Live Sound Union Poll

Following several discussions regarding union representation it has been noticed that there is a range of opinions regarding the choice of representation, or any representation at all.  With the view to improve representation going forward, In 2020 we gathered information about sound professionals views so that we could investigate a collective union solution so that all those working in the sound industry feel represented. 

 

The intention of this poll was to collect and collate data from sound professionals. The results can be used to give further conversations structure and give a clearer view of the opinions the industry holds.

The opinions expressed below are of those who took part in a survey that ran from the 24th of July 2020 to the 12th of August 2020. A total of 206 people took part.

The survey questions can still be viewed here.

Thank you to the individuals and sound professionals who contributed to the creation of this survey and to those who took part. Your help was invaluable.

Job Titles

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(the more frequent the answer the bigger the word)

Sectors Worked In

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(the more frequent the answer the bigger the word)

Does Live Sound Need a Union?.png
Are You Looking to Join a Union?.png
Are there any unions availible to you cu

Answers Specifying Organisations that aren't Unions or Unions not applicable to the UK were discounted.

Are you already a member of a union in t

Answers Specifying Organisations that aren't Unions or Unions not applicable to the UK were discounted.

Reason youre not currently a union membe

Other Answers 

  • MU not particularly suited to theatre work

  • Was a member of B.E.C.T.U but when I required help on a westend contract I was given no support so cancelled my membership. 

  • I used to be a member of BECTU, but felt that they didn't represent me well.

  • Bectu doesn’t really cover my work yet

  • Limited support for freelance touring staff

  • Membership of the Musicans Union would be inapplicable to 90% of my working life

  • Was a member of BECTU, but left as I felt they were very weak in solving issues relevant to me and my peers, and on the few occasions I reached out for specific help they were useless.

  • I mostly get offered a union based contract whether I'm a member or not.

  • Cost

  • Don’t feel adequately represented

  • Unnecessary whilst out of work

  • I feel the MU represents musicians well but not composers and it doesn't cover Sound Design work

  • Previously member of BECTU. Completely inadequate representation relating to live music industry 

  • there isnt specific support unlike the ASD which is more helpful

  • I don't feel Bectu do enough for the live side of entertainment

  • Whenever I have been on a job with a union based contract, the union has never successfully helped its members achieve better outcomes to grievances than they would have done as an individual. 

  • I left as I felt they underrepresented my area of work compared to theatre and broadcast full time employees

  • I joined Bectu as a graduate and felt they didnt represent me well and didn't get enough out of it to warrant the fees.

  • Was in BECTU for about 15 years, they provided very little for the money. When I left full time and went freelance they didn't know what branch to put me in and there were zero benifits to being in the union.

  • Was member of BECTU until joined with another non political union 

  • I was a member of BECTU but cancelled my membership because of Covid and the lack of any money!

  • I did not  feel that any really represented my interests adequately

Which union would you prefer to represen

Other Answers Included

  • None of the above. I believe that there is currently no union that understands the Audio industry well enough to truly represent our issues and concerns.

  • One more tailored to sound engineers

  • neither BECTU or Equity Represents what we do but are happy to take our money.

  • I would like a union that cares about non-TV working technicians and engineers

  • A more specific Union for Sound Engineers, a union that better understands our line of work.

  • A union for designers and artists ? 

  • None are specific enough.

  • A union specific to sound professionals

  • Whichever will be proactive

  • a union that had sound professionals (or at least back stage entertainment professionals) as its main focus.

  • Equity/MU only do creatives, so sound Designer is ok but all other sound isn't. BECTU don't understand sound or theatre.

  • I think it needs a dedicated union

  • I'd be happy with BECTU if they represented us properly. As it stands, I would prefer to be represented by a new organisation. 

  • A Sound/Audio dedicated union across all sectors

Would you be willing to be a Union rep?.
Which issues do you feel you need repres

Other Answers Included

  • Parity of terms and working conditions with other professionals on a project

  • Promote good practise and information

  • When touring one is on an Equity contract but they won’t let you sit in the equity meetings even if you are a paid up member!

  • Ts and Cs of contracts

  • Combatting the skewed regionalisation policies introduced by OfCom that are being discriminative to people living in London, Challenging the government and HMRC on ridiculous IR35 policies, and the perception by government that using we use limited companies as some form of tax evasion.

  • The recognition of the creative input a sound engineer has on a performance, not just technical.

  • Standardised contracts and terms & conditions

  • to stop producers skinning us all when any work does restart

  • Industry specific legal advice, campaign for standards & legislative industry protections

  • to be on parity with others namely lightning designers who get far more respect and pay

  • Promote equality in the workplace; provide a voice for workers with a recognised support network; support the wellbeing of fellow workers from a POV that understands requirements without having an employers requirements/views

  • Business advice 

  • To have professional support and advice in times of need. Injury, job loss, accident at work.  

  • Equal representation of credit / bring awareness to the role & importance of sound in productions

  • Government representatives 

  • Protection & Someone to fight my back in times like these. 

Work Status.png

Other Answers Included

  • Was Full-Time, made redundant due to COVID-19

  • Currently student

  • Just quit my job as ************** tutor at *************

  • Redundant July 31st

  • Furloughed pending redundancy.

  • Full time employed on a west end show until covid, currently furloughed

  • Lost full time job due to Covid. Hopefully will get it back when all this goes away!!

Has Covid made you feel the need for a u

Additional Comments

Participants were invited to make an additional comment to their answers.

Fees are not the main reason/obstacle to join an union or not. I have no good experience from the past. I feel unions only care about big fish, publicity stunts, headlines, and not about real people. Also the minimum rates: some producers stick to them, not as minimum but as "The Rate".

I think it's easy to look at the USA and see all the benefits of unionisation without seeing the negatives. Having worked a fair bit in the states, I can say there are an awful lot of negatives, not least the stifling of innovation and progress for younger engineers. In my mind, for a union to be successful in the UK it would need to be a middle ground between what they have and what we have (basically nothing). I also feel that if there is a strong call for a union in the UK it ought to be something set up in conjunction with the ASD.

As a Freelance Monitor Engineer I can choose to do, or not do, a gig. I'm not sure how a union will be of benefit except for possibly cheap insurance. The American crew unions, especially in New York and Chicago, put me off the idea of unions totally as they hinder me in doing my job at a gig, not help at all. And I'm not sure how a union would help much with respect to COVID.

I think unions are a good idea but they need to have a solid standing

I was with BECTU and had a dispute with a company producer, so after various threats of legal proceedings I went to BECTU, who kept giving me things to tell this company, at first it seemed to be very good. I thought this is how a union should behave. 

Someone in my corner helping me to defend my position.

Then in they end BECTU said they’d overlooked a fairly obvious thing and if I went to court I’d lose.

I felt then that they had bottled it, all the time saying it was all fine and being dealt with, when in reality it was always a losing battle.

I feel like going to the union made the situation worse. So they need to have some solid people in it that can get the job done.I want to see unions putting out rates and helping enforce producers to keep it at a good standard.

In the west end there has been a wage campaign for the last year or so with bectu. Covid has made it harder, but it was making progress and had something like 95% membership of sound engineers in the west end

I used to be a BECTU member when I was operating shows, but now as a designer and composer I am unsure whether BECTU or the MU would be worth it, or even Equity

I am already a member of two unions, however, working primarily in Live Music / Events, do not feel that my sector is adequately represented. Given the size of the sector (Pre-COVID) in comparison to other better represented ones (e.g. TV & Film), I would like to see better union efforts / representation for my sector. 

I feel very strongly that any union or association (the ASD) should be lead by a diverse team that include a large proportion of members from outside London. I think that as a freelancer in Manchester i cant be properly represented by a full time employee in London. For any union to work its leadership must represent its membership properly, and routs to leadership, including meetings and networking events must be accessible to all, not just those within the M25. Any union reprinting a national work force needs to be a national organisation with offices and officers across the country.

It seems like an obvious time to start a union and get a rate card going, but with everyone out of work, how will the members stop others undercutting the rates for the jobs?

I think that COVID-19 has highlighted to a lot of people the benefits and importance of unions and whilst I think many such as BECTU are doing a pretty good job during this major crisis I feel that they don't do enough for the smaller areas of their membership such as theatre on the ongoing and important fights for better pay, job security and working conditions.

I've been a BECTU member for 20 years and and Equity (Stage Management) member for 8). Both unions have helped me both directly and indirectly over the years. I've always been an advocate for union membership

Unions are great for full time employees of large organisations and for dealing with disputes but they struggle when it comes to self-employed. BECTU never understood touring or freelance work (even though their TV workers did similar roles) They only seem interested in dealing with large organisations or local councils

I think this is an important but complex subject, especially when trying to gather an opinion of freelancers. Please let me know how else I can help.

I am a member of the MU which covers my work as a composer and live performer. It's never been a good fit with my theatre work, especially the sound design and technical aspects of that. For me, BECTU would be a good match - I would consider joining both (ideally MU full membership, BECTU as an MU associate - if such a thing could exist).

I’m only a member of Bectu to get the public liability - although now I get that through the ASD, the ASD do a lot of the jobs of a union - although they are not one. If the ASD could become a union? 

I have thought for a long time that BECTU does not adequately serve the needs of sound engineers and that our role is closer to that of the musicians rather than it is to,  for example,  stage hands or wardrobe. 

Bectu as a union is quite good but their live sound sector might need improvement. More representation/involvement from live sound engineers/project managers might help.

BECTU is keen to ensure it is supporting the sector as much as possible - it is already setting up branches for area's like London Live Venues and UK Touring Theatre outside of the traditional venue structure ... and it is welcome to being approached to discuss specific needs with ASD members, which could include a multi-branch structure and leave existing management and support network in place ...

Pay rate parity is the most important thing, if we all have the same minimum then we can all negotiate from that, right now there is no rate card for us, I use the Stage Management as a guideline. However with minimums we need to be careful not to reduce rates, I was receiving £50 more per week than the predecessor on my last tour as I had more expereince/skills - I wouldn’t want to lose out based on management being forced to minimums and end up in the same position as casts with minimum becoming the going rate.

There are definitely times when I have needed advice regarding pay disputes and visa queries that a professional body in my industry would have helped me. I also am happy to be part of a group of people in my position and add my support to us all as an industry  

I'm already a member of BECTU. I don't think a new union is necessary. The Sound wage campaign has been making solid progress with BECTU. I believe we should be getting behind BECTU, not trying to create something separate and most likely weaker.

I was a member for BECTU for over ten years and left when they became non-political. They were too small before but now are part of a much larger union. Live sound engineers need to join so that BECTU can represent their views, when I was a member I was in a minority in my profession. Unions represent the needs of their members, if live sound engineers don't join then Unions can't be expected to work on their behalf.

The live touring industry is very very different to theatre work and I genuinely never thought BECTU covered the job we do.  There is very little understanding out with our industry of what we do, or the challenges we undergo on a daily basis, however I also believe that a heavy handed union approach would be the wrong way to go as well.

I joined bectu when my job started redundancy talk with them as we were encouraged to for better representation

I’ve long wanted more effective union representation than BECTU have been able to provide, but COVID has given this much greater urgency. 

I feel like BECTU do an ok job but they don't seem to understand the pressure that we deal with. I don't think, especially from a pay point of view, that we get what we deserve in the west end. Saying that a No.3 should be on the same wage as an ASM just isn't justifiable...a no.3 would normally be mixing the show at least once or twice a week...the responsibility and pressure and skill needed to do that is far greater than anything an ASM is ever asked to do. It just seems to be that sound departments are taken for granted...until something goes wrong, and then all hell breaks loose!!

My clients are varied and often have limited funds. Very few people work with amateur companies but their expectations and ambitions are nearly always at pro level. Several of my clients work in receiving houses of 1000 seats plus, but as a non professional company with short production runs they simply cannot afford to pay a professional rate. I would therefore be nervous of being part of a union with a rate card as some of my clients simply wouldn't be able to afford it. My pricing is more often than not based upon what the client can afford rather than what I really want.

I realise that amateur Theatre is a tiny part of the world sound designers work within, so I wouldn't want my concerns to adversely affect the will of the many though. If membership was troublesome for my rates then I simply wouldn't join and wouldn't feel in any way pushed out because if it - it's just the nature of my work.

Me and a lot of sound designers I have spoken to feel taken advantage of in terms of the expectation of our time and equipment. We are expected to just do/make do and call in favours rather than seen as businesses with overheads and a decision to price ourselves according to our work and resources. 

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