It's every musician's worst nightmare. One slip on wet leaves and suddenly your elbow is broken and you can't work for six weeks. While a lucky few will be employed by an organisation with sick pay, most musicians are self-employed and simply don't get paid if they can't work.
But there is help available.
Help Musicians UK
Help Musicians UK offers financial support to musicians who have to cope with illness or injury. They consider requests from musicians from all genres who are over 18 and have contributed to the UK music scene, making decisions on a case-by-case basis and trying to give as much assistance as possible.
Help Musicians UK can help with ongoing living costs when a musician is unable to earn, as well as giving specific funding towards specialist medical care. They can also help the loved ones of a musician in situations where the musician has passed away or the applying family member is acting as their carer.
Help Musicians UK expects that applicants are unable to work or are suffering from a condition that will affect their future ability to work. They are unable to help working-age musicians with savings of more than £16,000 or musicians of retirement age whose savings exceed £20,000 (unless some of these savings have demonstrably been earmarked for a future tax bill or major piece of work).
They undertake research to establish what the specific needs are of musicians in the UK, and this informs the services that they are able to offer – for example, supporting hearing loss prevention is currently a key priority.
If you are a member of an ensemble, even if you are employed as a freelancer, there may be a fund available to assist you - ask the group.
The British Association of Performing Arts Medicine (BAPAM) offers a whole range of specialist services for musicians. They can help with activity-related pain, 'RSI', overuse injuries, tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow, muscular tension, hypermobility, musculoskeletal problems caused by performance technique or posture, voice loss or strain in singers, stage fright, anxiety, and stress.
BAPAM provides the following services:
Free confidential health assessment clinics
Directory of practitioners who specialise in performing arts
- Health resources to help you understand what you can do to keep in peak condition, even though the demands of the job sometimes make this difficult (e.g. ways you can look after yourself on tour; how to maintain a work-life balance to ensure you can perform at your best)
In addition, there are doctors who will reduce your fee if you mention that you found them through BAPAM and are a musician, for example Dr Ian Winspur in London who specialises in treating musicians' hand injuries.
It's a good idea to put money aside for emergencies. This is very difficult when musicians' fees are so low, but anything you can save is always a good insurance policy. Try opening a bank account with a separate bank and never look at it except to put money in. £50/month will add up and could really help you out when you need it, even if it just allows you to take an occasional day off.
A few other tips to help your long-term playing health:
always stretch before playing (do it with your friends in the ensemble - community is great!)
buy 4-wheel suitcases (tax-deductible purchase if you use them for work), which place much less strain on your body than 2-wheel ones do
- make regular visits to an osteopath/masseuse/Alexander technique teacher who specialises in treating musicians (tax-deductible treatments)
If you have any advice or resources that you'd like us to add to this guide, please get in touch.
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