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ISM year in review 2020

How the ISM has worked hard to support its members and bring the music sector together during an extraordinarily challenging year

No music professional has been untouched by the uncertainty and turmoil of 2020. Our sector was turned upside down in March, with touring and performances cancelled, teaching moved online and recording studios closed almost overnight. Many of our colleagues have faced financial hardship, particularly those who were excluded from government support. And on top of all this, we were then faced with damaging comments from the government about the viability of a career in music, and the impending possibility of a no-deal Brexit.

Throughout all these difficulties, the ISM has been by your side. When the COVID-19 crisis hit, our team pivoted rapidly and swung into action to support and guide you. We have aimed to be a rallying point for the sector – to keep you informed, to fight for your rights and to help you, as much as possible, to keep working and making music.

Below we take a look at some of the many ways we have supported you through 2020.

1. COVID-19 advice hub

COVID-19 advice for musicians

Our COVID-19 advice hub was set up at the beginning of the pandemic in order to provide music professionals with a central source of freely accessible information. Covering everything from navigating government guidance and accessing hardship funds to staying healthy and resilient, managing risk and working online, the hub has been a vital service, and we have seen a staggering 684% increase in users accessing our advice pages since it was launched.

2. Record-breaking legal support

ISM legal team

In 2020, ISM members opened almost 1,800 cases with our in-house legal team, more than ever before in our 138-year history. Members were able to seek expert guidance on contracts, redundancy, employment status, royalties, copyright and much more, and we also recovered almost £200,000 for our members over the last year, ensuring they were paid fairly for their work. Despite the challenging circumstances, our legal team continued to demonstrate unwavering dedication to our members when they needed it most. If you are an ISM member, you can contact our legal team at [email protected].

3. Fighting for your rights


Collective action has been more vital than ever this year. We have been in constant contact with politicians in Westminster, Cardiff Bay, Stormont and Holyrood to put forward your views and make the case for music. We have fought for financial support for all music professionals, regardless of employment status, and for a clear and conditional timeline for the reopening of the music sector. We have called on religious leaders to protect the jobs of musicians working in places of worship, and on school leaders to ensure that music is central to the catch-up curriculum, launching the #CanDoMusic campaign back in August. And we have continued to lobby government to allow musicians to keep touring freely after Brexit. Find out more about our campaigning.

4. Ground-breaking research

The heart of the school is missing

This year, the ISM has published several ground-breaking reports to support the sector. These included our Global Literature Review, published in July and revised in August, which brings together global research in music performance, education and COVID-19, and The heart of the school is missing, published in December, which looks at the devastating impact of COVID-19 on music education in our schools across the UK. These reports have informed our lobbying activities to promote music and protect musicians.

5. Tackling inequality in the music sector

Black History Month (month is crossed out)

The Blackout Tuesday initiative in June rightfully focused attention on the changes we need to make within the music industry to create a more diverse and inclusive sector. This year, we celebrated diversity in music through our Black History Resource Hub, and tackled issues of inequality in music education and the wider sector through webinars, features and panel discussions. We also signed the Keychange gender equality pledge, committing to achieving at least 50% representation of women and gender minorities on the ISM Council and at ISM events by 2022. The ISM is committed to this ongoing work to ensure equality, dignity and fair treatment in the music industry.

6. The Empowered Musician 2020

The Empowered Musician 2020

And finally, we were proud to put on The Empowered Musician 2020, our free, future-focused online conference, on 2 and 3 December. This was the biggest event the ISM has ever run, with over 800 registrants and over 1,600 views so far. It was conceived in response to the government’s apparent reluctance to acknowledge the value and sustainability of music careers. However, the many brilliant speeches, discussions, interviews and performances at the event demonstrated that not only are music careers viable, but they are vital and that music professionals are adaptable, inventive, generous and resilient. Watch back for free.

Thank you

heart hand gesture

Thank you to all our members and friends across the sector who have offered the ISM their support over the past year. Whatever happens in 2021, we’ll continue to fight for music and musicians.