Fair Work: Why The Gig Economy & Labour Exploitation Is Killing Music

1 September 2022 | 9:00 am | Stephen Green

"We call it the 'Music Tax' - where you will do anything or be paid anything to get the chance to 'make it' or be involved with those that do."

Please note that this story may cause distress. If this story brings up issues for you, please reach out for support at one of the services detailed at the end of the article. 

The Music Industry Review into sexual harm and harassment has shone a light on poor industrial practices across the sector, including a gender gap in pay, illegal 'internships' and the prevalence of freelancing and the gig economy eroding secure employment.

The review team heard that it is not uncommon for young people in the music industry to be unpaid, often for long periods of time under the guise of so-called 'internship' arrangements.

One anonymous respondent said: "For persons with no industry experience or contacts, a big issue is you will work for no pay because we all worked for no pay and you have to do that for a few years before you can get any paid opportunities. This particularly affects younger people, people changing careers and people who haven't had work experience in general. The expectations then start to develop into “well this is how it's done, don't question it ... don't report it.”

Respondents reported that they accepted arrangements to 'get a foot in the door' and were made to feel grateful for the opportunity. 

"We call it the 'Music Tax' - where you will do anything or be paid anything to get the chance to 'make it' or be involved with those that do."

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The gender pay gap was also singled out as a major issue in the industry, with internship arrangements exacerbating the issue. 

"The first time I noticed gender difference was in terms of pay," said another respondent. "[In my] first job ... I wasn’t paid but was given [products] instead. Meanwhile my boss got richer, and it was never an option that I got paid. All the men got paid. I was made to feel I should be grateful to be there. I didn’t speak up because I didn’t want to throw away an opportunity."

Another respondent said: "One of the big reasons I quit was that once women started to ask for equal pay, they dropped like flies. Getting a pay rise was like butting your head against the wall."

The report notes that these types of unpaid arrangements are not just damaging, but illegal. 

In Australia there are strict regulations about unpaid work. An unpaid work experience arrangement or unpaid internship can be lawful if it is a vocational placement or if there is no employment relationship found to exist. An unpaid internship is a learning experience. It should primarily benefit the intern, rather than the employer. Sometimes unpaid interns end up doing work that contributes to the employer’s business in a meaningful way. If this occurs then the intern may be in an employment relationship and therefore must be paid a minimum wage, along with other minimum employment entitlements set out in the Fair Work Act 2009.

The music industry's reliance on the 'gig economy' to fund functions that in a healthier economic climate could and should be full-time positions is another driver of the horrific levels of sexual harassment uncovered in the report. US research found that gig economy workers and freelancers are much more likely to experience sexual harassment than those in positions of traditional employment, with an absence of leadership and pressure on pleasing clients.

Said one respondent: "We are all freelancers. We don't have people going into bat for us. No union, or organisation that we can all rely [on]."

"Where do I go as [a freelancer]? There is no body that I can take a complaint to."

In an industry of artists, managers, publicists, tour managers, production crew and roadies, there are many roles critical to the industry that employ under 'gig economy' and freelance conditions. The report cites a 2017 study by the Australia Council for the Arts which found that just 12% of musicians had a working salary or wage. 

Insecure positions have continued to grow as particularly recording and touring companies outsource marketing, recording and even A&R functions in a quest to increase profitability by dropping head count. Often these outsourced positions have the effect of allowing for hourly rates far lower than the minimum wage. The report notes that insecure work also comes with none of the employment rights that would usually accompany a full-time job and have significantly altered the nature of the relationship between the employer and the worker. The duty of care a company has to its employees has led to questions about workplace culture and leadership in an era of outsourcing. 

The report recommends the formation of an Independent Safe Space which would include but not be limited to receiving disclosures of workplace harm, providing counselling support and providing advice on internal and independent reporting avenues. Particularly for workers in the freelance and gig economy, this would provide somewhere to turn for those who do not have hierarchical structures they can rely on for support. The report also recommends education around workplace rights and obligations in conjunction with Safe Work Australia and the Fair Work Ombudsman.

If this std issues for you, please reach out for help at one of the below support services. 


  • Support Act Helpline: 1800 959 500
  • 1800RESPECT: 1800 737 732
  • Lifeline Hotline: 13 11 14 or text their helpline on 0477 13 11 14
  • SANE: 1800 187 263
  • Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467
  • Beyond Blue 1300 224 636