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Home » Articles » Live Concert Venues and Media Rights: Are Musicians Sold Short?
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Live Concert Venues and Media Rights: Are Musicians Sold Short?

  -  AFM International President

When we consider fair wages and working conditions for musicians working roadshows, the Federation’s Pamphlet B and Short Engagement Tour Agreements (SET) are the gold standard. Pamphlet B establishes fair conditions for musicians on the road in touring theatrical musicals, where the shows are booked for a given number of weeks. The SET contract was structured to cover tours where most engagements are one-nighters or run for less than a week.

In addition to providing fair wages for all services and protections from unauthorized recording, Federation touring agreements also provide fair per diem and lodging coverage, plus pension and health benefits.

Pamphlet B and SET terms apply only to musicians traveling with the show. They do not establish terms for local musicians engaged to augment musicians traveling with the tour. In certain local jurisdictions, however, Pamphlet B does require and regulate the hiring of local musicians performing with the travelers.

The Pamphlet B model of engaging local and traveling musicians together on the road had its origins with one of the oldest North American roadshows—Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, the Greatest Show on Earth.

The Federation’s Ringling agreement (also applied to now-defunct ice skating tours such as Ice Capades, Holiday on Ice, and Ice Follies) covered wages and conditions for musicians traveling with the circus. It also guaranteed that local musicians were hired to accompany traveling circus musicians in each performance location.

A unique feature of the circus agreement was that it provided a three-tiered scale applicable to local musicians based on the size of the metropolitan area where the show was to be performed. The circus and the Federation would classify performance locations as “A,” “B,” or “C” cities (primary, secondary, or tertiary markets), with shows in “A” cities paying the most. For example, Dallas was an “A” city, Fort Worth was a “B” city, and Waco was a “C” city. For each stop along the way, local musicians were selected and engaged by local contractors, and approved by the circus bandleader. Local contractors were needed because they knew the circus band staffing requirements and could arrange the best local talent for the show.

And while the Federation continues its legacy of progressive agreements for musicians working theatrical roadshows, protections for local musicians performing with touring artists in local venues are under attack.

Today, as global entertainment companies consolidate equity interests, ticket points of sale, and booking rights in concert venues in major metropolitan areas across North America, the Federation, our locals, and our members are being squeezed by promoters that have chosen to work with non-union “national contractors.” These promoters treat local musicians unfairly and refuse union contracts for backup musicians when big-name touring artists ride into town. Some of these contractors have been placed on the Federation’s International Unfair List, shown on page 22 in the Take Note section of the January 2019 International Musician.

Here’s how the game works. A big concert venue in a major city is controlled by a huge multinational entertainment company. That same company happens to control concert venues in a number of other cities. The company has booked a string of dates for a high-grossing artist to play the company’s venues in major cities. The artist’s rider includes a requirement that the promoter provide a backup orchestra to accompany the act. Instead of the venue manager contacting a local union contractor to obtain local musicians under appropriate conditions, the entertainment company controlling the venues sometimes aligns itself with non-union “national contractors” who seek to line their pockets at musicians’ expense. Either directly or through non-union subs, these unscrupulous employers attempt to engage local musicians under unreasonable, substandard, and unacceptable rates of pay and working conditions.

The Federation has received numerous complaints from musicians who accepted such engagements. They were required to travel hundreds of miles at their own expense, without per diem or reimbursement for fuel, receiving no benefits—not even the social welfare benefits statutorily prescribed by state and federal laws. Despite sharing the stage with featured acts, musicians on these gigs were not permitted to share the catered meals backstage. In one recent incident, a “national contractor” confronted a woman in a physically threatening manner because she sought to enforce the terms of her contract.

I was dismayed when I encountered one of these so-called national contractors in Dallas a few years ago at a show that was expected to generate more than $1 million in gross gate receipts for venue and artist. The contractor was attempting to undercut local scales in a 20,000-seat arena and had also hired foreign students without proper work authorization. This contractor used racial epithets and offensive language with me after backup orchestra musicians demanded appropriate payment and pension benefits for their services.

As concert promoters and venue operators merge into national and international conglomerates and enter the video space as media companies, the idea of converting live concerts into live streaming events and content for promotion and sale has gained serious traction. It also creates a new rub between the venue, musicians, and their union. All AFM live engagement contracts prohibit unauthorized recording or reproduction unless covered by an appropriate AFM media agreement. Under AFM contracts, you can’t create media from a live gig without paying the musicians who perform.

You can bet that these greedy, self-serving national contractors are hustling to deliver backup ensembles and orchestras with free media rights included as an incentive to entertainment companies that want to live-stream concerts and control the content on a buyout basis. It’s the same old story. We make all the music, but the rich folks upstairs want to make all the money.

The Federation has begun an intensive investigation into the unethical, predatory practices of live concert promoters, venues, their agents, and contractors. I’ll have more to report as we respond aggressively to reports of unfair treatment by those who engage musicians for concert venue tours.







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