Musicians' Union: 5 things to do when setting out on a career in music

Sam Jordan is the Musicians' Union's London Regional Officer and is well placed to advise on what to do before setting out on your music career. Read his top five essentials...


People often ask us if the Musicians’ Union (MU) represents people starting out, and early on in their careers.

The answer is simple - yes we do, and there are basic things you can do now to make sure that your career is built on solid foundations. So what would be our top five things to do as you start out on your music career? Here’s our advice… 

Have a goal and make a plan to achieve it


Knowing what you want to achieve and making a plan to get there will put you in a great position and prepare you for your career ahead.

These days, most musicians/artists need to promote and market themselves in order to be successful and there is a huge amount you can do yourself. Create your identity, identify your target market, and work out the best ways to connect with them. This research is relevant for working in all areas of music and can make a huge difference in the level of success you achieve.

Gather contacts and network as much as possible. If music is to be your career remember to act professionally, from meeting people in person to your online presence.

If you have a project that needs some financial backing and don’t have the money yourself, check out your funding options and get planning! The MU has plenty of advice on what to think about when looking and applying for funding, and the Help Musicians’ UK’s funding wizard is a good place to start your funding search.   

Get it in writing


Before engaging in any work as a musician or artist it is hugely important to get what you are agreeing in writing.

That work could be anything from a live booking, going in to record or co-writing.

We have a number of template contracts available online covering various areas of work, which we would advise you to use when making these agreements.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to confirm all terms of your agreement in writing as if for example an unpaid fee or cancellation issue occurs, it is much easier to recover the fee when you have.

Unfortunately these issues do occur in music so it is better to protect yourself with a clear agreement. Evidence is key, and will make your rights clearer. Proving a verbal agreement is of course extremely difficult so follow it up in writing, preferably using one of the MU template agreements.

Register with PRS for Music and MCPS

Start to understand where the money comes from!

If you are writing/composing music then you should look into joining PRS for Music (Performing Rights Society) and MCPS (Mechanical Copyright Protection Society), and registering your works with them.

Both are collection societies meaning they will collect royalties for uses of your songs on your behalf, and distribute them to you accordingly.

PRS collect money for the broadcast (airplay) and public performance (in clubs, bars and so on) of works.

MCPS collects the licence fees due from the record company whenever registered music is reproduced for products such as CDs and digital downloads.

This additional source of royalty income is separate from the ‘artist’ royalty the record company is required to pay directly to the artists featured on the record under their recording contract. If, as is often the case, the songwriter and the artist are the same person, the record company will end up paying two different royalties to that particular member.

Join PPL

Following on from the previous point and understanding where the money comes from, if you are a recording rights holder or are performing on recordings it is important to join the collection society PPL (Phonographic Performance Limited). Regardless of whether you are a session musician or featured artist, joining PPL is something you should be doing.

On behalf of its members, PPL collects royalties for a range of uses of recorded music – when it is played in public or broadcast on TV, radio and certain digital media services.

Those that own their recordings must register them with PPL in order for the collection society to be able to collect on their behalf for the range of uses mentioned.

So if you are a songwriter, join PRS for Music. If you perform on recordings or are a recording rights holder, join PPL.

If you are all of the above then join both PRS for Music and PPL!

Know your rights - and protect them


As a working musician, it’s important you know what your rights are and how you can protect them. That’s where we come in, as the only trade union for musicians in the UK.

The MU provide a wide range of important benefits and services to members at all levels of their career in music. These range from career advice/training to free instrument and public liability insurance, and legal advice and assistance.

Being a member of the MU will allow you to avoid legal wrangles, provide help in getting the recognition you deserve and mean you are free from insurance worries - all so you can focus on being a musician/artist. 

If you’re unsure about anything during your career and need advice, need help with a contract, have a question on self-releasing your work, copyright, royalties or even how to do your accounting, then you can contact your MU Regional Office for assistance.

Membership is only £20 a year for full-time students and you get everything we provide full paying members:

Careers advice and networking opportunities
£10m public liability insurance and £2K instrument /equipment insurance
Legal advice and representation
Contract advice and unpaid fee recovery
Business, marketing and other skills training
A community of over 30,000 Musicians

Find out more about who the MU are, what they do, and how to join via

You can also find the MU on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook

Study music in London with ICMP

If you're interested in developing your musicianship, learning from our regular industry guests and collaborating within the vibrant ICMP creative community, then speak to our Admissions Team. They're on hand to help you find the right course that matches your ability and aspirations.

Contact the team on 020 7328 0222 or via email and start your music career today.

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by Sam Jordan, Musicians' Union's London Regional Officer
October 18, 2017
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