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Home » Recent News » Getting Paid Fairly Is Part of Our Jobs

Getting Paid Fairly Is Part of Our Jobs

  -  Member Local 78 (Syracuse, NY)

When somebody tells you that you should consider playing for less, because you are doing something you enjoy, remind them of how long you had to practice to get where you are. Tell them about the perfection a professional musician strives for, and that it’s not your hobby, it’s your job. This goes for casual dates, symphonic work, recording, concerts and any type of venue—it goes for every type of musical performance as a professional musician. We do it because we like it, we are good at it, and it’s our life. We’re members of the American Federation of Musicians. We want to make sure we get paid fairly and get proper acknowledgement for what we do.

The late author George Plimpton wrote Paper Lion, a classic 1966 book about football. It was a great literary piece, and even those who didn’t know a fullback from a field goal applauded his work.
Plimpton was best known as a writer for Sports Illustrated. He was a “participatory journalist.” He got involved in what he wrote about. He ran some plays as a quarterback for the Detroit Lions, boxed with Archie Moore, played hockey with the Boston Bruins, fought in a bullfight staged by Ernest Hemingway, and threw some pitches for the New York Yankees.

One of the quotes in his last book was: “People criticize me because when I work it looks like I am having too much fun. I have never been convinced there is inherently anything wrong in having fun … I also want to get paid well when I do it.” Good point. The AFM helps to ensure that, even if we are enjoying what we do, we get paid well at the same time.

One of the things Plimpton tried and that terrified him the most was playing with a symphony orchestra. The USA Today recounted the story in its eulogy to Plimpton who died in 2003.

Plimpton convinced the conductor of the New York Philharmonic that he could play the triangle as part of the percussion section. He found out that,  “Music, unlike sports, tolerates no mistakes.” He said that when it came time for him to hit the triangle, he came in at the wrong time and suffered the rathe of the entire orchestra. It was devastating. He felt like a real loser. When he finally got it right he said “the entire orchestra kind of shuffled their feet” because they were pleased it was finally done correctly.

Plimpton said: “Symphony musicians are the epitome of perfection … There is no chance for error when performing with that caliber of talent.” He said that an amateur blundering into the brutal world of professional football could get slaughtered. But an amateur entering the world of the professional symphonic musician could cause the entire orchestra to suffer. Music tolerates no mistakes.

I have a real problem with people who want musicians to play for free because they think musicians are having fun, or under scale because musicians enjoy what they do. Maybe we should just hand them an instrument and ask them to see how good they are at it. Plimpton found out that playing professionally with no serious training can be terrifying. “Outsiders do not belong,” he said. The AFM pulls us together as professional musicians.

Think about it the next time someone asks you to play at an unfair price.