the swift caveat of pro rata (often in brackets) which is defined as shared or in proportion (to the amount of work required?). My experience of this in the past is that in most hourly paid jobs in music, teaching or other, the musician invariably gives more time than is remunerated. It is only as a session musician in the studio that I have been paid for every minute of work.

In the past many part-time jobs were advertised as fractional appointments (0.? of the whole) but most employers phased these out in the 2000s when employment law and employers responsibilities regarding part-time workers were redefined in the UK. Many employers then instigated fixed-term contracts with a break between start and end dates so that the employee could not claim continuous service and there was a rise in the use of agency workers. The zero hours contract started to be discussed more after these changes.

Two interesting sets of statistics (if you like numbers and graphs) from the Office for National Statistics show how static wages are and how many people are trying a freelance or self-employed approach as the means to employment. The links are – Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings, 2014 Provisional Results and Self-employed workers in the UK – 2014

In a recent article in the Guardian Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary, comments: “While more people are in work there are still far too few full-time employee jobs for everyone who wants one. It means many working families are on substantially lower incomes as they can only find reduced hours jobs or low-paid self-employment.”

If any musicians have been affected by these changes in the economy and/or the working practices of their employers I would like to hear from you. Your experiences will be used as the basis of an article in the not too distant future.

Thank you in advance for your observations.

© P.R.Birkby 2014


About derangeddrums

Composer, percussionist, musical director, teacher and educator. My music has been written for audiences in palaces and in the street. Music is my vocation and my passion and I hope you enjoy it too.
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