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The importance of being paid for creative work

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Young person taking a photo wearing a red hat and Youth Music t-shirt
Photographer Manuel Akure (Blouhaus photography) at the Youth Music Awards 2019. Credit Amos Mukombero

It made me feel like my professional work and efforts were really valued.

- a young freelancer working at the Youth Music Awards.

What is the Living Wage?

The Living Wage is a voluntary rate, calculated independently and based on the real cost of living in the UK and London. This week is Living Wage Week: the point each year when the new rates are announced.

Long committed to fair pay, Youth Music became the first Living Wage Funder in the arts and culture sector in 2017. Thanks to funding from the National Lottery via Arts Council England, Youth Music supports more than 350 music-making projects each year and encourages these to pay the Living Wage as well to become accredited Living Wage Employers.

Youth Music was recognised as a Funding Champion at the 2019 Living Wage Champion Awards.

It’s Youth Music’s 20th Anniversary this year, and to mark the occasion, we held the first ever Youth Music Awards (in association with Hal Leonard Europe) in October. The evening featured dozens of young performers from projects funded by Youth Music: Battersea Arts Centre's Beatbox Academy, Stratford Circus's New YVC, Drum Works from West London, and soloists from Awards for Young Musicians. The Awards also saw the launch of our Youth Music Creatives programme, offering paid opportunities to young people so that they can financially support their own career development.

A team of 16 Youth Music Creatives helped make the Youth Music Awards a huge success. Young people held paid roles as bloggers, videographers, social media experts, photographers, illustrators and production runners. Even the event hosts – Dan Grist and Amy Mellows, who did a fantastic job entertaining the audience and keeping the night running smoothly – were Youth Music Creatives.

two young people with microphones on stage
Dan Grist and Amy Mellows hosting the Youth Music Awards. Photo by Blouhaus Photography.

Amy and Dan are both based in Exeter. Amy says:

“Most opportunities for young creatives are voluntary, and often the only reward is having the experience of that role, which is something you come to expect even though it feels a little exploitative.

"However, being paid has reminded me that the work of creatives is valued and important to the functioning of the creative industries, and supporting young people at the start of their career in this way is really important.

"Youth Music also covering travel and accommodation costs made the opportunity accessible for me - I would’ve struggled to get to London otherwise.

“Being treated as professionals, and receiving support from the Youth Music team was very unique in comparison to many opportunities young creatives have access to.

"I feel very lucky and privileged to have gotten the role and met the people I did, and the night was a wonderful celebration of the power of music and young people.” 

Dan says, "Working at the first ever Youth Music Awards was a brilliant experience and being trusted in hosting such a prestigious event was a dream come true.

"The fact that this role was paid came as an extremely pleasant surprise. As a young creative who's trying to make my way into the industry, opportunities like these are often unpaid.

"I come from a rural part of Devon so high travel and accommodation costs can mean taking up unpaid jobs in London is near impossible. Having this hosting role paid, with expenses covered, meant I could make the most of this brilliant opportunity."

“It was great to hear about everyone's creative projects outside of this event and to see them in action - as freelancers, independent creatives, and young professionals.

"It was also a really great networking opportunity, to connect with others in the industry as well as those working at Youth Music.

It was a really positive project, and it would be great to see more arts organisations offering up these kind of temporary, paid work opportunities. 

"It's such a competitive field out there! Every little bit helps, and this was a great little boost for the career/portfolio.

“It really meant a lot to be paid for working at the Youth Music Awards. I'm a part-time freelance writer, which often comes with unpaid gigs as a way of getting experience and building a portfolio.

It was really great to be paid for my writing and made me feel like my professional work and efforts were really valued.

Three young people smiling at the camera
Instagram specialist Grace Ubaka-Farsides meeting rap duo Young T & Bugsey, who performed at the Youth Music Awards afterparty.

Clara McDermott, who worked as a production runner, says, “My time working as a creative for the Youth Music Awards was extremely inspirational and I came away with the motivation to continue to excel in my area of work.

"I was also so impressed that we were being paid such a good wage for our work."

In the music industry, I have often found myself upset at the blatant exploitation of young people who are passionate about music.

Clara continues, "This summer, I completed a three-week-long unpaid placement abroad for one of the biggest festivals in Europe where I was asked to work 12 hours a day (sometimes overnight).

"We were told by those in management positions that the only way to reach success in the industry is to complete unfair amounts of free labour and I felt I didn't want to be part of it anymore.

"I came away from that experience promising myself to never work for free again. 

“Youth Music was my first job since arriving back in the UK and it was so encouraging to know that it doesn't have to be like that!

Unpaid work had continuously made me question my self-worth and value but Youth Music really appreciated the work we were doing and for that I am forever grateful.

Two young people with camera equipment talking
Photographer Amos Mukombero and vox pop presenter Anna-Marie Descartes. Photo by Blouhaus Photography.

This summer (2019), Youth Music became a promoting society of People’s Postcode Lottery. This boost in funding helped us to launch the Youth Music Creatives programme. Support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery will help Youth Music to involve young people in every part of our work, including governance, decision-making, advocacy, content creation, events, research, evaluation, and more.

We’ll be able to provide meaningful opportunities for young people, supporting them to campaign on issues affecting them, to develop their skills and take their next steps, and to create real change.

Thanks to the Youth Music Awards Creatives team:

  • Anna-Marie Descartes – vox pop presenter
  • Kate Whittaker – vox pop presenter
  • Liam Smith - videographer
  • Isobel Trott - blogger
  • Tonisha-lee Harvey – production runner
  • Stacey Olika – production runner
  • Clara McDermott – production runner
  • Sabad Khaire – Twitter specialist
  • Grace Ubaka-Farsides – Instagram specialist
  • Yasmin Salto Alkuwari – TikTok specialist
  • Manoel Akure - photographer
  • Amos Mukombero – photographer
  • Wumi Olaosebikan - illustrator
  • Sameer Ahmed - illustrator
  • Dan Grist - host
  • Amy Mellows - host
Two people with their backs to the camera wearing Youth Music tshirts. One is painting on a canvas
TikTok specialist Yasmin Salto Alkuwari watching illustrator Wumi Olaosebikan at work at the Youth Music Awards 2019. Photo by Blouhaus Photography.

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