Hitting the right notes for the taxman for orchestral musicians

Hitting the right notes for the taxman for orchestral musicians Alex Robertson April 19, 2024

For orchestral musicians, the joy of performing music can be dampened by the complexities of the tax system. Unlike salaried individuals with straightforward tax deductions, orchestral musicians face unique challenges when reporting income and claiming expenses. 

The earnings of an orchestral player can, of course, vary – musicians can be employed full-time, part-time, or freelance, leading to significant income disparities. Salaries and fees can also vary depending on the orchestra’s location (London vs. regional) and its prestige (major symphony orchestra vs. smaller chamber group), while principal players in major orchestras will earn considerably more than entry-level musicians.

And, on top of that, you can layer a level of tax trickiness which comes with most creative industries – the fact that orchestral musicians often have a diverse income portfolio, each component with potential tax implications:

  • Salaries and Fees: Income earned from regular employment with an orchestra or for freelance performances.
  • Per Diems: Payments received to cover daily living expenses incurred while on tour.
  • Royalties: Earned from recordings or compositions, though less common for orchestral musicians.
  • Teaching Income: Revenue from private music lessons or masterclasses.

Naturally, the tax implications differ depending on how you receive your income:  If employed by an orchestra, you’re likely to be paid PAYE with income tax and National Insurance contributions (NICs) are likely deducted at source. Freelance musicians or those teaching privately are responsible for registering for self-assessment and reporting all income and allowable expenses annually.

Those working through the joys of self-assessment can implement strategies to claim allowable expenses and reduce their tax bill:

  • Maintaining detailed records: Keep meticulous records of all income earned (salaries, fees, per diems) and business-related expenses incurred (travel, instrument maintenance, sheet music purchases, professional subscriptions).
  • Travel and accommodation: Costs associated with travel for rehearsals, performances, or auditions are often deductible. Keep receipts for flights, train tickets, and accommodation (with proper evidence of business purpose).
  • Instrument expenses: Costs of instrument repairs, maintenance, and instrument rentals can be claimed. Depreciation of instruments over time might also be possible.
  • Music and educational materials: Sheet music purchases, scores, subscriptions to music libraries, and professional development workshops can be considered allowable expenses.
  • Uniform and clothing: Costs of maintaining performance attire or specific uniforms required by the orchestra may be deductible.

More on what expenses musicians can claim here.

Some established musicians might consider setting up a limited company to manage their income. This can offer potential tax benefits but comes with additional administrative burdens.

For most, the key is reducing the tax burden on what can be a low and/or precarious income lies in understanding your specific tax obligations based on your income sources and work structure and claiming everything you’re entitled to in relation to legitimate expenses for travel, per diems and equipment.

And, we would say this, but good advice makes all the difference. So get in touch and see how we can help you maximise your income and hit the high notes in your career.