Now is the right time to become an American Federation of Musicians member. From ragtime to rap, from the early phonograph to today's digital recordings, the AFM has been there for its members. And now there are more benefits available to AFM members than ever before, including a multi-million dollar pension fund, excellent contract protection, instrument and travelers insurance, work referral programs and access to licensed booking agents to keep you working.

As an AFM member, you are part of a membership of more than 80,000 musicians. Experience has proven that collective activity on behalf of individuals with similar interests is the most effective way to achieve a goal. The AFM can negotiate agreements and administer contracts, procure valuable benefits and achieve legislative goals. A single musician has no such power.

The AFM has a proud history of managing change rather than being victimized by it. We find strength in adversity, and when the going gets tough, we get creative - all on your behalf.

Like the industry, the AFM is also changing and evolving, and its policies and programs will move in new directions dictated by its members. As a member, you will determine these directions through your interest and involvement. Your membership card will be your key to participation in governing your union, keeping it responsive to your needs and enabling it to serve you better. To become a member now, visit www.afm.org/join.

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Home » Articles » Organizing » Political Advocacy Is Fun and Rewarding


Political Advocacy Is Fun and Rewarding

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by Mark Tetreault, AFM Symphonic Services Division Canada Director

Orchestral musicians often look for ways to help their organizations apart from their musical contributions. Musicians serve on boards and committees, organize and participate in special events, attend social functions, and so forth. 

We are all aware of the difficulties in fundraising these days, especially from government. Large increases in grants from the Canada Council and provincial arts funds are unlikely. This does not mean that there is no money to be found. We need to be creative in seeking opportunities. Political advocacy is a tool that we can use to find and create these opportunities. 

I would like to encourage you to meet the politicians who represent you and tell them about our industry. It is enjoyable, easy to do, and valuable. There is a lot of support material available, including facts and figures, leave-behind information, how-to guides to setting up and attending meetings, and contact info for public officials. Best of all, politicians are happy to meet us! They want to hear our stories and will treat you like a celebrity.

There are plenty of opportunities to meet politicians. City council members often have special events in the community or attend such events. This is a good place to make an initial contact, introduce yourself and what you do, and suggest a meeting at a later date. Follow up with a phone call to the constituency office and set up that meeting.

Now is the time to prepare, so head off to the Orchestras Canada website (www.orchestrascanada.org) and click on “Arts 308” on the Advocacy tab. Here you will find a link called “Leave Behind.” This is a document full of useful information for your meeting. Supplement it with your personal experience and you are all set.

If this will be your first meeting, consider bringing one of your colleagues. This may increase your comfort level and keep the conversation lively and flowing. It also helps to build the number of musicians who are experienced advocates.

At the meeting, introduce yourself and your organization and thank the politician for the support you receive from the government. Appreciation goes a long way, and it is good to be specific. “We are grateful for the $XX we receive from the city arts council.” Then, it is time to pitch your ideas. You should have two or three specific “asks.” The politician will address each and ask questions. 

Before you are finished, ask for leads or opportunities. In 2017, we celebrate Canada’s 150th  anniversary. Now is the time to get in on the ground floor of your community’s plans. I think symphony orchestras are ideal presenters for Canada150 music festivals. We have the talent, venues, connections in the community, ticketing abilities, etc. It is an infrastructure that is already in place, and could be used to get some good extra work. Find out what is going on and get in on it!

Finally, offer a pair of tickets and don’t forget to leave behind the information document and a brochure from your organization. On the OC website, in the Arts 308 section, you can read and view more information about these kinds of meetings.

If you like doing this kind of thing, you can give testimony at a public hearing. From time-to-time, governments ask for input from the public, and sometimes all you need to do to is sign up. You will be given a specific amount of time to speak. There may be a follow-up period where you are asked questions. You should prepare a written text, and practice it with a timer, editing as needed until you comfortably fit your speech into the time allotted. Have transcriptions of your speech to leave behind.

As an example, recently I had the opportunity to give testimony to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, which was doing a review of the Canadian music industry. Following is a portion of that testimony:

The CFM fully supports the testimony of the ACTRA Recording Artists’ Collecting Society, which asked the standing committee to recommend modernizing the private copying regime, improving broadcast royalty distribution procedures, and reintroducing income averaging for artists under Canadian tax law.

By strengthening the copyright laws across all media platforms, we will make great strides in ensuring that Canadian artists continue to be fairly paid for the use of their music and can ensure a standard of living for themselves and their families.

The CFM feels strongly that it can make unique and valuable contributions to the important consultations and discussions around copyright and royalty issues. The CFM asks that members of Parliament urge the government to sign and ratify the World Intellectual Property Organization’s Beijing Treaty on Audiovisual Performances. The Beijing treaty outlines global standards recognizing the right of audiovisual performers to be fairly compensated for their creative contributions.

The recognition of performers’ moral rights is equally critical. As performers, our public image is at the heart of who we are. Thanks to the Beijing treaty, performers will finally have the ability to protect their images and performances from being used in ways that they would never choose or agree to.

Canadian orchestras are a vital and important part of Canadian communities, large and small, in every corner of the country. They are economic drivers, creating jobs. Canadian orchestras spent over $175 million in 2012-13, with over 70% of these expenditures going directly to people in wages and fees. They are the artistic anchors of their communities, creating and enriching opportunities for civic celebration and recognition, from sporting events to Remembrance Day ceremonies. They are valued cultural partners, working with other organizations and institutions, and are an important part of our educational infrastructure. Orchestras are effective Canadian ambassadors to the world.

Symphony musicians are a unique workforce. The symphony musician is a highly trained, skilled professional. The intensity of concentration is extreme, and the expense in training is comparable to educations in law, medicine, or business. Symphony musicians provide and maintain their own very expensive instruments. We are one of the very few industries where the worker is required to provide such expensive tools.

Symphony musicians are elite endurance athletes who often suffer injuries during their career. We rarely have extended medical benefits as part of our jobs, and thus often have the burden of paying for physiotherapy, dental work, and prescription medications.

Unfortunately, symphony musicians in Canada are generally low-wage workers. Most are forced out of necessity to be cultural entrepreneurs. Canadian symphony musicians supplement their income by work as music teachers, performers in other classical ensembles, players in the recording industry, performers in other genres, artists in other disciplines, and as workers in other industries—such as union reps.

Some symphony musicians are forced to collect EI during the off-season. Recent changes to EI payments to seasonal workers have a serious negative impact on these musicians. The CFM would like to see these changes re-examined with respect to symphony musicians.

The cutbacks to the CBC have had a very negative effect on the symphonic industry. Far fewer of our concerts are recorded or broadcast. Having a strong national broadcaster meant significant income to musicians. It also meant that we could share our talents with all Canadians, no matter how remote their location, as well as across the border into the northern US.

Symphony musicians have been, effectively, frozen out of broadcast royalty payments, because we do not neatly fit the requirements to claim payments. There is a large pool of money, which consists of royalties for broadcasts of our recordings, which we cannot access because of the awkward and complicated system set up by the Copyright Board. We find this quite frustrating.

Canadian symphony orchestras are active in education. Performances are done for students in our venues and in the schools. One of the most successful new ideas in music education is El Sistema, an orchestral youth training initiative firmly rooted in two core ideas: that music is for everyone regardless of income and background; and that quality music education provides a head start in life and a model of community harmony. Orchestras from New Brunswick to Vancouver have established El Sistema programs, which provide daily after-school coaching and rehearsing, often to disadvantaged youth, leading to exciting performances and a sense of pride and accomplishment.

The range of outreach and educational activities by Canadian orchestras is quite remarkable. In the materials I am leaving with you, there is an article I wrote for our association’s newspaper, the International Musician, that goes into more detail about these activities.

Canadian orchestras are recognized for their artistic excellence around the world, proudly displaying Canadian cultural achievement. We are ambassadors, showing some of the best of Canadian culture. I, myself, have been privileged to travel to many places around the world with the TSO. Our orchestra has partnered with business leaders looking to expand their markets or bring investment to Canada. These leaders travel with the orchestra and bring prospective clients to our concerts to show off the excellence of Canadian artists and to demonstrate that Canadians care about things that are important to the quality of life.

As l mentioned earlier, last night l was performing at the National Arts Centre. Being in that building reminds me of the celebrations in 1967 and the enthusiasm Canadians showed towards our arts and culture. In 2017 we will have our 150th anniversary. I believe this would be an excellent time to have cultural events across the country, reinvigorating our well-earned pride in Canadian arts. Orchestras could play an important leadership role in such events.







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