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Home » Officer Columns » Executive Board Members » The Power of Music Versus the Power of Musicians

The Power of Music Versus the Power of Musicians

  -  International Executive Board Member and President of Local 105 (Spokane, WA)

Have you heard conversations about “third-partying” the union? The concept separates the union from its members as another entity, a third party. It is a deliberate narrative that undermines our collective power. The power of the union is in our numbers, musicians banding together using consensus to work toward common goals. Hopefully, you understand that we, together, are the union.

We’ve all heard about the power of music, the joy of music, but it “third parties” musicians by leaving out the fact that music is made, crafted, composed, performed, and recorded—all of which is work. Work is not a bad word. Many professional people enjoy their work and, in most cases, there is an expectation of being compensated appropriately for work. Yet often, musicians are asked to share their talent and the joy of their music making without compensation. Even among other working people, including other union workers, there seems to be a disconnect in acknowledging that musicians are also workers who should be appropriately compensated.

Some musicians are hesitant to view themselves as workers. That, in turn, feeds into the narrative, undermining the fact that musicians are workers who deserve compensation. Many of us feel fortunate to be able to make music, not everyone can. Sure, there are folks that learn just enough to accompany sing-alongs at family gatherings. But, making music that others want to listen to, performing it live, or making recordings takes skills developed through dedication, determination, and effort. In other words, it takes work. We need to do a better job of making that connection for those who don’t understand, or choose not to understand, that musicians deserve fair compensation.

One tool used effectively in the labor movement is story telling. It’s not “once upon a time there was a musician.” It is: “I’m a musician and this is what being a musician entails.” To be most impactful, stories should be honest. In my opinion, we should avoid the cliches often used in press releases. For example, “the violinist shares their passion …” or anything else that sounds like it came out of a dime store romance novel. I personally detest musician publicity that makes me think of sad puppy commercials. Stay real.

If you’re interested in telling your story, I suggest putting together a group through your local union who are willing to talk about what it’s like to be musicians. Practice among your group, so you become comfortable telling your stories to an audience. When you’re ready, one of the first places you should go is to your central labor council. Let them know about the project and arrange to have a musician storyteller attend a council meeting. From there, you can go out to other affiliates. Labor is our natural ally and our best first target for educating others about who we are and what we do. There are a lot of misconceptions that separate us from other workers—some are deliberate. These misconceptions get in the way of realizing our power.

Thank you for your work. Happy New Year!

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