Navigating Motherhood in the Music Sector: Challenges and Pathways Forward

Related articles

Navigating Motherhood in the Music Sector: Challenges and Pathways Forward

Working in the music sector is the epitome of the concept of the ‘gig economy’, where earnings are mainly contingent upon each individual performance, rather than deriving from long-term, stable contracts with assured employment rights and security. This dynamic isn’t limited to musicians alone rather it encompasses a range of professionals within the sector, including promoters, legal experts, technicians, and administrative personnel. Research reveals that a significant majority, over 80%, of musicians operate on a self-employed basis. However, there’s a notable lack of comprehensive data concerning the specific employment structures and operational methodologies of these independent workers. Furthermore, it has been observed that female musicians are more frequently engaged in part-time work compared to their male counterparts.

Research has shown that certain challenges are more pertinent to musicians, compared with artists in other performing arts like theatre and dance. Firstly, many musicians often have to take on additional jobs, like teaching, to meet their family’s financial needs. This dual responsibility can make it tough to find the time and space they need for their own music practice and composition. In addition, while these side jobs can provide some essential security, often don’t offer the flexibility needed to balance performance commitments and family life, forcing tough choices between the two.

Touring (especially international) presents another challenge, particularly for self-employed artists, due to its unpredictable nature and often rigid schedules. This issue became even more prominent during the lockdown, as many musicians found themselves working less or not at all, leading to concerns about household income and the impact on their professional identity, particularly for those balancing caregiving responsibilities with unstable job situations. Contrary to the critical nature of these issues, there appears a noticeable gap in research on performing artists as a whole, and specifically on classical musicians who have caregiving responsibilities.

In this article we will try to explore the unique challenges faced by mothers in the music sector and examining effective support policies and best practices. What is apparent is that in order to secure work opportunities, individuals require robust social networks and capital, making the process of seeking and handling career opportunities even more intricate, often depending on family support to make them feasible.

II. The Unique Landscape of the Classical Music Sector

The classical music industry, often celebrated for its deep-rooted traditions and disciplined nature, creates a distinctive setting for motherhood and parenting. Its structure is diverse, encompassing orchestras, ensembles, solo artists, and educational bodies, all typically adhering to strict schedules and high-performance expectations. Additionally, the sector often maintains conventional values, which may lead to more conservative views on parenting roles. Such an environment poses challenges for mothers, who often struggle to juggle intense rehearsal and performance demands with familial obligations. The industry’s focus on relentless practice and achieving perfection further burdens mothers trying to uphold their professional image while handling childcare and domestic responsibilities.

Moreover, the scarcity of established maternity policies and adaptable working arrangements in many classical music entities adds to the complexities faced by mothers. A large portion of the industry comprises freelance musicians, who usually miss out on the job stability and benefits associated with permanent positions, complicating the balance between motherhood and a professional career.

Despite offering a respected and rewarding career, the classical music industry’s framework and cultural norms present notable obstacles for mothers, necessitating a careful balance between their career responsibilities and roles as parents.

III. Challenges Faced by Mothers in the Classical Music Sector

  • Work-Life Balance

Achieving work-life balance in the classical music sector is particularly challenging due to the demanding nature of rehearsals, performances, and tours. Rehearsals often require long and irregular hours, which can clash with family routines and childcare schedules. Performances, especially during peak seasons, might demand late nights or extensive travel, further straining the delicate equilibrium between professional commitments and family life. Tours present an even greater challenge, as they involve extended periods away from home, disrupting family dynamics and placing additional emotional and logistical burdens on the parent left to manage household responsibilities. This constant juggling act between the rigors of a professional career in the performing arts and the duties of parenting can lead to stress and a sense of guilt, as parents strive to meet high standards in both their professional and personal lives. Balancing these dual roles often requires a supportive network and flexible arrangements, which are not always readily available, making the pursuit of a harmonious work-life balance a significant and ongoing challenge for parents in this demanding industry.

  • Physical and Health Concerns

In the classical music sector, physical and health concerns, particularly surrounding pregnancy and postpartum recovery, significantly impact performance. For musicians, the physical demands of playing an instrument or conducting can become challenging during pregnancy, with changes in posture, breath control, and stamina. Postpartum recovery also poses its own set of challenges, as returning to the physical rigor of classical music performance requires time and can be at odds with the rapid pace of professional commitments. This period often necessitates a delicate balance between allowing the body to heal and meeting the physical demands of rehearsals and performances. The lack of industry-specific support and understanding for these unique health needs further complicates the situation, often leaving musicians to navigate these challenges with limited guidance or accommodations. This can lead to stress and anxiety, impacting both their health and the quality of their performances.

  • C. Job Security and Freelance Work

Recent reports have shed light on specific elements contributing to the job instability and precarious situations that mothers, in particular, face. Many female artists have shared their common experience of losing a contract due to her pregnancy because they were deemed not to ‘look right on stage’. Even though many of them considered legal action for contract breach, fearing repercussions in the tight-knit community made them decide against this action in the end. This sentiment is common among many women artists, who speak for a marked decrease in opportunities once their personal circumstances changed, coupled with a reluctance to speak out for fear of being ostracized or sidelined.

Moreover, the often erratic and disorganized nature of scheduling, makes it even more difficult for young mothers to accept work opportunities. It not uncommon for artists to spend weeks in unpaid rehearsals, only receiving payment after a performance, which poses a significant challenge in affording childcare.

  • D. Gender Bias and Stereotypes

In the classical music sector, gender bias and stereotypes, particularly those surrounding motherhood, present additional significant challenges. Cultural perceptions often lean towards traditional views, where motherhood is seen as an impediment to the professional dedication expected in this demanding field. Professional biases against mothers in classical music are not uncommon, with an underlying assumption that their commitment to their art may wane once they have children. This stereotype can lead to fewer opportunities, as mothers might be overlooked for challenging pieces or prominent roles due to the presumption that their family responsibilities will interfere with their professional responsibilities. Such biases extend beyond performance opportunities, affecting networking and career advancement prospects. The sector’s competitive nature, coupled with these ingrained biases, creates an environment where mothers often feel they must work harder to prove their dedication and capability, perpetuating a cycle of inequality and reinforcing outdated stereotypes that undervalue the professional contributions of mothers in the classical music world.

  • E. Childcare and Family Support

As discussed previously, childcare and family support pose significant challenges, particularly for new mothers. The irregular and demanding schedules of rehearsals, performances, and tours make finding suitable childcare a daunting task. Unlike conventional office jobs, classical musicians often require childcare during unconventional hours, including evenings and weekends, when most childcare services are unavailable or more expensive. Additionally, the unpredictability of performance schedules means that childcare needs can change with little notice, further complicating arrangements. For touring musicians, the situation is even more complex, as they require either travel-friendly childcare solutions or dependable care back home for extended periods. The lack of industry-specific support, such as on-site childcare facilities or partnerships with childcare providers, exacerbates these challenges. This situation often places a disproportionate burden on mothers, who may find themselves limiting their professional engagements or facing career setbacks due to the difficulties in securing reliable and flexible childcare that aligns with the unique demands of their profession in the classical music sector.

IV. Relevant Reports and Studies

Today, fortunately, there’s a growing body of research addressing the challenges of parenthood in the classical music sector. Most of the studies looked also at gender disparity in the classical music industry, while there is a renewed interest in studying the impact of motherhood on career progression in the arts. These include the recent Report ‘A Bittersweet Symphony’, led by Parents & Carers in Performing Arts (PiPA) and Birkbeck, University of London, which looks into the experience of working lives and caring duties in classical music. Predictably, research findings reveal the risk of a talent exodus as vulnerable parents & carers in crisis report profound impact on income and wellbeing.

Moreover, the recent work by On the Move ‘Cultural Mobility Flows’, explores the tensions between cultural mobility and parental responsibility in the EU and internationally. Considering that transnational collaboration and mobility is an integral part of the trajectory of artists and culture professionals, the study tries to investigate how the cultural ecosystem considers and manages parenthood, particularly for women, at the different stages of the creative value chain.

V. Recommendations for the Future

Below we offer some recommendations and suggestions for industry-wide changes to better support mothers. What is more, we believe that the role of policy makers, industry leaders, and individual musicians in driving change cannot be overstated.

  • Sharing best practices and improving advanced scheduling

Organizations in the classical music sector should collaborate with representatives from organizations known for their structured scheduling and advanced notice, including adopting more family-friendly rehearsal times. Drawing insights from advancements in the theatre sector over the last five years could prove valuable. The next move should be to develop systems for more advanced scheduling, and we believe that this is crucial not only for parents and caregivers but for all involved.

  • Flexible working arrangements

Flexible working arrangements are uncommon in the classical music sector, and there’s a general reluctance to seek support from employers in this regard. Sharing best practices from cases where both formal and informal flexibility has been effectively implemented could promote broader adoption. Adopting more flexible and agile working methods could yield a threefold benefit: enhancing the lives of individuals, improving organizational efficiency, and contributing to society by making classical music more inclusive. The sector should disseminate success stories of prominent figures who exemplify the advantages of flexible working, reinforcing the idea that it benefits everyone.

  • More holistic career planning during music education

The reports consistently show that individuals often have to sacrifice aspects of their career upon becoming parents, with their artistry sometimes taking a backseat during certain life stages to maintain a steady income. An important improvement to career planning, which is already a part of higher education, would be the inclusion of practical support and guidance on managing overall life goals. Providing information on balancing personal responsibilities, caregiving, and family obligations would better equip everyone for the realities of a career in classical music. It would also promote equal networking opportunities and tackle early-stage inequalities in accessing social capital.

  • Greater support for smaller organizations and freelancers

Research shows that the sector is characterized by diverse working arrangements, with some organizations being more progressive in their practices. Small organizations, in particular, require more focused support and financial assistance to maintain a wide range of artistic contributions and to protect cultural assets.

On another issue, currently self-employed fathers are excluded from paternity allowances and shared parental leave. Establishing a straightforward process for freelancers to access benefits like paternity allowance and shared parental leave would enable freelance fathers to more equally share caregiving responsibilities. This change would also offer mothers with freelance partners more flexibility in deciding when and how to return to work. Additionally, it could help reduce the significant pay gap often faced by freelance mothers.

VI. Conclusion

The classical music sector presents a unique set of challenges for parents, particularly for mothers. The demanding nature of rehearsals, performances, and tours makes achieving a work-life balance extremely difficult, often leading to career sacrifices and compromised artistry during key life transitions. Physical and health concerns, especially around pregnancy and postpartum recovery, significantly impact performance capabilities and are often not adequately supported within the industry.

Gender bias and stereotypes further exacerbate these challenges, with cultural perceptions and professional biases against motherhood leading to reduced opportunities and career advancement. The difficulties in finding suitable childcare arrangements, given the irregular and unpredictable schedules of musicians, place an additional burden on parents, hindering their ability to fully participate in professional opportunities.

Moreover, the lack of formal maternity policies and flexible work arrangements, especially for freelance musicians, complicates the situation. This lack of support not only affects individual musicians but also has broader implications for the diversity and inclusivity of the classical music industry.

This article tried to provide a comprehensive framework for discussing the multifaceted issues of parenting and new motherhood in the classical music sector, highlighting both the challenges and the potential solutions through best practices and supportive policies. Addressing these issues requires systemic changes and a more supportive approach, including better career planning and life management guidance within higher education, to ensure that parents, and particularly mothers, can thrive both in their professional and personal lives.