Tag Archives: band

Managing Your Band, Artist Management

Making Your Band a Business

Managing Your Band, Artist ManagementThe following article is taken from the book Managing Your Band, Artist Management: The Ultimate Responsibility, 6th Edition, by Stephen Marcone and David Philp (Hal Leonard Corporation). The book is a resource for any musician working in the music business. It covers data analysis, planning, modern record company structure, social marketing, touring, and more.

Bands often begin performing and making money before they become an actual business. However, when the group begins to purchase equipment as a band they must eventually become a business. The first step in establishing your business is deciding what type you should create. The most common types of business entities are: proprietorship, partnership, corporation (in various forms), and limited liability company.


A proprietorship is the simplest and the easiest form of business to start. By definition, it is a business conducted by one self-employed person who is the owner. Contact your county clerk for specifics, but most likely you will need to:

1) File a DBA (Doing Business As) form (found online) with the county clerk in the county where you’ll conduct business. (This is unnecessary if you intend to do business in your own name.)

2) You may be required to publish a DBA legal notice in the local newspaper.

3) File an Internal Revenue Service Form SS-4 to obtain an employer’s tax ID number (even if you have no employees).

4) If you intend to sell (retail) goods, you must obtain a resale tax permit from the state tax authority.

5) Open a company checking account.

With a proprietorship you have complete control of all decisions and earn all the profit. However, you are personally liable for any accidents or lawsuits that might occur and you also absorb any losses. Creditors may place a lien on your personal property. There are also tax issues involved, so it’s best to consult an accountant.


There are several types of partnership:

General Partnership—Two or more partners contribute (or loan) property, service, and/or money to the business. Each partner owns an interest in the whole partnership (assets in common) and acts on behalf of the partnership. The entire general partnership is responsible for any lawsuit, except where bodily harm or injury has occurred. In the event of losses, the general partnership assets are liquidated before creditors can access an individual partner’s personal property. Setting up a general partnership is similar to setting up a proprietorship. An attorney should compose the actual terms of the agreement.

Joint Venture—A group and an entrepreneur join together to complete a project (writing a song or producing a master recording). Once the project is complete there is no reason for the relationship to continue. They are actually in a partnership for that one business transaction. One party is contributing service and one party is contributing service or money.

Limited Partnership—A limited partnership is created to fund a business project. A general partner takes on the normal business responsibilities, and the limited partner contributes capital but takes no part in business management and has no liability beyond the investment. The limited partner acts as a backer to finance a project (usually for a limited time). State and Federal security laws govern limited partnerships, and an attorney should be consulted.

Limited Liability Partnership—This type of partnership protects individual partners from personal liability for the negligent acts of other partners or employees not under their direct control. These companies are most common among law firms.


A corporation is a separate business entity from the persons who manage it. Ownership is obtained by buying shares of stock in the corporation. Personal assets of individuals are protected from creditors. Corporations can be public (stock traded on a stock exchange) or private (stock not available to the open market). In a private corporation all shareholders have some relationship to the business. Most bands keep their corporations private.

There are two types of corporations: “C” and “S.” “C” corporations provide shareholders with the most protection from liability and responsibility from debts and contracts. Profits for “C” corporations are taxed at the corporate level and at the shareholder level when distributions are made. “S” corporations also provide shareholders with protection from liability, but are exempt from federal income tax. The income/loss is passed through to the shareholders and the taxes are paid at the shareholder level.

Limited Liability Company (LLC)

The LLC allows members to enjoy the tax benefits of a partnership and the limited personal liability of a corporation. However, it does not exempt members of the company from being sued for negligence. States vary as to the criteria for forming an LLC. You and/or an attorney should be able to set one up for under $1,000. Each member is issued shares in the company and signs an operating agreement.

In the world of songwriters, touring acts, entertainers, and musicians, the two most commonly used entities are the “S” corporation for touring and Limited Liability Companies. When forming a corporation, an attorney and an accountant should be retained. There are many legal obligations, such as tax and labor laws, which must be followed.

New International Representative, TV Negotiations Update

I am pleased to announce that Dave Shelton, former president of Local 554-635 (Lexington, KY), has become the newest member the Federation’s staff as an International Representative (IR), filling a field position that became vacant May 2017 with the departure of Barbara Owens.

International Representatives are the first line of help and assistance for local officers in matters pertaining to day-to-day operations and governance issues in running a local. They are readily available to assist local officers with onsite training, preparation of operating plans, budgeting, and compliance issues relative to AFM Bylaws and Department of Labor regulations. IRs are a resource for the development and application of local bylaws, mergers, membership rosters, newsletters, membership meetings, and elections.

New AFM International Representative for Midwest Territory Dave Shelton

Dave Shelton is uniquely qualified for service as an IR with his broad experience as a versatile professional musician and as a local officer, symphonic negotiator, orchestra committee chair, union steward, and AFM conference officer. An outstanding musician with many years of orchestral horn and jazz piano performance experience, Dave graduated summa cum laude in 2007 from one of the world’s most respected music schools, the University of North Texas (UNT), with a Master of Music degree in Jazz Studies. At UNT, he served as a teaching fellow and a jazz lab band director. Prior to his study at UNT, Dave earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Kentucky. He has performed as fourth horn with the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra for nearly two decades, and also serves as pianist and arranger for that orchestra’s pops series.   

During his years of service as a local officer with Lexington Local 554-635, Dave excelled in fundraising and development activities, public relations, collective bargaining, and contract negotiations. He was elected as an officer of the Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA) in 2016, and currently serves as its vice president.

Dave now joins IRs Allistair Elliott (Canada), Wally Malone (Western Territory), Cass Acosta (Southeast Territory), and Eugene Tournour (Northeast Territory) who are each assigned a geographic territory of individual locals to maintain regular contact and visitation. The IRs’ activities are coordinated by Assistant to the President Ken Shirk, who is based in our West Coast Office, located in Burbank, California. We are delighted to welcome Dave as the newest member of the Federation’s staff. I know he will do an excellent job.

TV Negotiations Update—Respect the Band!

The Late Late Show band, members of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA), (L to R) Tim Young, Hagar Ben Ari, Guillermo Brown, Reggie Watts, and Steve Scalfati demand fair pay when their work is streamed online.

On December 15, 2017, the Federation resumed discussions in Los Angeles with representatives from CBS, NBC, and ABC toward a successor agreement covering the services of musicians engaged to perform on live television. Despite three rounds of negotiations, which began 18 months ago, the talks have been deadlocked over the networks’ refusal to bargain over the Federation’s proposals for progressive payment terms for advertiser-supported and subscriber-based streaming of live and on-demand TV. Our proposals for better terms for musicians engaged in the production of live television programs made for initial exhibition on streaming platforms such as Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu were also rebuffed.

Despite the networks’ stonewalling, our team was determined to break the bottleneck and find ways to turn up the heat. At my request, AFM Organizing and Education Director Michael Manley, together with organizers from Local 802 (New York City) and Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA), Recording Musicians Association President Marc Sazer, and player representative Jason Poss of Local 47 worked to develop a plan of action by arranging a series of meetings with musicians working on late night shows, award shows, and prime time variety shows. The musicians identified, discussed, and prioritized issues surrounding the producers’ lack of additional payment when their performances are free to watch online.

A concerted campaign with a catchy name, #respecttheband, emerged from those meetings and quickly gained traction. As the December negotiations got underway in Los Angeles, audience members waiting in line outside the studios on both coasts received leaflets outlining the issues. Musicians from the bands inside released statements to the press speaking out about producers’ lack of respect and fair treatment when their performances are streamed.

The Late Late Show with James Corden musicians released a photo from their green room displaying a #respecttheband banner.

“Other performers are all paid when Jimmy Kimmel Live! streams on YouTube or other online outlets, yet musicians are paid nothing. Musicians just want to be compensated for our likeness and our music,” says Cleto Escobedo III, musical director of Cleto and the Cletones. “I love Jimmy, the producers, and everyone we work with. We just need to make sure the networks treat us and all of our colleagues fairly.”

“This is about fairness. It’s a travesty that musicians are being treated this way. We are just asking the networks for a little respect—and the networks can certainly afford to treat musicians with the respect we deserve,” says Harold Wheeler, who is well known in the Broadway and recording scene and will be the Oscar’s music director in 2018 for the third consecutive year. He was also the original Dancing With the Stars music director.

Amen to brothers Cleto Escobedo III and Harold Wheeler, the Corden band, and our organizing team of highly motivated AFM staff, local officers and staff, and dedicated player representatives—bravo!

With a publicity push from AFM Communications Director Rose Ryan, the musicians’ concerted activities in support of their bargaining objectives received extensive coverage in Deadline Hollywood and Variety.

As a direct result, the networks have now agreed to engage and negotiate over the Federation’s proposals for fair and equitable compensation when musicians’ performances are streamed. Our next round of TV talks will occur this spring.

college band

Calling All College Students: If You Want a Career, Look to the AFM

A while back I had an opportunity to speak to students at the Crane School of Music, SUNY Potsdam, about the business of music. It was an interesting experience. The questions were fast and furious. The energy and enthusiasm were contagious. Many of the students weren’t aware of the American Federation of Musicians and the benefits of being a member of the AFM going forward into a career in music.

The Crane Library not only features issues of the International Musician, but has many books about the AFM as well, and extensive reading material on careers in music. However, a lot of today’s college students don’t know the AFM exists. Being a member is an opportunity to be a part of something big. It’s an opportunity for networking, career advancement, pension, and a decent wage. College students who are going out into the world of music want to make a good living. They need guidance and support. Many aren’t aware of the benefits of a union contract. It can mean getting paid and paid fairly. It means not playing for free, for low pay, or for anything but a fair wage. For professional musicians, playing music is a living, not a hobby.

In AFM Organizing & Education Division Director Michael Manley’s IM article last month, he said “no one is impressed by underpaid work.” No one is impressed when you work for substandard wages, and working for “pay to play” or “exposure” does not lead to working with the influential first-call musicians, agents, promoters, and people with whom you hope to share the stage as your career develops.

You must know your worth, whether it is Broadway, symphonic, freelancing, recording, clubs, or onstage. Sometimes musicians need to know when to say “no.” AFM members are professionals. Playing music is how they make their living. Getting a living wage is paramount when you are a member of the AFM.

The International Musician will be at this year’s NAMM Show in Anaheim, California. Music retailers, manufacturers, industry veterans, and music legends will be there, as well as some AFM officers. Music colleges from all over the country will be sending some of their students. Many of the educational sessions will talk about the benefits of the AFM. There is a wide range of opportunities in today’s music industry for music school graduates. The future of the AFM is with the young musicians of today. We have to look ahead.

If you’re a college student picking up this publication in your college library, it might be time to look into joining the AFM (if you’re not already a member.) Many of the locals offer a student membership. This is a great time to be a member!

Steely Dan Co-Founder Sues for Control of Band

Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) member and Steely Dan co-founder, Donald Fagen, is suing the estate of his late, longtime musical partner Walter Becker in order to maintain control of the group and its name.

In 1972 when the band was formed, they signed an agreement that, upon the death or departure of a Steely Dan band-member, the group would purchase that member’s shares. Since around 1975, the group had fundamentally been a duo of Becker and Fagen accompanied by session musicians.

A few days after Becker’s death, Fagen received notice that the 1972 buy/sell share agreement was “of no force or effect.” He demanded that Becker’s widow, Delia, be appointed director or officer of the group, meaning she was also entitled to 50% ownership.

Fagen is seeking a ruling to uphold the buy/sell agreement as well as to require Becker’s estate to sell his shares of the group, along with damages.


Social Media Promotion

Social Media Promotion for Musicians: The Manual for Marketing Yourself, Your Band, and Your Music Online

Social Media PromotionThis update to Bobby Owsinski’s Social Media Promotion for Musicians will teach you how to use social media to effectively promote yourself and your music. It reveals a host of online insider tips and techniques to help you gain more fans and followers, increase your views and streams, and grow your ticket and merchandise sales. Not only does it show you how to effectively increase your online presence, but it also provides tips for maximizing your online exposure, saving time in social media posting, using each platform (Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter) most efficiently, boosting your streams and views, developing a brand, maximizing engagement, and more.

Social Media Promotion for Musicians: The Manual for Marketing

Flipper Flanagan’s Flat Footed Four Celebrates 50 Years

Flipper Flanagan’s Flat Footed

Flipper Flanagan’s Flat Footed Four, members of Local 591 (Thunder Bay, ON), are celebrating their 50th anniversary this month. (R to L) are: Brian Thompson (mandolin, guitar, spoons, bodhran), Bob Balabuck (banjo, fiddle, mandolin), Jamie Gerow (guitar, Irish bouzouki), and Jack Wall (bass).

Flipper Flanagan’s Flat Footed Four, members of Local 591 (Thunder Bay, ON), will celebrate their 50th anniversary with concerts and events across the region beginning June 15 at the Magnus Theatre in Thunder Bay, Ontario. According to band member and guitarist Jamie Gerow, the concerts are retrospective of all the songs their audience has enjoyed over the years.

Bob Balabuck and founder Brian Thompson, are the original members. Gerow and Jack Wall joined about five years later. Thompson and Balabuck formed several folk groups in the mid-1960s. Among the distinctive genres, the one that eventually stuck was Irish music. Their drummer at the time, Rick Lazar of Local 149 (Toronto, ON) and founder of Samba Squad, suggested “Father Flanagan’s,” and later added “Flat Footed Four.”

Back in the day, the band was known for their raucous performances, and they were even banned from one university because audience members destroyed some furniture. No subject off limits, Gerow says, they were also kicked out of a high school assembly for performing a song called “The Pill.”

They’ve long since redeemed themselves. In 1983, the band was presented with an achievement award for their contribution to the City of Thunder Bay and they have been recognized twice by the city as distinguished citizens.

Gerow is a former school principal, Balabuck a retired special education teacher, Thompson is a social worker, and Wall is a sound engineer (who graduated in the first class of Radio and Television Arts from Confederation College in 1969).

They cheekily refer to their style as progressive pub. Gerow says, “We start with rock songs and do them as bluegrass and do bluegrass as Irish tunes, stealing the progressive name from jazz musicians. In the bluegrass world, they say, ‘If you make the same mistake twice, call it jazz.’”

Gerow credits the group’s harmony on stage and off for their longtime partnership. He says, “It’s been years of friendship unequaled. We’ve enjoyed each other, centered around music, and that’s what the music scene should be.” He jokes, “Hatches, matches, and dispatches.”

Two of the members are cancer survivors. When Balabuck developed focal dystonia, he was told he’d never play the banjo again. “So, he learned to play with his left hand and now does both. To our knowledge, he’s the only five-string banjo player playing both left and right handed banjo in the world,” says Gerow.

The band still holds rehearsals at Balabuck’s house, which, Gerow says, is not more than 300 meters away from his. “I can hear Bob practice his banjo on his front porch—and he practices all the time!”

The Accidentals: Learning from the Challenges of Life on the Road

The first time then-teenagers Katie Larson and Savannah Buist, both members of Local 56 (Grand Rapids, MI) jammed together in 2011 they knew they had something special. The next five years were a blur of learning, creativity, and performing. They’ve graduated with the inaugural singer-songwriter major at Interlochen Arts Academy high school, produced three albums, and toured the country.

“Neither of us had any idea that we would be getting into music professionally,” says Larson. The cellist met Buist, a violinist, when they both volunteered for Alternative Styles for Strings Club at their Traverse City, Michigan, public high school.

What made the connection magic was how they immediately fed off each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Larson came from a classical background. “I was very uncomfortable improvising and doing anything like that. Savannah was playing in her family’s folk band, singing harmonies, and doing solos,” says Larson.

Buist picks up the story, “I had only played violin until I met Katie and realized she was a multi-instrumentalist and a songwriter. I hadn’t really tried those things. She came over to my house to rehearse for this homework assignment, and instead of rehearsing classical music for our orchestra program, we ended up playing the White Stripes. We were pretty much a band from that night.”

The Accidentals captures all of their many influences. “We kind of open up a discussion of genre whenever we talk about our band,” says Larson. “Music is going to a more genre-less platform. We incorporate elements of classical, folk, pop, jazz, rock, and gypsy jazz, along with singer-songwriter. We usually classify ourselves as indy folk rock, but we are just a couple of musical geeks who play a lot of instruments and as many styles as we can.”

The music is infectious and upbeat, and has earned them plenty of early recognition: Billboard’s Top Seven Breakout Artists SXSW 2015; Winner of Summerfest WI, Emerging Artists Series US Cellular Stage 2015; VinylMag.com’s Top Ten Artists to Watch at SXSW 2016; Huffington Post’s Sweet Sixteen Bands of 2016; and Yahoo Music Top Ten Bands to Watch 2017.

“The first time we went to SXSW was in 2015 and when we got home my phone blew up!” says Buist. “We made Billboard Magazine as one of the top seven breakout bands. I didn’t believe it; I thought a friend of mine had Photoshopped our names. It was kind of a mind-blowing experience to have somebody actually see us play a show and walk away thinking we had something.”

“There are so many bands invited down there and so much oversaturation of music. We were afraid we wouldn’t get any recognition,” she says. “We feel so unbelievably lucky that people are excited about what we are doing.”

Since launching their career, The Accidentals have had a crash course in the music business. “We are trying to run everything from the road and a lot of things fall through at the last minute, turning us into professional troubleshooters finding a way to make things work,” says Larson.

One of the things The Accidentals did get right was joining the AFM early in their career. “We joined the AFM when we entered into our first recording deal. It was 2013 and we were still teenagers at the time. We really appreciated joining because it showed us what kind of rights we had as musicians. We feel extremely supported by the people in the AFM,” says Larson. “It did really make us feel empowered. I think all musicians appreciate that.”

The Accidentals officially moved from duo to trio after about two years, adding multi-instrumentalist Michael Dause of Local 5 (Detroit, MI) to the band in 2014. They discovered the freedom of having a full-time rhythm section by accident at northern Michigan’s Blissfest in 2012 when a friend hopped up on stage and began drumming along.

“It blew our minds,” says Buist. “One of us had always covered the rhythm instrument; when we had a drummer it opened up a huge world of opportunity for Katie and I to start improvising. We met Michael at Blissfest about a year later. He was playing a solo set [on guitar] and when we found out he was also a drummer we asked if he’d like to audition with us.”

Dause’s first gig with the band was on vehicle-free Makinac Island, so he couldn’t bring a drum kit. “He brought just a little cajon with him and we played the set together. He knew all of the songs because he’d been a fan of the band. It was really a perfect fit and Michael has been with us ever since,” says Buist.

The Accidentals have been busy over the past few months putting finishing touches on their new album, Odyssey, scheduled for release in August. It will include 12 original songs and possibly a bonus track. The first single, “KW,” was released in March at SXSW 2017.

The album’s theme is about moving beyond their fears. “We are going to take 2017 as the year of no fear … not the absence of fear, but in spite of it. It’s really powerful to acknowledge where you are vulnerable and keep moving into the new year despite fear and vulnerability. Every song details a specific problem that we see and a way we come together to solve it—a journey of sorts,” says Larson. “The message manifested itself after we had written and recorded the songs.”

Both Larson and Buist consider themselves to be “introverted” songwriters and each writes songs independently. “Songwriting is kind of an intimate process for us,” says Larson. “We write the chord progressions, have the song worked out, take it to the group, and generally the three of us will work up an arrangement for how we conquer the song live.”

Only about one song per release is written together, explains Buist. Each tackles the songwriting process differently, again feeding off each other’s strengths. Buist is much stronger on writing lyrics, while Larson’s focus is more on melody.

After graduating from Interlochen Arts Academy, Larson and Buist weighed their options. Larson was offered a Presidential Scholarship to attend Berklee College of Music, but when a production deal was offered at the same time, they chose the latter.

“College will always be there for us on the back burner,” says Buist, though she says she wouldn’t necessarily study music. “We are running our business and it has been really interesting learning from the real life application of that. I might go for something that I haven’t tried before if I were going to go to school.”

“I totally agree,” says Larson. “I think the great thing about choosing to tour right after high school is that, when I was in high school, I wasn’t exactly sure what direction I wanted to take. I was also very shy. Being thrown in all these situations helped me break out of my shell and realize all of these new interests I may want to pursue later.”

For the past few years, The Accidentals have been on tour pretty much non-stop, and so far, aside from missing their families, they love the experience.

“Savannah and I are overachievers. We are amazed when we overcome challenges and the road is full of constant crises so there is always something fun to learn,” says Larson.

“All three of us are looking forward to having the new album out just because of the personal achievement. We’ve had an exciting two or three years since we graduated high school and we’ve really learned a lot about the industry,” says Larson.

“A lot can happen in the future and so we are just trying to balance it all,” says Buist. “We’ve got a lot of people who care about us and are helping us get through it one step at time. I think we’ve learned to ask for what we need, and to remember, in the grand scale of the universe this is just a tiny spec. We’ve learned to put our problems into perspective, understand how lucky we are, and keep moving forward.”

“We try to keep short-term and long-term goals for ourselves and the band,” says Larson. “We are on a wild ride and every once in a while it’s nice to have little things to check off your bucket list.”

Musicians Bid Farewell to the Circus Life

by Michael Manley, Director AFM Touring/Theatre/Booking Division

The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circuses—the Red and Blue units—give their final performances in May. Here’s a look at the unprecedented musical legacy of The Greatest Show on Earth.

A Singular Spectacle

Perry George (“P.G.”) Lowery sideshow band. Photo: Ringling Circus Museum

Every year for 146 years, The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey (RBBB) Circus has inspired audiences throughout North America with one-of-a-kind spectacles accompanied by professional musicians performing bespoke circus music. Though there have been many traveling circuses over the years, RBBB is known simply as the Circus—with a capital C.

For every season since its debut in 1871, each act of The Greatest Show on Earth has soared to the waltzes, gallops, marches, drumrolls, and fanfares performed by tireless professional circus musicians. While the United States Marine Corps Band and The New York Philharmonic precede it on the cultural landscape, the circus is the oldest enduring touring entertainment in US history. It arrived five years before the debut of Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone and Richard Wagner’s opera cycle, The Ring of the Nibelung, and only six years after the end of the Civil War.

The train car has always been home to circus employees, and the railway their Main Street. Before the circus began playing arenas in the 1950s, workers set up temporary tent cities next to the big top. Performers—and animals—from around the globe lived and worked together in a mobile melting pot that foreshadowed the multicultural patchwork that came to define the American experience in the 20th century. Before radio, film, and television, the circus brought its singular spectacle to smaller cities and rural towns, whose residents had no access to the theatres, opera houses, and music halls of large cities. In building audiences in these smaller markets, the circus tilled the soil for future touring entertainment—from vaudeville to Broadway musicals—and even today’s sports and concert spectacles.

Music and the Circus

The final “Red” Unit Circus Band

Through every season, live music has been the engine of the circus. Its musicians are known as “windjammers,” a reference to “jamming” wind through their brass and woodwind instruments, sometimes for seven or more hours a day. In the early days the 30-plus musicians of the circus would divide so that half the musicians could play the traditional parade through town, while the other half gave a staged band concert—all before the show began. The circus provided access to jobs for musicians who were often outside the conservatory training programs. It spawned a large body of repertoire, which has become standard literature for concert, marching, and military bands. Like the well-known marches of Karl King and Henry Fillmore, much of this music was written by circus musicians themselves.

The Circus and Labor

Long-term steady employment has always been a draw of circus work. Its most famous bandleader, Merle Evans, raised his baton for 50 consecutive seasons from 1919 to 1969. In the first decade of the 20th Century, Ringling and other circuses of the day were early employers of African American musicians, though they were barred from the main tent and relegated to perform as “sideshow bands” due to the racial segregation of that era. The most renowned sideshow bandleader—composer and virtuoso cornetist Perry George (“P.G.”) Lowery—was justly famous for both his brilliant playing and his compositions, through his nearly 50-year circus career. Circus bands were not fully integrated until after the civil rights movement.

Over the years, the model for musical employment changed. In the 1950s, the circus retired the big top and began playing arenas. They toured with a small core of musicians, filling out the rest of the ensemble with local musicians in each venue. In this way, the circus provided a wealth of local musician employment over the next 30 to 40 years. In the late 1990s the circus phased out local musician hiring, and returned to traveling all of the musicians—bands of nine players on each unit—in 1998.

The 2014 “Gold” Unit Circus band. (Photo: Emily Fleck)

The AFM has covered the employment of circus musicians going back at least to the early 1940s. This continues today through an agreement between current circus owner, Feld Entertainment, Inc., and the AFM. One challenge faced by circus musicians is familiar to those in other sectors of live music—the preservation of jobs and maintaining large-size bands. The AFM has maintained the current traveling complement of nine musicians per unit for nearly 20 years, from 1998 through the RBBB Circus closure in 2017.

From 2004 to 2015, six additional circus musicians were employed on the Ringling “Gold” Unit, which was designed to play smaller towns outside the range of the railways that defined the “Red” and “Blue” Unit circuits. Since the employer was not providing train transportation, the “Gold” Unit contract contained a unique provision that allowed musicians to travel and live in recreational vehicles. This “RV clause” required zero-interest loans, the payment of a per-diem to offset vehicle costs, and an employer buy-back provision to protect musicians from incurring huge debt if their employment was severed. This was one of many “only on the circus” labor issues; problems with the train car, temperature, animal dander, or transportation from the train to the venue often trumped wages as priority negotiation items.

While the current Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circuses take their final bows, circus entertainment is far from dead. New York’s Big Apple Circus is currently striving to make a return, and Cirque du Soleil has a successful roster of updated traditional European circus shows. And it is not impossible to imagine the Ringling Circus resurrected in some smaller form in the future. What has always differentiated The Greatest Show on Earth is the sheer enormity of its scale—no future entertainment is likely to travel a company of 200-plus workers all over the continent on a mile-long train, for more than 40 weeks a year. Nor is any future production likely to generate hundreds of scores of musical repertoire, or provide a century of continuous musical employment.

The circus as an art form will live on, even as it also moves on and evolves. Still, it will never quite be the Circus.

The Clown Mohawk: A Story of Circus Solidarity

“It all started when the clowns gave him a mohawk,” the email began.

Not the usual message a union representative receives from a musician, but then nothing about the circus is usual. Former circus musician and union steward Donald Parker recounts the curious incident, circa 2004, which lead to his famous opening line:

“The circus was in Dallas at the United Center. We had a general manager (GM) who thought he could do whatever he wanted, and walk all over us. One of the musicians did get a mohawk haircut from one of the clowns, and the GM wanted to discipline him and pull him off the show because of his appearance. I told the GM he could do that, but he would still have to pay him because we didn’t have an appearance clause in our contract. The GM took issue with that, which really made the rest of the band mad.

“That night we set up a barber station outside our train car, and all nine of us in the band got a mohawk. Then we went down to a show party the GM was throwing, and proceeded to mingle and socialize as it nothing was different. We really wanted to shake him up and get under his skin. After the party, we all came back and shaved the rest of our hair off so the management couldn’t complain about our appearance on the bandstand. We shaved our heads in solidarity—and oppressive management was our best organizing tool!”

Thanks to Mike Montgomery (Windjammers Unlimited, Inc.), Mark Heter, Paul Celentano, and The Ringling Circus Museum for their research assistance in the preparation of these stories.

The Golden Gate Park Band

The Golden Gate Park Band Celebrates 134th Season

The Golden Gate Park Band

The 134-year-old Golden Gate Park Band, all members of Local 6 (San Francisco, CA), is a Sunday afternoon mainstay
at The Spreckles Temple of Music in Golden Gate Park.

The Golden Gate Park Band (GGPB) of Local 6 (San Francisco, CA) kicked off the summer with an all-American repertoire of patriotic music for Memorial Day. The 30-member band, one of the last professional big city bands to present a full season of free outdoor concerts, regularly features ethnic artists, dancers, community groups, and guest soloists from throughout the Bay area. Performances include a range of music, from classic renditions, marches, and swing band sounds to show tunes and opera. The 2016 season continues through October 2.

The band, founded in 1882, is one of the few civic institutions in San Francisco to pre-date the 1906 earthquake. The other is the cable car, which was invented in 1873. Originally, the band was a support division of the California National Guard. Now it’s a Sunday afternoon mainstay at The Spreckles Temple of Music in Golden Gate Park on the music concourse.

Funded by grants and Friends of the Golden Gate Park Band, the band has a union contract and many of members also play professionally in other orchestras in the area. Conductor Michael L. Wirgler says, “We provide professional outdoor concerts for the citizens and visitors of San Francisco on Sundays for half of the year (26 concerts). The joy that I see on people’s faces and the number of small children who come and dance to our music is heartening and joyful, and makes it all worthwhile.”