Tag Archives: music

paul williams

Paul Williams: The Man with the Rainbow Connection

paul williamsToday, singer, songwriter, and composer Paul Williams is a different man than he was at the height of his music career. Now President of ASCAP, Williams says that his two biggest passions are recovery and artists’ rights.

“March 15 I celebrated 26 years of continuous sobriety—the greatest gift I’ve ever been given,” he says. “At 49, I had misplaced a decade due to alcohol and cocaine addiction. I was a mess and I was dying. I asked for help and people came out of the woodwork—a choir of grateful hearts—recovering alcoholics and addicts. I began to connect with the world around me.”

Musician Buddy Arnald, founder of the Musicians Assistance Program (MAP), suggested the newly sober Williams spend a year in UCLA’s drug and alcohol counseling program. Afterward, Williams became a volunteer counselor at MAP’s offices that were located in AFM Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA), where Williams has been a member for 44 years.

“I felt really useful for the first time in years,” he says. “And isn’t it interesting that it was at Local 47 in Los Angeles that I found that feeling? Eventually, I fell in love with songwriting again. However, I think it’s remarkable that my career in music—the life and love of music that I had misplaced—I found again partly through the musicians union’s generosity.”

Q: How did the process of recovery change the way you thought about your career? How did it change you as a human being?

I became grateful. I began to see life as a gift. I began to feel connected to the world around me in ways I’d never really experienced before. Alcoholism is an isolating disease. We recover into a life of love and service. Those are important words to a recovering alcoholic. We get to keep the miracle by giving it away.

Writing became easier. I began to trust that the words and the music would come. I see the real magic in the process and I know the songs are a gift to me that I get to share. I think we have unseen allies. The muse has been very generous to me.

Q: What are some of the ways organizations like ASCAP or the AFM can help with the problem of musician substance abuse?

Organizations like ASCAP and AFM provide a community of peers. The ASCAP membership is strong. This community is a source of mentorship and learning, and one that I’m thankful for and proud to be part of. One of the things we provide at our EXPO every year is a safe harbor room for any attendee who needs the support.

Q: Why did you want to become president of ASCAP? Was there something you thought the organization should or could do differently when you took the helm?

I’ve been an ASCAP member since 1972. My friend Hal David—the great lyricist and former president of ASCAP—suggested that I run for the board in 2001. I was pretty uninformed for someone who made their living in music and counted on performance royalties to feed his family. The more I learned, the more impressed I became. I’ve come to love this remarkable organization.

Since its founding, ASCAP has been on the front lines fighting for the rights of its members. We are still the only PRO owned and run by creator members, and we’re proud to operate as a not-for-profit.

When I took over as president in 2009, I saw an opportunity to expand our message to include the first-person stories of our members. The songs and scores don’t write themselves. I wanted to put a face to the work. The antiquated music licensing system is having a severely negative impact on their ability to earn a fair wage for their craft. Everything starts with a song, and it’s important we tell this story to legislators and those in Washington, DC, who write the laws.

Q: Can you explain for AFM members how ASCAP and the AFM support each other’s missions? Why should performing songwriters belong to both?

The songs would be lifeless without the musicians’ art and craft. You bring our songs to life. Thank you. We really appreciate it. When music is performed there is a blanket licensing process that serves the music creator, the licensee, and the music lover. I was free to write a second song because ASCAP was collecting for my first.

AFM is dedicated to the interests of musicians, just as ASCAP is dedicated to the interests of publishers and songwriters. We both work to negotiate fair payments, protect the use of our members’ work, and advocate for policies that ensure a prosperous future for American music. Joining both organizations allows performing songwriters to enjoy the benefits of two of America’s most trusted advocates for music creators.

Q: Many AFM members have lost work in small venues due to the proprietors’ reluctance to pay SESAC, BMI, and ASCAP fees. Has ASCAP explored the idea of exempting or reducing fees for venues with small capacities?

We understand how essential music is to local businesses—it helps attract customers and drive revenue. But it’s also important that songwriters be compensated when their music is performed. In today’s marketplace, we depend on public performance royalties more than ever before to earn a living. ASCAP recently re-examined our fees, particularly for small venues, to ensure fairness and transparency across the system. The average cost of an ASCAP license for bars and restaurants amounts to a little over $2 a day. So for the equivalent of the cost of a cup of coffee, businesses can legally perform any of the millions of copyrighted works in the ASCAP repertory. Also, food service or drinking establishments under 3,750 gross square feet are exempt from licensing for radio or TV music uses.

paul-williams-speakingQ: As a leader in the music business, do you have any advice for young musicians?

As music creators, we understand it’s a personal decision to join any professional organization. That’s why we’re honored when songwriters and publishers decide to join ASCAP, and we work tirelessly to support them, their music, and their rights.

My advice to young musicians would be to educate themselves about their rights and join an organization that has proven itself to be on the side of music creators; whether that’s AFM, ASCAP, or any other organization that is out there fighting to protect the future of this profession.

Q: I remember talking to one songwriter about how, when a song he wrote for a well-known country singer went viral on YouTube, he received only pennies. How can performers’ rights organizations better adapt to this new dynamic?

The framework of federal laws that governs how ASCAP and BMI operate was largely put in place in the 1940s. It’s a system that was created for a very different time and a very different marketplace. Today, a lot of digital music companies are exploiting these outdated music licensing laws in order to pay songwriters less than what their music is truly worth—or less than it would be in a truly free and fair marketplace.

The remedy, of course, is modernizing the ASCAP and BMI consent decrees to better reflect the way people listen to music today. ASCAP’s consent decree, for example, hasn’t been updated since before the iPod hit stores.

When I started out, it was possible to earn a decent living as a songwriter. Now, it’s a much riskier time. In today’s highly competitive music marketplace, it’s downright absurd that American songwriters—small business owners, in the truest sense—are more heavily regulated by the federal government than the giant corporations that use and profit from the music we create. This needs to change so that we can keep America’s music industry alive and thriving.

That’s why ASCAP is fighting for updates to our federal music licensing laws.

Q: Do you think we are losing diversity in songwriting due to the fact that fewer songwriters can earn a fair living?

The irony is, music is used more today than ever, yet our music licensing system rewards the billion-dollar streaming companies at the expense of the actual creators. I do think it’s having a negative effect on those who are thinking about joining this profession.

From a practical standpoint, it’s very risky to enter the music business as a songwriter today simply because there is so much standing in the way of being able to earn a fair wage. It still takes more than one million streams on Pandora for a songwriter to earn $100! Even when your song is a hit, it’s still a very risky business.

And that’s a shame, because if the profession can’t attract talent, it affects everyone downstream—record labels, recording artists, streaming companies, and music lovers alike.

paul-williams-standingQ: How has your thinking about digital music changed as the industry has evolved?

The advent of digital music has brought with it some great changes to the way people consume music—people are able to discover new artists with ease and carry their music with them everywhere they go. Personally, I think that’s a wonderful thing.

But as music users move from physical downloads to streaming, the royalties don’t cover the gap in what songwriters used to make. In 2015, ASCAP processed about 570 billion performances of our members’ music, a 14% increase from 2014, and more than double the number of performances tracked in 2013. But revenues and distributions have remained relatively flat in comparison. That’s because the majority of the growth is happening on streaming platforms, which pay songwriters far less. And that’s why we continue to push for reform. We need our licensing laws to reflect today’s technologies.

Q: Looking back on your career, knowing what you know now about life and the
music industry, what would you tell a younger version of yourself?

Be authentic. Tell us your story. Let us know who you are. When you dare to share something from the center of your chest—your most private thoughts about loneliness or love—you may be happily surprised by the number of people who identify with your emotions and find comfort in knowing they’re not alone.

I get very Jiminy Cricket about our work. But I’m a realist too. Having witnessed this incredible technological revolution in music, I could have never predicted that there would be such great inequities for the lifeblood of the industry—the music creators themselves.

If I were just starting out today, I’d tell myself the usual—find what inspires you, hone your craft. But just as important, I’d tell myself to get up to speed on copyright law; join the movement to modernize our music licensing system because these laws won’t correct themselves. We, as music creators, must fight for change.

Q: What song are you most proud of? Which song has the most personal meaning to you?

One of the high points of my career was working with Jim Henson. Kenny Ascher and I wrote the songs for The Muppet Movie. “The Rainbow Connection” has had a life beyond our wildest expectations. It’s really a song about the power of belief.

Who said that every wish would be heard and answered if wished on the morning star? Somebody thought of that … And someone believed it. Look what it’s done so far.

Q: What projects are you currently
working on?

I’m working on a musical with Gustavo Santaolalla. We’re writing the songs for a theatrical adaptation of Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth. He’s writing the music and then I am providing the lyrics. Incidentally, he’s brilliant. I’m so excited about this work.

The GP-400BK Casio Celviano Grand Hybrid

The GP-400BK Casio Celviano Grand Hybrid

Casio-Digital-PianoThe GP-400BK Casio Celviano Grand Hybrid delivers new advances in tone and feel. For realistic playing comfort, its keys are made of wood, using the same materials and process as C. Bechstein grand pianos. Tones were also jointly developed with maker C. Bechstein. GP-400BK features three grand piano sounds that faithfully represent a grand piano from above and below the soundboard. Other design innovations include a curved rear panel and thicker side panels and legs, plus the height from the keyboard to the music stand matches that of a conventional grand piano. It’s black woodgrain finish provides an elegant look.


The Ocean Way Audio HR4

The Ocean Way Audio HR4

Ocean-Way-HR4CThe Ocean Way Audio HR4 is an accurate, wide-dynamic range monitor speaker. Its console top, 25.5-inch-wide design features integrated two-way dual-horn directivity control, delivering a stunning 100 x 40-degree dispersion pattern over a wide audio range. Its massive horizontal “sweet-spot” delivers a consistent stereo image, even to the far corners of a room. For those who wish to achieve higher SPL, there’s a three-way version with dual 12-inch sub-bass cabinets with entitled HR4S delivering 25 Hz to 25 kHz at 118 db.


juno awards

AFM Canada Musicians Take Home JUNO Awards

by Canadian Electronic Media Contract Administrator Daniel Calabrese and International Representative for Canada Allistair Elliot

juno awards

AFM Electronic Media Contract Administrator Daniel Calabrese (left) with Local 247 (Victoria, BC) member Alex Cuba.

The 2016 JUNO Awards were held in Calgary, Alberta, Sunday, April 3. Leading up to the televised event, the city hosted JUNOfest, which included more than 150 performances in 15 different venues. In true Canadian fashion, there was a hockey game, appropriately named: JUNO Cup, featuring ex-NHLers against musicians. Canadian Office International Representative Allistair Elliott and Contract Administrator Daniel Calabrese represented the AFM/CFM at JUNO Week.

One thing that struck a chord was the diversity that defines Canada’s culture. The JUNO Awards were created to honour and promote Canadian Artists.

We attended a broad range of performances, from Local 180 (Ottawa, ON) members the Cancer Bats, to Local 247 (Victoria, BC) member Alex Cuba. The majority of the venues reached capacity, as they packed with fans in love with Canadian music of all genres. From performances of emerging artists to inducting legends like Local 190 (Winnipeg, MB) member Burton Cummings into Canada’s Music Hall of Fame, it was refreshing to see a vast number of AFM/CFM members taking part in JUNO Week. We were proud to celebrate the many members who took home a JUNO this year (a list of AFM/CFM JUNO Award winners with signatory recordings follows).

The live, televised award show, from Calgary’s Saddledome, was co-hosted by Local 547 (Calgary, AB) member, Jann Arden, and included performances by Local 149 (Toronto, ON) members Robi Botos and Allison Au, together with 80-year-old, first-time nominee Al Muirhead (of Local 547). He was supported by Tommy Banks of Local 390 (Edmonton, AB), Kodi Hutchinson (Local 547), and Mark Kelso (Local 149). They performed a memorable all-star jam at the awards gala the previous evening.

Muirhead passionately felt the support of the whole community, performing alongside his friend and musical partner Tommy Banks (Local 390) from the nominated album It’s About Time. Between these two gentlemen, there is more than 120 years of musical history, plus 60 years of friendship. After being a sideman for countless projects, Muirhead’s nomination for [Solo] Jazz Album of the Year, was very well deserved. His supporting cast is pictured above.

Calgary set the bar high during this year’s JUNOFest. Next year the nation’s capital, Ottawa, will be the host city. JUNO Week 2017 will be one of the major events in the city as it celebrates Canada’s 150th anniversary with a yearlong series of special events, exhibits, and immersive experiences.

juno awards

Photo: (L to R): Chris Andrew of Local 390 (Edmonton, AB); Kodi Hutchinson of Local 547 (Calgary, AB); Jens Lindemann and PJ Perry of Local 390; Al Muirhead of Local 547; Tommy Banks of Local 390; Tyler Hornby of Local 547; and AFM Canadian International Representative Allistair Elliott.

AFM Member JUNO Award Winners whose albums were signatory to AFM Contracts include:

Classical Album of the Year Large Ensemble or Soloist with Large Ensemble Accompaniment: Symphony and New Works for Organ and Orchestra, Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, members of Local 406 (Montreal, PQ)
Breakthrough Group of the Year: Dear Rouge, members of Local 145
Producer of the Year: Bob Ezrin of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA)

Artisan Goodtime banjos

Artisan Goodtime banjos

In celebration of 20 years of Goodtime banjo success, Deering Banjo Company has launched the Artisan Goodtime banjos. These banjos, priced from $729, offer stunning aesthetics normally reserved for higher price banjos. A rich dark brown hard maple neck features elegant, eye-catching artisan inlays, while the peghead is adorned with a beautiful carved scroll design that allows the maple color to shine through. A three-ply grade maple rim enhances the Artisan banjos’ full, rich, sparkling tone. The Artisan Goodtime banjos come in all standard styles—four-string plectrum, 19-fret five-string parlor banjos, and 22-fret five-string banjos. All are available both with and without resonators and tone rings.


Harman’s Whammy Ricochet

Tonebone Bumper

Harman’s Whammy RicochetDesigned specifically for anyone who has to quickly change instruments on stage, the Tonebone Bumper by Radial Engineering, Ltd., is a compact instrument selector that lets you connect up to four instruments to a single amp and easily toggle between them using a footswitch. Bright LEDs let you know which input is ready for use. Bumper fits easily on any pedal board and automatically configures to the number of instruments connected. Its Drag control load correction can be tailored to compensate for the buffer and replicate the tone and feel, as if connected directly to the amp. Trim control allows sensitivity adjustment for quick changeovers.


Avoiding Border Woes

Avoiding Border Woes

Q: I have often travelled with my community band into the US to play concerts and thought this was a good thing. Imagine my surprise when the band was stopped at the border last month and denied entry into the US because we did not have a P-1 visa. We’ve never been asked for one before—is this something new?

Border woes such as the one described above are all too common and could easily be avoided. The short answer is that, of course, this is nothing new: the temporary work visa requirement for foreign artists entering the US to perform, whether for pay or free, has long been on the books. The enforcement of the regulation was stepped up several years ago, and a temporary work visa is almost always required. However, entry into the US is still solely at the determination of the US Customs and Border Protection Officer at each border crossing, and it is not entirely surprising that this band was allowed in several times over the years and then suddenly challenged with the visa requirement. It all depends on who you get at the border.

So, how does one avoid border woes? Simply put: do your homework well in advance.

1) Get the right temporary work visa. For performing groups I highly recommend the P-2 visa available through the AFM. The musicians’ union has capable, experienced staff members who will assist with the process, and the reciprocal exchange program under which the P-2 visa is administered, provides a streamlined procedure for Federation members.

2) Make sure that all documents are in order: Passports should extend beyond performance dates (some passports may be required to be valid for six months beyond that date).

3) Make sure that all group members qualify for entry. Seventy-five percent of your band members must have been with the group for at least one year.

4) Deal with any issues of criminality for anyone in the group. Any conviction, however minor, can cause problems at the border. There are ways of dealing with this issue well in advance (Look into Waivers of Ineligibility and Criminal Rehabilitation documentation).

5) Deal with the problem of getting merchandise across the border in advance. Send merchandise in via courier or mail, if you can. If you are carrying merchandise make sure it is properly manufactured, or properly labelled (for example, promotional copies). Have the invoice of manufacture with you. For a large quantity of merchandise, you may want to use a customs broker.

6) Look into customs regulations about carrying instruments containing endangered species across the border. There’s no point in trying to cross a border to perform when there’s a danger that your instrument might be confiscated because it contains something from an endangered species. Check out the Musical Instrument Passport program http://www.fws.gov/international/permits/by-activity/musical-instruments.html.

7) Deal with the problem of transporting instruments, especially if you are flying: Make sure you know the regulations adopted by different airlines for transporting instruments.

8) Work out a strategy for dealing with the border crossing. Rehearse straightforward answers to the typical questions you might be asked by a US Customs and Border Protection official. Coach everyone to be honest and forthright. Answer questions succinctly and do not volunteer additional information.

With a little more knowledge about the regulations for performing in another country and a lot more common sense, border crossing woes can be avoided.

—I welcome your questions and concerns. Please send an email to: robert@bairdartists.com.

Get Their Attention

First, You Have to Get Their Attention

Years ago, if an indie musician wanted to try to book a club or concert venue, they probably started by calling whoever the decision maker was—the club owner, theater manager, etc.—and tried to get them to hear them play. Today it’s a little different. It’s more than a phone call or a press kit with a CD.

I wanted to find out what gets the attention of someone who books a lot of singles and music groups today. I started with Suzanne Morgan, manager of the Orange Blossom Opry in Wiersdale, Florida. She books many local and national groups and singles. Just this past week she had Ricky Skaggs of Local 257 (Nashville, TN), several local groups, a semi-known comic, and then on Sunday night the ’50s vocal group The Drifters. The previous week included The Gatlin Brothers of Local 257.

The place was packed every night. It’s a theater/concert venue and its promoted well. Wiersdale is not a major metro market. (The nearest town is Oklahawa, and I’m sure you haven’t heard of that either.) Morgan is a seasoned vocalist/performer herself. She knows what draws and what doesn’t. She says she is contacted by dozens, if not hundreds, of people who want her to be booked at the Orange Blossom Opry.

I asked her how she likes musicians to contact her. She says, “I like people who know enough to call the box office, get my e-mail address and cell phone number, and then send me an e-mail with a YouTube link so I can see and hear them.” Morgan says she responds to texts, and returns all calls left on her voice mail. The YouTube video weeds out a lot of people.

Just calling her and asking her to book you without knowing who you are, what you do, or what you sound like, doesn’t usually work. She uses a booking agency, but she books musicians on her own as well. Mogan likes talking to musicians and entertainers who already know her venue. She likes oldies, classic country groups, and tribute performers. She appreciates people who figure out what’s going to appeal to her audience. If you do a good job you will be a repeat performer, but first you have to get her attention. Mogan is a good person to know.

Next, I talked with Tom Greenwood who owns the Greenwood Winery in East Syracuse, New York. He books a lot of local musicians for his bar/bistro at the winery. He said he started with Joe Whiting of Local 78 (Syracuse, NY) and built from there. He says that AFM musicians are usually professionals he can count on.

Greenwood says he likes to develop local talent and always responds to musicians calling the winery to find out who to contact and what they’re looking for. He’s got something going on every week.

If you fit the bill, the next thing he wants to find out about is your social media presence. How big is your following? Are you going to help get the word out that you’re performing at his venue? He doesn’t want “pay-to-play” musicians and he doesn’t want musicians who play for the door. He wants professionals who fit nicely into his bistro scene. Greenwood says you can email him a video and then leave him a voice mail. A little persistence helps. His manager also plays a part in who gets booked.

All in all, it takes a lot of things to keep your calendar full. It’s more than being a good indie musician. Today, you need to have some social media presence smarts, networking expertise, correct contact info, and be willing to put a little energy into finding work. But first, you need to get the attention of the person who might hire you. In today’s market, when your video clip is seen, your texts acknowledged, and emails read, you have a better shot of getting a positive response.

2016 Actions and Issues that Count

2016 Actions and Issues that Count

The future of our union depends on creating a platform that supports a legislative-political movement that gives voice to every member. Over the years, AFM members have stepped up in their locals responding to calls for activism, participating in federal, state, and local political and legislative campaigns sponsored by the union and AFL-CIO state federations and labor councils. Proactive grass-roots efforts like these have allowed the AFM to be recognized by our brothers and sisters in labor who work daily to move the union’s agenda.

I am pleased to announce that the AFM is now building a national movement that will serve as the foundation for our political and legislative efforts. We invite you to join.

Our February 8 initial national call comprised AFM Signature TEMPO Program leadership members. We created a working committee that will focus on two important things. First, it will create a national rapid reaction force that responds to legislative “calls to action,” including, but not limited to, letter writing and calls. This force will also organize/bring new members into the movement who have a similar desire to be effective advocates on federal, and in some cases, state legislative actions.

Secondly, this group of highly motivated members will help plan a national legislative-political conference and day of action in Washington, DC. We are seeking the IEB’s approval to have a “fly-in” event in our nation’s Capital once a year to lobby members of Congress and participate in helpful workshops and other activities designed to build grass-roots action back home. It is anticipated that the Legislative-Political conference will be open to local officers, as well as rank-and-file members who, working through their locals, would like to come to Washington, DC, to lobby Capitol Hill.

Such a network is critically important. Having a year-round dedicated group of activists committed to this kind of action keeps the union from having to “drum up” activists to help move our agenda every time a new issue requires grass-roots action. Use of social media and other technical media platforms will allow AFM members to participate in legislative-political activities at home in real time.

If you would like to join the process and participate in monthly calls, join the AFM TEMPO Signature Program to be placed on our active rolls. AFM members can find access to the TEMPO Signature Program at the AFM.org home page, under Announcements.

What key issues will we need help with in 2016?

Immigration: Expediting O and P-2 visas are a critical component of our legislative work. Recently, AFM President Ray Hair praised the introduction of the Arts Require Timely Service (ARTS) Act (S.2510), a bill that would streamline the visa process for musicians and other artists traveling to the US. The ARTS Act would instruct the USCIS to process arts-related O and P visas in 14 days. Further, it would reduce waiting times by requiring USCIS to treat any nonprofit arts-related O and P visa petitions that it fails to adjudicate within 14 days as a premium processing case (15-day turn around), free of additional charge. We will need help from AFM members writing letters and calling their Senators and urging them to sign on as co-sponsors and vote for the legislation when it comes before the Senate.

H.R. 1733, the Fair Play Fair Pay Act

Introduced in 2015 by Representatives Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN),  The Fair Play Fair Pay Act, as outlined on Nadler’s web page would:

  • Create a terrestrial performance right so that AM/FM radio competes on equal footing with its Internet and satellite competitors who already pay performance royalties. This would resolve the decades-old struggle for performance rights and ensure that—for the first time—music creators would have the right to fair pay when their performances are broadcast on AM/FM radio.
  • Bring true platform parity to all forms of radio, regardless of the technology.
  • Pay fair market value for music performances. This levels the playing field and ends the unfair and illogical distortions caused by the different royalty standards that exist today.
  • Ensure terrestrial royalties are affordable, capping royalties for stations with less than $1 million in annual revenue at $500 per year (and at $100 a year for noncommercial stations), while protecting religious and incidental uses of music from having to pay any royalties at all.
  • Make a clear statement that pre-1972 recordings have value and those who are profiting from them must pay appropriate royalties for their use, while we closely monitor the litigation developments on this issue.
  • Protect songwriters and publishers by clearly stating that nothing in this bill can be used to lower songwriting royalties.
  • Codify industry practices, streamlining the allocation of royalty payments to music producers.
  • Ensure artists receive their fair share from direct licensing of all performances eligible for the statutory license.

AFM members are asked to write, email, or call their representatives and express support for fair treatment of musicians whose sound recordings are played on AM/FM radio.

Recent Actions

On February 2, President Obama released his FY 2017 budget. Contained within this federal spending guide are a number of items that support the arts in the US. Bearing in mind that this is the President’s wish list; the budget will undergo scrutiny in the House and Senate, which hopefully will lead to a compromise that keeps strong arts-related funding in place. Of note, the president has proposed an increase in funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), from the current $148 million to $150 million.

The budget also includes a $500 million block grant to states and school districts to be used to help fund arts initiatives in the schools, as outlined in the new Every Student Succeeds Act that now recognizes music as a part of the core curriculum. In addition, the budget includes funding in the NEA’s budget for the Military Healing Arts Partnership to help wounded, ill, and injured service members and their families in their recovery and/or transition to civilian life. (You can learn more about this program at: https://www.arts.gov/partnerships/nea-military-healing-arts.) Building a national movement and platform for legislative-political action will help us move this agenda that is critical to the life of our union. We invite you all to join us as we plan our future.

The Music Business—Machine or Eco-System?

My friend, Local 149 (Toronto, ON). Senior Business Rep Dan Broome has bad days and good days—in other words, he ranges from highly intelligent to genius. One of his theories is that music is an eco-system, which upon reflection, is accurate.

Theorizing that musicians and their product are the “roots” of the system, we can easily visualize what comprises the various branches and leaves. For instance, musicians require instruments. One branch would represent the manufacturers, the leaves are their employees, the transportation and distribution network, the music stores and sales team, related accessories, and repairs. That branch alone represents literally thousands of industry people.

Consider the recording studio branch. Aside from engineers, techs, and office staff, we have the folks that master the recording, manufacturers of recording gear, microphones, cabling, tape/memory, amps and all related products, distribution, and human resources. Again, this represents literally thousands of people that rely on musicians.

The broadcast industry is another huge branch. Hundreds of radio stations, web, and streaming sites, the DJs (both on-air and in private business), and the thousands of folks working in media depend on the musicians’ product. Advertisers and the products that depend on wide exposure are an extension of this industry.

The live music scene is a support mechanism for a myriad of offshoot businesses, from the companies that produce liquor and beer, tables, chairs, and other ancillary products to the bartenders, waitresses, cleaning staff, and taxis that rely on wobbly patrons looking for a safe lift home.

It’s easy now to extrapolate and project the billions of dollars generated annually in Canada by music and various tertiary industries that rely upon it. Why then is the average income of a musician in this country barely $15K? We need to examine what’s broken with the system.

The “fruit” growing from the branches represents the tremendous amount of money generated. The “farmers” are the recording labels, venue owners, streaming companies, festival promoters, etc. As in any interdependent society, some of the fruit should be left to feed the roots and reseed the industry, in other words, to share the profits with the source—the musicians. Failure to reinvest in any business leads inevitably to failure.

Unfortunately, the employers we deal with have a far different view of the music industry. I have often visualized an inept government, or charity, where billions of dollars are fed into one end of a giant machine, and out of a pipe at the other end drops a nickel for the public—or in this case, the musician. The employers, and their insatiable desire for ever-increasing profit margins, clearly operate similar to this machine model. Without a fair share of the profits going to the “roots,” the eco-system must inevitably die. Musicians seek other types of work to subsist, which then deteriorates their skills and the resulting product. Or, they make a career decision not to enter the industry at all, which also leads to system collapse.

Also unfortunate is the fact that more musicians will come along who are willing to work longer hours, for less money or free, further perpetuating the greedy ways of the employers. The obvious answer is collective action. When you record or perform live, always make sure you are paid what you are worth and never below scale or without a contract. That’s the only way to force employers to abandon the “machine” model and embrace their responsibility to help sustain music’s eco-system.

Liberal Government Repeals Bills

Unions throughout Canada are pleased that the federal government has tabled legislation to repeal controversial bills C-377 and C-525. These bills were designed to weaken unions by forcing redundant and unreasonable financial reporting, and by making it more difficult for Canadians in federally-regulated workplaces to join a union.

These bills were nothing more than an attempt to undermine unions’ ability to do important work like protecting jobs, promoting health and safety in the workplace, and advocating on behalf of all Canadian workers.

Bill C-377 was pushed through Parliament by the last government in June 2015, despite loud opposition from many different groups, including the NHL Players Association, Conservative and Liberal senators, constitutional experts, Canada’s privacy commissioner, the Canadian Bar Association, and the insurance and mutual fund industry. Minister Mihychuk should be commended for her leadership in repealing this legislation and restoring a balanced labour relations framework for federal workers.