The Musicians' Union: A Social History

Lead Research Organisation: University of Glasgow
Department Name: School of Culture & Creative Arts

Abstract

The UK music industries are worth £3.9 Billion per annum (Page 2010) and the creative industries remain high on the political agenda. Yet too little is known about the lived experience of a key set of creative workers - musicians. Through the prism of the history of the British Musicians' Union (MU) this research aims to develop a new understanding of this key group of workers underpinned by access to a unique and previously untapped resource - the MU Archive.

Since the formation of its precursor - the Amalgamated Musicians' Union in 1893 - the MU has played a highly significant yet largely unexplored role in the UK's broader musical, cultural, and socio-economic life. As it has included interactions and negotiations with, amongst others, the BBC, orchestras, government, other trades unions, music industries' employers and copyright agencies, the scale of the MU's activities mean that its story provides major insights in to the UK's broader social history.

We will examine musicians as particular types of workers, highlighting the implications of their working patterns for their organisation within a trade union. An examination of the ways in which the MU has operated will provide further insight into the history of the UK's music industries. This will include investigating the extent to which its actions can best be seen as attempts to uphold the professional standing and remuneration of musicians, or as attempts to prevent or slow down inevitable changes in the production of music. In order to provide a balanced perspective, we will interview employers of musicians and thus seek to provide a disinterested account of both sides of the negotiating table.

A number of key themes is likely to emerge. One is the role of technology and the ways in which the MU sought to resist those technological changes which it believed threatened its members' livelihoods. This includes its reaction to radio which was founded on the principle that as much music as possible sould be live. We will investigate how it restricted the amount of recorded music played on the radio through 'needletime' agreements with the BBC and the PPL and its continued influence on radio policy via its members' involvement with the BBC orchestras. We will also examine how the MU reacted to the advent of the 'talkies' - which made cinema orchestras redundant - and to the rise of recorded music - which lead to its 'Keep Music Live' campaign. Of particular interest in such cases will be how the MU's restrictive practices have contributed to the kinds of music which resulted.

A related issue is that of non-union labour such as amateurs, military bands and foreign musicians. We will examine how the MU reacted to such perceived threats and how its negotiations with both employers and government gives insight into broader societal concerns around labour policies. especially with regard to immigration.

A further area will be the impact of musical genre on musicians' lives. We will examine both publicly and commercially funded musical activities (such as concerts, recording and teaching) and how the MU has sought to influence provision in all areas. In doing so we aim to shed further light on how genre impacts on both the type of music which is supplied to the public and on musicians themselves. We will also show how certain ideologies within certain musical genres militated against MU membership and examine the impact of that on musicians, the music and the MU.

Our research is designed to provide the first full account of one of the UK's most significant cultural intermediaries. It is premised on a belief that the MU is uniquely placed to provide insight in to the lives of artistic creators and the industries within which they work(ed). Through a critical examination of the MU's history we aim to gain further understanding not only of the creative industries but also the broader UK society.

Planned Impact

The project is intended to target a wide range of audiences and potential users.
1. THE PUBLIC:
Musicians are of perennial interest to the public and public engagement lies at the heart of our vision. We will provide a public exhibition and a public lecture in Glasgow as well as lectures/discussions at selected music festivals. The project's website will allow members of the public to access information about the project, as well as selected digitised archival artefacts and audio interviews with key members of the MU and those with whom it has interacted.
2. DEVELOPMENT OF A NATIONALLY SIGNIFICANT ARCHIVE
The University of Stirling has an agreement with the MU to maintain and catalogue the MU archive. However, without a music department and experienced musicologists, they lack the expertise to interpret and maximise the impact of the archive. As evidenced by our current work on live music (see Case for Support), we are highly experienced in music historical research and have the necessary specialised knowledge to both analyse the significance of the archive and bring its wealth to a public audience. We will do so via a number of outlets and in conjunction with the MU.
3. THE CITIES OF GLASGOW, MANCHESTER AND LONDON.
By concentrating on three specific case studies, the project will bring benefits to the cities of Glasgow, Manchester and London. The exhibition, conference and concert in Glasgow will engage the public and support the city's already established policies of promoting tourism, citizen engagement and enhancing the city's musical heritage and cultural life. We will work in conjunction with other initiatives in each city, such as Glasgow UNESCO City of Music and disseminate findings to the Peoples History Museum in Manchester and the British Library in London.
4. MUSICIANS:
We will engage directly with musicians of all ages, both MU and non-MU members and actively solicit their recollections via arranged interviews with the RA and via the interactive component of the project website. This will allow musicians who worked and performed in any of the three case study cities to submit their thoughts and photos for public display via the website. Musicians of particular interest will be contacted for follow-up interviews. The project will also hold workshops at the MU conferences in 2013 and 2015 and a final conference to share the research. It will enhance understanding and encourage discussion of what it means to be a musician and a part of musical life in each of the three cities and in Britain as a whole.
5. SELECTED MUSEUMS AND LIBRARIES:
The Mitchell Library in Glasgow will benefit from the exhibition, conference and concert that the project will provide. The exhibition content will be customised to the city with selected artefacts from the MU's role within it. We will work with Keith Ames, editor of the Musicians Union journal, who has experience of exhibiting MU artefacts. We will also aim to enhance the objectives of the Mitchell to attract and engage new visitors. We also add a permanent resource in the form of recorded interviews to the oral history collection of the British Library and will work with the People's History Museum in Manchester to advance local knowledge there.
6. MUSIC POLICY MAKERS:
The research will be disseminated to UK Music and the MU, both of whom engage with the DCMS to lobby for particular music policies. By researching the history of musical labour in Britain the project will contribute to public discourse and enhance understanding about the cultural and economic value of the musical profession. We will also examine lessons to be learned from historical interactions between government and musicians, with a view towards making better informed policy in future in areas such as 1) arts policies; 2) the grouping of music into larger policy concepts such as the creative industrie
 
Description An Introduction to the Musicians' Union History Project 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation at Musicians' Union conference. This sparked debate amongst delegates and led to renewed interest in the Musicians' Union history amongst union members and music industry professionals.

An introduction to the Musicians' Union history project presented at the Union's biennial conference following an invitation from the General Secretary. The paper introduced the project team, outlined key methodological considerations and reported on progress thus far.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Apperance on BBC Radio 4 to discuss the book which came out of the project, Players' Work Time 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Appearance on Laurie Taylor's Thinking Allowed, 21 December 2016
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.bbc.co.uk/search?q=Thinking+Allowed#page=2
 
Description Conflict and consensus: The Musicians' Union and industrial relations in the British music profession 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Participants in your research and patient groups
Results and Impact Paper at AHRC Network on Subcultures at University of East Anglia. The talk led to some discussion of the role of the Musicians' Union and its relevance today.

Raised awarness of the Musicians' Union history project amongst a key group of researchers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Fighting aliens: The Musicians' Union and foreign musicians in the age of jazz 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation to Borders, Mobilities, Cultural Encounters (BOMOCULT) Research Group at the University of Eastern Finland, Joensuu, Finland.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Keeping Music Live 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Exhibition in Congerss House London, 10-14 October 2016.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017
URL http://www.muhistory.com/exhibition/
 
Description Keeping Music Live 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Exhibition in People's History Museum, Manchester, 26 November 2016-10 February 2017.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017
URL http://www.muhistory.com/exhibition/
 
Description Researching the Musicians' Union: Some issues 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Participants in your research and patient groups
Results and Impact Research paper presetned at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. The paper led to discussion inthe seminar which was continued online afterwards.

Renewed interest in the Musicians Union and problems of msuical employment.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://inspire.rcs.ac.uk/mod/forum/view.php?id=13440
 
Description Scottish independence - implications for the MU. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This activity invovled participation in a Musicians' Union forum on the possible implications for the Union of Scottish indepdence. This led to further discussion of Union policy amongst MU offiicials, activists and members.

The MU developed a document on the event which was circualted to members.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description The Musicians' Union and policy 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Participants in your research and patient groups
Results and Impact Paper at the Centre for Cultural Policy Research, University of Glasgow. The talk led audience members to re-think their views on music policy.

The talk led to renewed interest in the Musicians' Union history project amongst colleagues at the University of Glasgow.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description The Musicians' Union: A Social History, 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Participants in your research and patient groups
Results and Impact Paper for Royal Musical Association seminar at the University of Glasgow. This led to debate amongst colleagues and to further enquiries about the project.

The talk cemented the importance of the Musicians' Union history project within the University and engaged the interest of colleagues outwith Glasgow who attended.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description The union and the aliens: A strange tale of jazz, jobs and jiving 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Paper presented to attendees of Glasgow International Jazz Festival which led to interesitng conversations with attendees afterwards.

Audience members reported increased interest in the research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014