The following is from the Musicians’ Association of Seattle, AFM Local 76-493:
SEATTLE (Jan. 27, 2016) — A new study commissioned by Seattle musicians’ union found that 16,607 people are directly employed in the city’s music industry, creating $1.8 billion annually in direct economic impact. Including jobs dependent on music, the industry creates $4.3 billion in economic output, supporting 30,660 jobs.
Yet despite a 50% increase in music-related jobs since the industry was last analyzed seven years ago, music payroll has risen only 12%, with payroll per employee actually decreasing by 25%. A survey of 124 working musicians found that while most earn the majority of their income through music, that music-related income averages only about $15,000 per year.
Part of the reason for this, the study found, is that freelance musicians often work without written agreements, and suffer from a variety of problems getting paid adequately for their work.
The study is entitled “Seattle’s Working Musicians: the economic impact of the music industry, working conditions of club musicians and how Seattle can support independent musicians.” The report was released Jan. 26 in a public meeting with the Seattle City Council’s Committee on Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development and Arts. It was authored by Megan Brown, a labor geographer and UAW Local 4121 member currently completing her PhD in geography at the University of Washington.
“Although we like to think of Seattle as a music city, we need to do more to make music a viable and sustainable source of income,” reported Motter Forman, a classical harpist and President of the union.
Nate Omdal, a jazz upright bassist stressed the need for written and enforceable agreements between clubs and musicians. He noted that Fair Trade Music, an organizing project among freelance musicians supported by the union, has developed a standard template for such an agreement. Twenty-five area clubs have signed a pledge with Fair Trade Music to provide a written agreement, as well as documentation of relevant information.
“A written agreement is important both to make sure that everyone really has the same understanding,” explained Omdal, “but also to protect against last-minute unilateral changes in pay or working conditions.”
A majority of musicians surveyed reported being paid less for a job than agreed to, not being provided receipts to document admissions at the door, or having a job cancelled at the last minute with no compensation. Nearly half reported being paid for fewer hours than actually worked, and a third indicated that a venue had taken deductions from payment without prior agreement.
Steve Roseta, a music promoter and producer who is active with Fair Trade Music, noted that he has a business background, having worked for Microsoft before entering music.
“At times I’ve had difficulty getting a club to stick to an agreement,” he said, “and I know it must be incredibly difficult for musicians.”
One problem musicians face is “blackout dates.” Joey Walbaum, a keyboardist who plays funk, soul and electronic music, told the Councilmembers of an experience with a major club which wanted him to agree not to play anywhere else in Seattle for a month before or after his gig. “How can I give up my income for two months just to play one gig?” he asked. Moreover, he noted, some area music festivals impose blackouts lasting two months or more, for any work within a radius of 100 or more miles.
Another issue raised with the Councilmembers has to do with buskers, or street musicians. Busking is actually protected by Seattle law. Other than at Pike Place Market, where buskers need permits, musicians may play and seek donations without interference.
But Francis Brennan, a long-time busker, reported being told to leave public spaces, including a Sound Transit station. Brennan is an accomplished musician who has played at major area clubs, but finds that he can make a better living busking on the streets than working under the poor wages in clubs. He’d be happy to play in clubs if it were more profitable, he said. At times security officers make him “feel like a criminal” for providing a service to the public.
Councilmember Mike O’Brien, a member of the Committee, noted how much he enjoyed hearing music in the New York subways, and promised to help ensure that buskers get more support.
The report had three major recommendations. The first was for modification of the City’s admissions tax, which the musicians believe put an unfair burden on small venues, with the cost often passed on to musicians. As a result of work with the City Council, that has already gone into effect.
Second, the musicians want the City to limit or bar “blackout dates.” Omdal noted that Fair Trade Music and the union are working with Rep. Derek Stanford (D-Bothell) and other legislators on possible statewide action on this issue.
Finally, the report urges that the City work with musicians and venue owners to promote standard written performance agreements.
Councilmember Lisa Herbold, the Committee Chair suggested that the City work to identify blackout clauses used in Seattle as a first step in ensuring that any such non-compete language is fair to musicians, as well as to venues. She added, “this report demonstrates just how significant the economic impact of the music industry is in Seattle, and raises important issues about the working conditions of musicians. I hope to work with the Office of Film and Music over the next year to create a forum for nightclub owners and musicians to talk about these working conditions and solutions.”
O’Brien praised the musicians for their efforts, saying that some of what musicians face is “unacceptable.” “I’m really excited about Fair Trade Music,” O’Brien added. “Just as with fair trade chocolate or coffee, it helps me think more about how my consumer dollars go to businesses that treat workers fairly.”
Musicians Association of Seattle, AFM Local 76-493 is a membership organization, administered by elected officers and an elected board of directors. We are musicians. Our goals are to communicate to each other about workplace needs, professional desires and collective power; educate each other about our rights, responsibilities and union power; to facilitate obtaining those rights in our lives; to organize for collective bargaining; and to raise the publics’ awareness of the value of music and musicians.
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