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TUC 2018 Message to the music industry: we won't tolerate harassment

Musicians may feel they have nowhere to turn when confronted with unacceptable demands. But the union is there for them, writes HORACE TRUBRIDGE

THE #MeToo movement brought sexual harassment, abuse, discrimination and exploitation in creative workplaces to everyone’s attention. Sexual harassment can and does occur in every working environment, but the entertainment sector is particularly problematic.

There are a number of reasons for this. Not only are there huge power imbalances between artists and those who can “make or break their careers,” but work is often freelance and ad hoc fuelling fears that “causing trouble” can affect future employment. Being self-employed can also make musicians feel isolated and without anywhere to turn when they run into problems.

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, the Musicians’ Union (MU) set up safespace@theMU.org for anyone, whatever their role in the music industry, to report sexual harassment, abuse, bullying or discrimination in confidence.

The cases that have been reported to us highlight serious problems in the treatment of women right across the music industry.

We’ve had issues reported to us that have occurred in at gigs in pubs and clubs, on tour, as an unsigned artist, when signed to a label, working as a session player, in studios, in theatres, in orchestras, and studying music at a college or conservatoire.  

The Safe Space line is confidential and therefore we are unable to share some of the more serious cases, but some women agreed to be used as anonymous case studies.

The MU recently received several calls from professional female session musicians who on arrival at a gig were issued with hot-pants to wear. They were also required to mime rather than actually play their instruments. None of this had been mentioned to them prior to the gig.  

Another female musician told us that after a performance she was asked if her legs could be photographed by the engager.

Once at a paid gig, musicians can find it difficult to refuse such requests even if they feel deeply uncomfortable. Sadly, women in particular are afraid of being seen as difficult and not receiving further bookings if they complain.

Several musicians had received unprovoked sexually explicit messages from someone in a position of power and one had been asked for sex in exchange for gigs.

The MU is leading the music industry’s response to issues of sexual harassment by investigating individual cases, surveying musicians to find out the extent of the problem, and challenging all music professionals to promote appropriate behaviour and put in place clear policies to protect musicians from harassment.

Festivals, venues, conservatoires, theatre producers and anyone else who works with musicians are being invited to sign up to a new code of practice created by the Musicians’ Union and the ISM.

We have updated terms and conditions for MU approved contractors to include a pledge to oppose any form of harassment or discrimination, and we are also working on information for venues, festivals and other workplaces with backstage areas that flag up safespace@theMU.org and state that harassment will not be tolerated.  

While we’ve come quite far in the year since the start of the #metoo movement, there is still a long way to go.  

No-one should experience or fear sexual harassment, abuse, bullying or discrimination on campus or at work. The MU is committed to ensuring every workplace in the music industry is a safe one.  

The MU hopes that the discussion around the motion at Conference will help to highlight the advice and assistance provided by the MU to all musicians suffering harassment or abuse.

Horace Trubridge is general secretary of the Musicians’ Union (MU).

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