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Home » Officer Columns » Who Says This Stuff?

Who Says This Stuff?

  -  AFM Vice President from Canada

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.

This month, I would like to address some of the concerns of our freelance players—the musicians in the trenches, hauling gear from venue to venue, and grabbing a gig wherever they can. Things have changed in that world from 30, 20, even 10 years ago, and not for the better. What was once a lucrative sector of the business—steady engagements of six or more nights in each venue, large-capacity showrooms and cabarets, roomy stages and dance floors with cross-country touring—has all but disappeared. With more competition for the remaining bar work, it has become a buyer’s market, with members forgetting the basics of business in favour of finding a club that will let them “showcase” in front of an audience. Along with that, there’s a more lackadaisical approach with certain inaccurate, employer-generated, and frankly, scary, phrases being repeated.

“Nobody signs contracts anymore.”

The truth is, musicians aren’t demanding contracts anymore, probably because they inherently hate paperwork. Perhaps the club owner refuses to sign, which is incredible to me, since they sign for everything else—the beer order, liquor delivery, plumbers, and electricians all require contracts or work orders. If they don’t sign contracts for the band, it’s because we let them off the hook. Unfortunately, while most of our members don’t think it’s a big deal (believing an email confirmation is sufficient), it is. By not getting a signature, you have failed to obligate the employer to, not only the details of the gig (start time, hours, fee), but have robbed yourself of pension contributions; protection against unauthorized recording, cancellation, or firing; and AFM assistance in the event of a default. Plus, contracts are excellent proof of income during a tax audit.

“There aren’t any union gigs.”

If you are an AFM member, every gig is a union gig. Part of the responsibility of being a professional is to properly contract all work in order to leverage the benefits. Sure, sometimes there will be work under collective agreements negotiated on your behalf, but most of the time, freelance players and weekend warriors book and contract their own gigs. Be smart; do it right. Don’t act as a nonmember and relinquish your rights.

“There was once a need for unions, but not anymore.”

If you catch yourself repeating this, or believing it, think again. Was this phrase started by a union member? Of course not. Employers love to spread this kind of rhetoric, in an attempt to further erode the labour movement. Speaking with other unions during meetings of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), I can tell you that we are not the only ones subjected to this kind of propaganda.

“The union sets the prices too high.”

This is more employer nonsense. For those of you who have regularly attended general meetings of your local, you understand that “the union” doesn’t set fees, the membership does. Usually this is done by voting on recommendations of a committee that has researched current market values and conditions. In any event, scale is low enough to accommodate entry-level bands and small-capacity venues. Established artists know the cost of putting a polished product on stage and set their fees accordingly.

“Other than crossing the border, there’s no reason to join.”

Unfortunately, we hear this one a lot, and it has no basis in truth. Many musicians/bands make the mistake of joining only because they have a gig in the US, and don’t look past that one service. Whether you record or only play live, there is a huge menu of services and benefits. I suggest you contact your local or the CFM office directly, and find out all of the things membership entitles you to. We would be happy to walk you through information  specific to the type of gigs you do.

Remember, AFM membership is the ultimate axiom: for every service or benefit there is a corresponding duty or obligation. You are the union.