71% of Sound Engineers Have Worked for Free In The Last 3 Years

The Music Producers Guild have released a report suggesting 71% of sound engineers have worked for free for at least one client in the last 3 years, while 88% have at least been ASKED to work for free.

With the music industry more competitive than ever it’s not uncommon to find aspiring sound engineers willing to work for free to get their foot in the door, gain some experience and make a name for themselves.

At the annual Pivotal Music Conference it was announced however that nearly three-quarters of engineers have worked without charging.

Of those who answered, 50% stated that they were working as a favor for a friend while 20% admitted to feeling under pressure to do a favour for an already existing client.

42% reported that they had done ‘on spec’ work, meaning their fee would only be paid if the client was happy with the results.

We’re all familiar with the sound engineer ‘in jokes’ about clients paying engineers in ‘exposure’, or receiving never-ending lists of mix reviews.

But in reality, this is quite a concerning statistic, particularly for those sourcing their income solely from engineering and in an environment where finding work can be unpredictable at best.

According to the report, 77% of respondents claimed they were doing a favor for a self-funding artist with 34% saying the work was for an indie label.

Surprisingly 17% said that their unpaid work was done for a major label, with other areas such as TV and film productions, radio stations and charities. 

It seems these ‘free’ projects aren’t exactly gap fillers done in the respondent’s downtime either, with 41% stating their unpaid work took between one day and a week, 36% taking from one to four weeks and 5% saying most of their time was spent working on projects for free.

The MPG estimates that the average value of unpaid work per engineer per year is around $4,195 (£4,000 GBP).

Executive Director at Music Producer’s Guild Olga Fitzroy says she was shocked to see these statistics stating:

“I knew unpaid work was a problem in our industry, but I didn’t realize how endemic it was. Of course, people will do favors for friends, but it’s completely unacceptable for record labels and commercial studios to exploit professionals in this way. We don’t employ someone to put in a new bathroom and then decide to pay them if we feel like it.”

Have you taken on a project and been asked to work for free? Are you willing to provide a service on the house if you feel it may lead to more work? Let us know what you think in the comments below!