Should You Join a Musicians’ Union?

The freelance and diverse nature of our job makes it quite hard and sometimes confusing to deal with all the admin and legal aspects of it. A musicians’ union takes the workload off as well as provides some safety and credibility.

Many musicians, especially the young ones who are just starting a career in the business often overlook aspects such as salary standards, pension schemes, insurance, or legal requirements. Let’s face it: we are busy enough practicing, writing songs, booking gigs, or promoting ourselves to keep under control the numerous, complicated, bureaucratic sides of our job.

What is a Musicians’ Union?

A musicians’ union is an organization created to protect the rights of musicians. Basically, they handle the legal side of music for you. Helping with performance contracts, providing public liability insurance, and various legal advice are just a few focal points of a musicians’ union.

How can a Musician’s Union help you?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll be aware of how difficult it can be to make a decent living as a musician.

With the quick and constant technological changes we are facing, music sales keep dropping, eroding one of the traditional revenue sources performers and songwriters could rely on. Not to mention musicians performing in smaller venues, who are often underpaid or not paid at all.

With the many issues you could face as an artist, unions have your back, by advocating for your working rights and by helping you with legal advice, pension schemes, and insurance.

Among the valuable resources a union can provide you, you may find templates for contracts, legal advice on copyright issues and taxation, retirement schemes to guarantee you a pension, insurance options to protect yourself, your instruments, and your collaborators, and give you peace of mind in case you fall sick or get injured.

Unions frequently create campaigns to raise awareness of musicians’ working conditions, in an attempt of improving them and securing better jobs for their members.

What are the rules?

Of course, to get all these benefits you will have to comply with specific rules. Mostly, you will be required to observe the union’s instructions, avoiding, for example, playing unpaid or underpaid gigs. Unions might also have a list of unfair or unlawful organizations their members shouldn’t work for.

Musicians’ Unions around the world

It doesn’t matter where you live. Whether you are in America, Europe, or any other region out there, a musician’s union is likely to be present in your Country too. Musicians’ unions all work pretty similarly, although the campaigns they promote are sometimes different.

American Federation of Musicians

If you’re a United States resident, the AFM (American Federation of Musicians) is the association you’ll want to join. There are many campaigns and activities undertaken by the AFM.

The AFM is also supporting musicians working at streaming films and television shows, often heavily underpaid for their work. With their new organization Fair Trade Music, they are also raising awareness of general musicians’ working conditions, fighting to improve them.

Canadian Federation of Musicians

Canadians can join the AFM’s “twin sister” CFM (Canadian Federation of Musicians). It helps its members with issues concerning visas, taxation, and pensions. It also provides agreements for song placements and a list of reliable booking agents, associated with the CFM themselves.

British Musicians’ Union

British musicians can rely on MU, the Musicians’ Union, now particularly involved with campaigns concerning Brexit and #MeToo issues. The Musicians’ Union also fights for fair pay and the defense of its members’ copyrights. The British union has a busy schedule of workshops and educational events too.

australian musicians‘ Union

Australian artists also have a solid union. The Musicians’ Union of Australia can help you with payments, contracts, taxes, insurance, and copyright disputes. Its website also features a fun section called Myth Buster, where false myths about the music industry are debunked.

When it is necessary to join a Musicians’ Union?

Sometimes you will be required to be part of a union to work. Specific organizations, such as national television, can only work with union members, so it may be a necessary step to take to enhance your career and get to the next level.

However, you should consider the costs associated with this choice. How much money will you have to pay to join the union? How many gigs will you have to turn down under the union’s rules?

While no musician should work for small pay and bad conditions, it is almost impossible for young, emerging artists to avoid this kind of unfair gig. Unions, on the other hand, are a precious resource for musicians employed in orchestras or theaters, as they can secure better wages, sick leaves, and pensions.


In conclusion, every artist should consider joining a union. With a bit of research, you can easily understand whether it is something you could benefit from. Joining a musicians’ union is beneficial for so many reasons. You get legal advice, you avoid copyright issues, and they provide performance contracts as well as public liability insurance.

Brian Clark

Brian Clark

I’ve been a writer with Musician Wave for six years, turning my 17-year journey as a multi-instrumentalist and music producer into insightful news, tutorials, reviews, and features.

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