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Guide to the Independent Society of Musicians and Musicians’ Union


The Independent Society of Musicians (ISM) is the UK’s Professional Body for Musicians and the Musicians’ Union (MU) is the UK’s union for musicians. This blog post lays out a few of the differences between the two. Encore does not advise membership in one organisation over the other. The ISM and MU websites each have a great deal of helpful information which we encourage you to explore.

First, a few words about why it’s important to be in a union or professional body. It can help you by providing public liability insurance, discounts on instrument insurance, help with negotiating contracts, and assistance if you are injured or ill. They are also important voices in lobbying the government for arts-friendly policies and raising awareness about fair working conditions and pay for musicians.


ISM: 1882

MU: 1893


ISM: 10,000+

MU: 30,000+

Political Affiliations

ISM: none

MU: affiliated with the Labour Party



Students £15/year

Early career music professionals £50/year

Full membership £181/year or £171 by annual Direct Debit


Students £20/year

Full membership £207/year


(this is a partial listing – please see their websites for full benefit listings)


  • One-to-one legal assistance from the ISM’s expert in-house legal team including; representation at disciplinary, grievance and redundancy meetings, on contracts, employment and self-employment issues, intellectual property, copyright, performers’ rights, royalties, safeguarding and DBS, and other legal matters
  • Legal, debt and tax helplines
  • £10 million cover public, employers’ and product liability insurance
  • £100,000 cover legal expenses insurance in the event of a legal dispute or HMRC tax investigation related to your work as a musician
  • Unlimited discounted musical instrument and equipment insurance cover
  • Unpaid fees recovery service
  • Downloadable template contracts and agreements
  • Discounted tax return, accountancy and financial services
  • DBS check advice and Disclosure service for self-employed musicians
  • Award-winning professional development, including advice pages, resources, webinars and events
  • Counselling service, which includes face-to-face counselling and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
  • Physiotherapy service
  • Enhanced professional status including letters after your name and ISM Registered Private Teacher status
  • Free listing on the ISM Music Directory which is used by members of the public looking to hire musicians including music teachers, performers and composers
  • Concert/gig promotion through ISM social media networks
  • Access to a unique community of music professionals through the ISM Facebook group, Member Connect and other networking opportunities
  • Campaigning and lobbying in support of musicians’ rights and music education
  • Discounts on instruments, equipment and accessories, music, books, recording services, website design, music software, concert tickets, health services, insurance, accommodation and much more


  • £2,000 of instrument insurance cover
  • £10 million public liability insurance cover
  • Personal accident cover
  • Professional expenses cover – help when dealing with tax authorities
  • Discounted professional indemnity insurance for those working in education
  • Free legal advice and representation
  • Contract Advice and Negotiation Service
  • Unpaid fee recovery
  • Trade union representation for problems at work
    Partnership Advisory Service – advice on working with other musicians
  • Career development advice
  • Free training, workshops and networking events
  • Regional officials offering a face-to-face service on your day-to-day problems
  • Specialist officials to give advice on specific areas of your work
  • Help with issues such as hearing and health and safety
  • The MU only represents musicians – no corporate members, which avoids potential conflicts of interest.
  • Part of the International Federation of Musicians, which represents musicians worldwide on issues such as intellectual property and travelling with your instrument.

We’ve just added MU and ISM badges to Encore profiles, so if you’re already a member, head to Encore to add yours now!

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Jonny Venvell

Jonny is Encore's Head of Artist Relations.

He's responsible for supporting and helping musicians on the platform and writes most of the musician-facing articles on the blog. He can usually be found singing in choirs, drumming in bands, or nodding meaningfully to particularly good chords in London's jazz bars.

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