While talks have continued with the executive director of the Western Canadian Music Awards, which presents the BreakOut West (BOW) festival, there is still no appetite on their part to enter into an agreement for the services of musicians. While the CFM has pitched a three-year deal to cover minimum basic fees, pension, and distribution of recorded performances, BOW is refusing to bargain even one year.
The festival is employing a classic “divide and conquer” maneuver. Artists who they consider headliners and therefore essential to the visibility of the festival, are paid handsomely. But the vast majority of the musicians showcasing—in excess of 250—will receive no compensation. Additionally, they are presented with a contract that states they can be recorded and BOW will be held harmless from any payment for the use of any such recordings, in perpetuity.
Since the festival continues to be listed on the AFM International Unfair List. Musicians must not provide services for BreakOut West.
Let me repeat that: Do not perform at BOW!
As unsavoury as this is for everyone, there is much more at risk than what some musicians may consider valuable “exposure.” There are many important festivals in Canada, and failing to get an agreement with one, risks similar consequences elsewhere. All employers everywhere must be held to the same standards: if you engage musicians, they must be properly compensated and treated as professionals.
As AFM President Hair has stated many times, “An injury to one is an injury to all. Together, we are stronger.”
Another important factor in this scenario is the venues. While BreakOut West is not providing compensation, neither are the clubs that are being used for the performances. They can expect a packed house, high liquor sales, and no-cost entertainment. Free music. Anyone who performs under these circumstances is merely contributing to the “pay to play” problem.
Our issues with BOW are not so different from dark recordings that went on years ago, when there were several important recording studios in Toronto. The business representative at the time, Murray Ginsberg, would often visit studios to ensure that the employer on the gig was signatory to the Sound Recording Labour Agreement.
The players would, of course, be annoyed by a visit from Murray “the Mountie” and the disruption but, in the end, extremely grateful when they were paid appropriate session fees. In addition, there was the increase in the monthly pension payout upon retirement, and also the cheque from the Special Payments Fund, which arrived each year for five years after any such sessions. Not only that, but recordings that were properly documented on B4 Report Forms were subject to new use payments, for subsequent release in other medium or when otherwise repurposed. The promise of “50 bucks cash” could turn into tens of thousands, when it was done properly.
By not obligating the employer to sign a contract for appropriate fees and pension, you are letting them off the hook, cheating yourself, and making it that much harder the next time. By giving BOW your services for free, and not having a contract in place to protect any recording that ensues, you are doing yourself a huge injustice. It also sends the message that your product has no value. The minimum you perform for becomes the maximum employers are willing to pay.
The time for solidarity is now!