Tag Archives: Freelance

Freelance Musicians Need Economic Relief

Freelance musicians working in live entertainment venues have been among the hardest hit by the effects of the pandemic. Although the nature of this work has always been precarious, the pandemic has exposed structural problems that have long existed and that leave freelancers exceedingly vulnerable—the recent difficulties in accessing unemployment benefits is only the latest example. We simply cannot afford to go back to doing business as usual.

An increasing concern among freelance musicians was for the future of the venues themselves, and when the National Independent Venue Owners was formed to lobby for venue relief legislation, many were eager to offer their support.

As I listened to these discussions among musicians here in Washington, DC, I recalled the complaints I’d heard over the years regarding many of these same venues, complaints that primarily focused on the lack of a fair wage. Here was an opportunity to ask directly of these venue owners, “What are you willing to offer us in return for our support?” It is a paradox that the very musicians who are responsible for creating the content by which these businesses base their existence often feel powerless to advance their own economic interests. There is a Polynesian saying, “Standing on a whale, fishing for minnows.”

The opportunity remains at hand. The great venue relief effort is now underway. The federal Save Our Stages Act, through an intensive lobbying campaign, has been included in the recent Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 and been renamed Grants for Shuttered Venue Operators (SVOG).

In my home state of Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan has approved a $30 million relief package for music and entertainment venues, including many who will be eligible for SVOG. What has been noticeably missing from these efforts is the assurance that any of this money will make its way into the hands of the musicians on whose performances these venues rely. Economic relief will be available to employees of these venues—the promoter, booker, stage manager, etc.—but not the musicians who perform there and make these other jobs possible.

I believe that musicians performing in these venues deserve a guarantee of fair wages and benefits, including access to SVOG relief funds. The pandemic has provided an opportunity to reset the fundamentals of this relationship. Under current labor law, venues are not required to sign contracts as the employers of musicians, but that doesn’t mean they cannot.

I have participated in Zoom meetings with an ad hoc group of musicians here in Washington, DC, both union and non-union, addressing the concerns related to this work. The conversation has started about what progress needs to be made on these issues. We can accomplish this if we work together and support each other. This is an opportunity to organize around these issues.

Now is the chance to position ourselves for the reopening that will inevitably occur. Once it becomes possible to safely congregate in public, audiences will flock to those spaces where they can once again enjoy live music—and they will do so in record numbers. Our performances will be an important part of the recovery story, and we deserve to share in that success.

Now is the opportunity to improve the standards for live music venue employment, which will value the work of musicians, compensate them fairly, and provide access to the benefits that have been so urgently needed.

Trumpeter Goes the Distance for Charity

Roy Wiegand’s career has crossed nearly four decades—and of late, many finish lines. For the last eight years, the Los Angeles-based trumpeter turned ultra-runner has taken on solo challenges in support of local and global charities.


A busy freelancer in the LA area, Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) member Roy Wiegand’s passion for running charity ulta-marathons can sometimes have him running from race to gig.

Wiegand of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) first collaborated with Lifewater International, a nonprofit organization that builds wells for remote villages in East Africa and Southeast Asia. In an ultra-marathon in 2013, in which he ran 250 miles over a week, he received a hero’s welcome after finishing at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. Stopping at a couple of elementary schools along the way, he says, “I had a bottle of brown water from a village in Ethiopia to show people. Those kids sold cookies and brownies for a month before the run to raise money for other kids in Ethiopia.” He raised $25,000 over four years. “The disease rate had dropped 93%. Now, they can actually wash their hands.” According to Wiegand, “Between digging and maintaining the well it costs $40, which provides a lifetime of clean water per person.”

In June, for the Michael Hoefflin Foundation—a local organization for families with children fighting cancer—Wiegand ran the equivalent of four marathons in 24 hours (approximately 105 miles). He’s raised $40,000 for the organization. Roy’s Run for Christopher, now in its fifth year, is named for the 12-year-old friend of his son who died of a rare cancer.

Though Wiegand started running late in life, in his 40s, he says being a brass player pays off. “I’ve got lung capacity—and can run long distances without getting tired,” adding that it’s his colleagues who are all heart. The LA music community and the union serve him well on the trail. “Many musicians donate financially or with their music, or coming out and bicycling beside me.” During the grueling 24-hour  runs, whether it’s encouragement on the sidelines, supplying water, or a place to sit down, Wiegand is grateful for the support of his Local 47 friends. “It’s definitely not a one-man show. When you’re running through the dead of night, it’s good to have company.” One year, he says, there was a brass quintet to usher him over the finish line.

A few years back, the night before the LA marathon, he had a gig that went overtime. “I dropped off my trumpet and tux at the finish, ran the marathon—and actually, did my best time—took a nap, put on my tux, and played the next gig.” Laughing he says, “It’s typical of a freelance player who’s always trying to shoehorn in work or running wherever they can.”

Live club dates are his mainstay, but in his spare time Wiegand is a private music instructor who also coaches a high school jazz band. “Sometimes, it’s hard for parents to wrap their heads around music or the performing arts as a major and a potential career. It’s a leap of faith,” he says.

It was not much of a stretch for Wiegand whose father, Roy Wiegand, Jr., of Local 47, is a trombonist who played around the country in Stan Kenton’s and Woody Herman’s orchestras. The family moved around a bit, with stops in New York City, Miami, New Orleans, and Las Vegas. Wiegand showed prodigious talent at age seven and was naturally drawn to brass. He says his dad’s only seeming objection to his career choice was, “The trumpet, not the trombone?”

Wiegand moved to Los Angeles after high school and attended Los Angeles City College. After a year, though, he started getting calls to go out on the road. “Being paid to play was too strong a lure,” he says. “Plus, years ago, there was a lot of work out there.” He’s a versatile session musician, who plays jazz, classical, klezmer, bebop, mariachi, Dixieland, even salsa. He is also principal trumpet for the Desert Symphony in Palm Springs, California.


(L to R) Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) members Angela Wiegand and Roy Wiegand, and their daughter Sophie, pose for a photo midway through his 105-mile run to benefit the Michael Hoefflin Foundation for children’s cancer.

In 1997, a unique opportunity came up. After a symphony performance, he heard that The Who needed brass players for a revival of their 1973 rock opera, Quadrophenia. “A guitarist whose wife was a bassoonist in an orchestra I played with got the call for brass players. She happened to be near the phone and said, ‘Give them Roy’s number.’” Wiegand says. That call led to a year-long tour that took him around the US and throughout Europe.

This past September, 20 years to the day, he played again with The Who at The Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. “It was a reunion of sorts,” says Wiegand, who was joined on stage by his wife, Angela Wiegand, a Local 47 member and flutist for the Los Angeles Opera. 

One of Wiegand’s regular gigs these days is performing with the band, Jack Mack and the Heart Attack, a longtime LA rock and soul band. In between concerts, he is planning his next charity initiative, collaborating with Shelter to Soldier, a nonprofit that adopts dogs from local shelters and trains them to become psychiatric service dogs for combat veterans dealing with PTSD and other challenges. Their mission is: “Saving lives, two at a time.”

How do you connect with your community? Is there a cause that you support? Tell us about it. Please write to International Musician managing editor at: cyurco@sfm.org

When It Comes to Freelancing, Know Your Worth


by Michael Manley, Director Organizing and Education Division


Everyone loves to get the call, text, email, or Facebook message offering them work—especially when gigs are scarce and times are lean. Employers know you love to make music, and the best employers value and fairly reward this. The worst, however, will exploit your passion for their own gain. Before you decide to take the job, ask yourself two questions: “What should this job pay?” and “What am I worth?” Then, follow the money.

In building a freelance career, sometimes the job you say “no” to can be just as crucial as the one that you say “yes” to. Of course, a union contract is the best guarantee that the job is paying appropriate wages and contains appropriate benefits. While it would be ideal if every musician only worked union jobs, currently that is not the reality. But it is not hard to spot those jobs that should be union and that is where musicians need to ask the right questions and say “no” when appropriate. Here are a few key points to look for and some factors to consider before taking a job.

What’s the gig? Separating for-profit from public service

We all know how it works: you get an offer, which includes the type of ensemble, genre, and repertoire, venue, and most importantly, what the pay and benefits are. Before deciding to accept or reject an offer, determine the context of the employment. Performing at a local church during the holiday season? With no tickets sold or meaningful profit being realized, this gig is really one of public service. You may or may not decide to take the work based on the pay offered, the people you are performing with, the repertoire, and the mission or cause being served by the concert.

But what if tickets are sold and the performance is in a large capacity venue? This is where you have to proceed with caution.

What is the job paying, and what should it pay?

How do you find out what a job should pay? Consult your AFM local’s website for scales, or give the local a call, if the scales are not published online. Union local scales may vary according to the type of engagement, type of music, and size of the venue. Remember:  local scales are minimums, not maximums—they should easily fit into the budgets of truly professional for-profit events and concert producers.

What is the size of the venue, and what are the ticket prices?

If the venue is more than 1,000 seats and tickets are being sold at top prices, a union contract should be a given and the absence of one is a huge red flag. If there is no union protection and the wages being offered for the job are lower than union scale, why?

Who is the artist/act?

If you are being asked to play for a band, artist, or act that is a “household name,” you should never work without a union contract. The act/artist can afford union rates. If the job is being offered as nonunion and at substandard wages, it means the money the artist is paying for back-up musicians is not trickling down to you. Where is it going?

Who are you working for?
Follow the money

Who called you for the job? Is it a trusted high-profile union contractor who has booked similar jobs in the past? If not, why? A common trend now: peers who act as contractors for a job, with these musicians being offered a bump in pay to make job offers to their colleagues. They act as proxy employers—but they are not really employers. Will you receive a 1099 for the work, or will you receive a W-2? Or worse, is someone going to try and pay you with PayPal or Venmo? And who is your peer working for? This is the hallmark of a sketchy gig—one where you have no protections or recourse if there are problems. And why is a section violin player being asked to contract your work anyway? Consider what would happen if you were underpaid or never got paid. Who would you go after for the money?

Remember, if you do not have the protections of a union agreement, then you do not have any protections at all.

What about the extras?

Are you being asked to drive more than an hour to do the job? If so, mileage should be paid or professional chartered transportation should be provided. If there is a soundcheck in the late afternoon and an evening concert, you should be provided a hot meal or appropriate meal per diem between calls. The absence of both of these is a red flag. In a major venue, it is likely that union stagehands, carpenters, and electricians are working for fair union wages and benefits. If the crew member plugging in the amp is receiving a union wage, why not you?

No one is impressed by
underpaid work

It’s great to play in a large venue with “stars.” We all love to post backstage photos with artists when we get to share the stage with them. But the people who matter to your career—the top-tier players and contractors—will know when a job is undermining the basic standards and conditions that they have worked hard to achieve and maintain in their own careers. They are not impressed when you work for substandard wages. And working for substandard wages does not lead to working for appropriate wages, nor does it lead to working with the influential first-call musicians with whom you hope to share the stage as your career develops.

The bottom line

We all love to make music, and saying “no” can be hard. Emerging professionals sometimes take nonunion work because it is all they feel they can get. But a truly nonprofit, nonunion church or community theater gig is a far cry from playing with a well-known artist in a huge arena. There is some work that absolutely should be “union”—make sure you know what it is. If you are being offered substandard wages and conditions, with no union protections, don’t be afraid to say “no,” warn your colleagues, and alert your union local. You and your career will be better for it in the long run.

What can you do about sketchy gigs? Organize them! Call the AFM Organizing and Education Division at (917)229-0267 or email Director Michael Manley at mmanley@afm.org. 

Grand Ole Opry Musicians Covered Under New AFM Contract

Musicians performing at the Grand Ole Opry voted to approve a new four-year contract that includes progressive wage increases in each of its years. Musicians also won higher health and welfare payments and increased pension contributions. Aside from the house band, the new contract also covers the eight or more guest musicians who perform at each of the Opry shows. Hundreds of freelance musicians will benefit as well.

“The ‘show that made country music famous’ started as a humble radio broadcast almost a century ago, but is now viewed and listened to by millions on traditional radio, satellite radio, and the web,” says AFM President Ray Hair. “That’s why musicians fought for and won new satellite radio payments and a percent of the Opry’s receipts for streamed content.”