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Vice President from Canada

awillaert

Alan Willaert – AFM Vice President from Canada

    Who Says This Stuff?

    There is no doubt that the Canadian Federation of Musicians (CFM) has been predominantly concerned of late in seeking new employers to bargain agreements with, and specifically those involved in media. Recording—on camera and off—presents an assortment of revenue streams for members in the areas of capture, reuse, new use, supplemental markets and new media, or streaming. This is important work and extremely valuable to the musicians employed in those areas.

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    CFM Negotiates with the Media Giants

    The General Production Agreement negotiated between the CFM and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has been ratified with an overwhelming majority. As a response to requests by the members, modifications were made to once again identify underscore and theme music that would require reuse payments outside of the one-year window. Fees increased by nearly 5% and the revenue sharing aspect of Distributor’s Gross now includes licensing as well as sales.

    And of equal importance, ratification indicates that we now have an up-to-date template to use as we prepare to negotiate a similar deal with Rogers Communications, Bell Media, and Corus Entertainment. During conversations with all three to determine dates to begin bargaining, it became apparent that there is an appetite among the three media giants to bargain simultaneously. To that end, the tentative timeline is sometime in February 2018.

    Commercial Announcements Agreement

    In the mix as well is the Commercial Announcements Agreement, as the Association of Canadian Advertisers (ACA) and the Institute of Communications Agencies (ICA) have returned to the table after a yearlong hiatus. Significant amendments are being considered with this contract since online advertising, once considered a small part of the industry, has become a significant part of productions. While fee increases and housekeeping are also on the table, major revisions are being contemplated because of massive shift in how jingles are now created. Fortunately, there is a desire on both sides to make the agreement more relative and user-friendly.

    Consultations with independent producers have finally led to an upcoming meeting with the Canadian Media Producers Association (CMPA). While still in the early stages, it’s my hope that the result will be a Canadian agreement for independent production. I will report more on this in the near future.

    NAFTA & TPP Update

    Recent meetings of the Canadian Labour Conference confirmed that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) remain very serious concerns for organized labour in Canada. As reported previously, the CFM has been appointed to a NAFTA committee to provide input on certain aspects of the cultural sector. We have also made presentations during public consultations on the TPP, as the subject matter has similar concerns for musicians, specifically regarding temporary entry into Canada and copyright. We continue to push for what is fair, although it would appear at this juncture, that both those agreements are in peril.

    As you may have surmised, we have a busy schedule coming up, both in finishing 2017 work and with projects that will take us well into next year. Major, first-time negotiations are on deck, and with lots of hard work and a little luck, there will be a significant increase in contracted media work.

    I would like to wish all our members, officers, and staff a very Merry Christmas, as well as a safe, healthy, happy, and prosperous New Year.

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    Don’t Quit Your Day Job

    The campaign to get musicians paid for showcasing at the BreakOut West festival in Edmonton this year spawned three weeks’ worth of radio interviews, print, and online media coverage, as well as social media jousting, and effectively polarized two viewpoints. While most articles were fair in representing the views of the CFM, as well as the festival’s organizers, the notion that musicians should be paid for their performances should have been a clear winner in the opinion polls, especially with effective adhesion to the social justice issue of a fair minimum wage.

    Yet out of the woodwork came arguments so ludicrous (albeit to me) that I had to stifle the chortles and guffaws. Somewhat miraculously, those arguments were embraced by a portion of the media and, by extension, their readership. I think it is noteworthy to review, if for no other reason than to apprise members.

    One assertion by the festival organizers was that many of the musicians were, in fact, being paid to perform through individual grants from the provincial government or their music industry association, and in some cases, the Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent on Recordings (FACTOR). They claimed that this was the “model” of the future. This claim was usually followed by, “There was once a need for a musicians’ union, but not anymore.”

    I consider this to be one of the most ludicrous positions ever presented. The notion that musicians should no longer encumber an employer with such trivial things as fees and pension, in favour of asking for government handouts as a means for surviving in the music industry, borders on ridiculous. Only an employer would have the audacity to suggest this and musicians are the only genre of worker that would give it a morsel of credibility. Imagine the response from actors, directors, screenwriters, or stagehands were it communicated that they should no longer look to the film producer for remuneration, but instead seek government grants to provide for their families.

    As for the value judgement on a need for the AFM, that rhetoric is not new. It’s used by every employer to dissuade every member of every union in the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) from participation. It is part of the perpetual attack upon the labour movement, right-wing style.

    Another offering by the press suggested that it should be the musicians’ choice whether they wish to donate their services, or that perhaps the whole thing should be treated as a large audition, not a gig. Perhaps this would have merit if the organization involved was a charity, not a well-oiled machine that makes deliberate “policy” to pay everyone involved, except the musicians (who, by the way, are the folks the event is all about).

    In addition, these nonpaid “showcases” take place in licensed venues, packed with festivalgoers and making huge profits from liquor sales. A venue that would normally be required to pay for their entertainment, during the festival, gets to watch the bands sweat the night away for free. As for treating it as an audition, I pick no. Real auditions are in a private room to a select few, not in a club where the audience dances, tickets are sold, and beer is swilled. You audition to find work, not to be selected for a chance to perform gratis at yet another festival, and then another. And no, there is no major label A&R person waiting to sign you at 2:00 a.m. in an Edmonton bar.

    Finally, the big carrot offered by the festival—a wristband; in other words, a free pass to your own show. By my loose calculations, each band spends hundreds of dollars for travel, accommodations, and food, but are not offered even the price of parking.

    The bottom line is that festivals providing no remuneration for services have no regard for the music industry at all. If they did, they would acknowledge that musicians are a fragile part of the music ecosystem, the roots if you will, and must be nourished and fostered to encourage them to seek music as a viable career option. Instead, these festivals choose to build an industry that, as a part of Canada’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), is larger than mining and lumber combined, yet there appears to be no sustainable livelihood for the musicians.

    So in the end, the BreakOut West Festival did, indeed, impart great wisdom upon those musicians in attendance, a message of enormous gravity and substance: Don’t quit your day job.

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    Musicians “Broke, Out West”

    At the time of this writing, I have just stepped off a plane from Edmonton, Alberta, having spent the last few days organizing a demonstration/rally, juggling interviews with the press and radio reporters, and meeting with a politician of the ruling provincial New Democratic Party (NDP). At the core of it all was the ongoing effort to get an agreement with the Western Canadian Music Alliance (WCMA), the entity that operates the BreakOut West music festival (BOW).

    As I have reported before, the WCMA have an operating budget of roughly $600,000, with a substantial amount of that derived from various government grants and funding, along with private sponsorship. While they have no choice but to pay the “headline” acts fairly, as they have the effect of validating the festival, the lion’s share of the musicians are not paid. Previous agreements with the festival did provide for payment, but BOW has changed their “business model” in favour of belittling musicians even further.

    BreakOut West music festival

    More than 50 musicians and supporters picketed the BreakOut West (BOW) festival’s host hotel. BOW has refused to negotiate a contract to pay musicians.

    This type of social injustice is not just a problem for musicians, but for all Canadian workers, and that premise was why we approached the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) for their assistance. They were eager to help, as our message was a perfect fit for “$15 And Fairness,” a nationwide campaign of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC). The AFL folks were instrumental in producing themed signs and handouts, issuing an “Action Alert” to their affiliates and media to announce the day and time of the rally, and then bringing their staff to participate.

    Special thanks must be given to the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, who sacrificed their break time to help bolster our numbers to more than 50—plenty of folks to fill the street in front of BOW’s host hotel. In addition, in a stunning show of solidarity, we were joined by international jazz great P. J. Perry and blues artist Graham Guest of Local 390 (Edmonton, AB). With chants of “Pay the band, not the man,” our group was successful in sending a strong message.

    BreakOut West music festival

    (L to R) At the BOW Rally are AFM Vice President from Canada Alan Willaert, Supervisor Electronic Media Services Canada Daniel Calabrese, Director of Organizing & Education Michael Manley, and Negotiator Todd Jelen.

    I would also like to thank the AFM Director of Organizing Michael Manley, along with Negotiator Todd Jelen, and Supervisor Electronic Media Services Canada Dan Calabrese, who rounded out the AFM’s onsite personnel. In addition, a special thank you to Local 390 President E. Eddy Bayens and Secretary Edith Stacey for their assistance and outreach to members, and to Local 547 Secretary-Treasurer Doug Kuss, who took the day to travel and support our event.

    Following the rally, Bayens and I met with a member of parliament to impress upon him the government’s error in not being more careful about what they were providing grants for. Since the NDP are currently in power in Alberta, one would have to believe that more serious consideration will be forthcoming, as it was pointed out that musicians were paid nothing, not even minimum wage, as required by law.

    The demonstration and show of solidarity is only the beginning of this story; pressure must now be brought to bear upon all sponsors of the festival, to ensure that next year’s event is either under a CFM agreement or doesn’t happen. Members, please take note that the WCMA continues to be on the International Unfair List. No contracts should be entered into with them or their affiliates for any performances, until further notice.

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    BreakOut West—Still No Deal Do Not Work for BOW

    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!

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Official Journal of the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada