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May 4, 2021IM -
In February, the Hamilton, Ontario, city council overwhelmingly passed a new policy that guarantees fair wages for musicians at all city-funded events.
During the pandemic, Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger put together a task force on economic recovery, which included the music industry as a separate sector for the first time. If the city wanted to build on its reputation as a music destination, the mindset needed to change. “For most musicians, it’s not a hobby but a job,” Eisenberger, a longtime supporter of Hamilton’s Local 293 says, “[Musicians] are in an industry. They need to be compensated and paid.”
He tapped Local 293 officials President Larry Feudo, Secretary Treasurer Brent Malseed, and Second Vice President Janna Malseed—also the union representative for the Hamilton Music Advisory Team (HMAT)—to make the pitch to the city’s Labor Economic Recovery Task Force Sub-Committee. The takeaway for other locals, Fuedo says, is if you want your advocacy to be successful you need to speak the same language as your politicians.
Through Malseed, who calls herself the political animal of the trio, the local had a voice at the table. She was able to start the conversation about fair pay. In the meantime, Feudo and Brent Malseed did their research on economic impact. They found that more than 7,000 people in Hamilton worked in the music industry. Music venues in Hamilton accounted for CA$36.2 million per GDP and employ 8,000 workers. In a typical year, the economic spinoff is $62.7 million. “When you start talking financially, the politicians listen,” Feudo says. “When Hamilton hosted the Canadian Country Music Awards, the spinoff was more than $6 million.”
Hamilton regularly applies for funds from the recording industry’s Music Performance Trust Fund (MPTF) which, in addition to membership recruitment and retention, has successfully helped them build a bigger audience. HMAT set up MPTF-sponsored concerts at the Hamilton Public library and the series Music Monday in front of city hall—some of which were cosponsored by MPTF. In November, during lockdown, they produced a live-streamed concert of the wildly popular Canadian group Quartetto Gelato, including members Colin Maier of Local 149 (Toronto, ON), Charles Cozens of Local 149 and 293, Kirk Starkey of Local 293, and Tino Konstantin Popovic of Local 566 (Windsor, ON).
According to Dan Beck, trustee of the MPTF, before the pandemic, the fund supported more than 2,700 free, live music events throughout North America—in schools, parks, senior centers, and other public spaces. When approaching community organizations to host music, Feudo says, “You’re not really doing an ask, you’re giving them something. Would you like some help with your funding? You’re using resources that are available to build these relationships. It takes strategy and messaging. If you want to make an impact, you have to be a good community member. That’s what will turn the tide.”
Advocacy for membership extends to every strata of government, according to Janna Malseed, including relationships with people locally, in provincial legislation, and in Parliament. She says, “It’s an education. We understand the industry; we understand the music speak, the language, but the average person—or public official—may not.”
During the AFM Canadian Conference of Musicians they raised $18,000 selling ads in the conference booklet. Brent Malseed says, “Every dollar from sponsors was spent on our musicians. Every day there were different performances in the hotel lobby—from horn ensembles to string quartets to jazz bands. It was the highest caliber of musicianship.”
Over the years, Feudo says, he’s learned that it’s a business of relationships. “You have to be someone people want to work with because you are doing something of value. But also, you’re a nice person to deal with. It’s making musicians feel like they’re important to you—because they are. [They feel] these guys care about my career.” Brent Malseed adds, “One of our biggest assets is being in the office, answering calls. Members want advice, especially when it comes to visas. We do a newsletter. During the pandemic we have been sending out info bulletins, letting members know what we’re working on. And what we’re working on is trying to find work for them.”
Hamilton is one of the fastest-growing locals in the country. Before Feudo and the Malseeds took over, the membership had dwindled to 283. Prepandemic numbers put it at more than 700, making it the fourth-largest local issuing P-2 visas. Says Malseed, “We pride ourselves on diversity of musicians and genres. We make no distinction. Everyone is treated with respect.”
For more information about Local 293 live-streaming performances, visit www.hamiltonmusicians.org/news-events/
Events that were postponed due to new lockdown restrictions in April will be rescheduled and listed on this website. Check in for updates on future Local 293 events.