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Home » Organizing » New Initiatives Toward a Brighter 2022 for Freelance Musicians

New Initiatives Toward a Brighter 2022 for Freelance Musicians


by Wages Argott, AFM Director of Freelance Services and Membership Development

Let’s talk about 2021, our first full calendar year under the shadow of COVID-19. I, like everyone else, finished 2020 grateful that my family and I were alive and healthy and we all still had roofs over our heads. I gave little thought to my working landscape as we had all turned our attention to basic survival over career success. Many musicians found creative ways to perform at home, stream from small venues under strict safety protocols, or turned to recording projects to keep receiving an income from doing the work they loved. I don’t think any of us could have imagined that so much uncertainty would still exist almost two years later, with so much damage done to our musical, political, and social climate.

In many ways the isolation brought us closer, as we found and explored innovative new technologies to meet, gather, and make music together. At the same time, many of us laid our instruments down in March 2020 and expectantly waited for our industry to return, while focusing on other pursuits.

As time wore on and we saw other industries return to work, we began to think about not just other pursuits, but other careers. An already difficult landscape for independent and freelance musicians now seemed completely barren. At the end of 2021 we were still waiting and wondering when, or even if, everything would return.

We’re all facing similar issues to some degree: we want so badly to make music again and create that art and magic that led us to choose this career path. Unfortunately, we’re also staring down the reality of an environment that in many ways has told us that what we do isn’t essential. We’re so often being asked to accept less compensation and even diminished working conditions.

In contrast to what some leadership and management may tell us, the desire and enthusiasm for live entertainment is evident as audiences clamor for televised, recorded, and what in-person performances they have been able to attend. When safe to do so, I think we would all agree that bringing back music is as important to our healing process as any other kind of treatment.

Musicians are naturally compassionate people, and we’ve developed almost familial relationships with many of our numerous employers over the years. Naturally, we’re somewhat sympathetic to the financial plight of our industry. In many cases, temporary compromises have been reached to alleviate the financial bleeding. Unfortunately, in many cases, these compromises may lead to permanent reductions, and even eventual loss of employment.

Freelance Work

As freelance musicians, we’re often pitted against unfair employers alone, without the benefit of a larger body of co-workers by our side to stand with us against poor treatment. We often find ourselves competing with one another as we struggle for the same few gigs. The added burdens of a global pandemic, weak economy, and cash-strapped employers has made full-time employment as an independent gigging musician seem almost impossible.

Quite a few of our musicians are fortunate enough to work under a Federation-bargained CBA for full-time employment. Many of us freelancers find ourselves doing some or much of our gig work under an AFM agreement or single-engagement contract. However, even from within and outside the Federation membership we often hear the question that we all know and may have even asked ourselves: why should I join the union?

My answer to this question is a straightforward question in return: as an independent musician adrift in the sea of financial hardship, a global pandemic, and exploitative employers, why wouldn’t you want to join your voice and collect your strength with that of over 50,000 member musicians across 170 locals throughout the United States and Canada?

The union isn’t some third party: an elite brain trust or body of enforcers to be called upon in times of crisis. The union is all of us—a diverse group of individuals from different geographical, cultural, and musical backgrounds who have banded together with the common belief that making music for a living is the greatest privilege in the world. We understand that the only way to maintain our way of life is to collect our power and fight side by side to improve our conditions and preserve our dignity.

As freelance musicians we’ve always felt somewhat empowered by our independence and freedom from a single employer or a single genre of musical performance. Now is the time to be empowered to direct our own futures, advocate for ourselves, and stand with our fellow musicians in the solidarity of knowing our own value and believing in our importance and place in the global economy.

I’ve seen so much movement and action from our fellow local officers and staff, motivated members, and Federation leadership in my brief tenure as director of our Freelance Department. There are so many resources available to Federation members to aid us in our fight when needed. We are exploring new ways to engage and unify our membership every day. We have and are developing resources to assist both local officers and member-musicians.

Updated Freelance Programs

Our Freelance Co-funding program has enjoyed its most successful year since the inception of the current format in 2010. We’re already discussing proposals and developing ideas for 2022. We’ve breathed life back into several of our web properties.

Our online booking portal receives new inquiries every day. An influx of fresh profiles and acts would only increase its viability and provide a valuable marketplace for musical talent to work under AFM contracts all across the United States and Canada. Our recorded music marketplace continues to make sales for members. A new online teacher-connection platform is set to launch in the first quarter of 2022.

Our online venue review application (open to both members and nonmembers) is evolving into a gathering place for freelance musicians. My hope is that this will be a gateway for new Federation membership and a forum for issues unique to freelance musicians.

In partnership with the Independent Gig Musicians (IGM), we have developed the Freelance Work Survey, hosted at This anonymous questionnaire open to anyone. It is a tool to determine the actual costs and net benefit of a particular gig. I’ve been extremely encouraged and inspired by the actions of local officers and motivated members collecting their voice and power in groups like IGM out of the Western Conference (now with membership creeping east and into Canada) and the Indie Musicians Caucus of the AFM, born in New York City.

Real, lasting change and a movement toward organizing and empowerment can only come from the ground up. We have brilliant staff and leadership to support our members when needed. In cooperation with our Organizing and Education Division and International Representatives, we have recently begun a new two-day live training program for officers and members interested in advanced organizing and member engagement.

My door and communication channels will always be open for whatever support and assistance I can offer or muster from our network of outstanding musicians, staff, officers, and executive leadership. Together, we can move toward a brighter 2022 for our planet, our Federation, and the musical art form and community that we’ve so passionately fought to create and preserve.

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