Musicians at peaceful demonstration on Union Square, New York
Are Unions Relevant to New Music?

Are Unions Relevant to New Music?

Musicians at peaceful demonstration on Union Square, New York

Source: iStockphoto

Virtually all the new music musicians I know are left-leaning and pro-labor, yet much of the new music field is non-unionized. Why is that? The AFM and other unions play a significant role in the realm of larger, more traditional music making—orchestras, musicals, film recording, opera, et cetera—but they are far less visible when it comes to performances of new music. In the Bay Area, where I live, AFM local 6 lists only one new music presenter with a collective bargaining agreement.

Size is probably part of the equation, since a handful of orchestras is easier to unionize than the ever-shifting ecosystem of small chamber ensembles more typical in new music. But it goes beyond that. The AFM certainly represents chamber musicians, and it has initiatives designed specifically for smaller groups, such as its Fair Trade Music program. Yet most of the new music musicians I interviewed for this piece held a dim view of the musicians’ union, and many had experienced hostility from their AFM locals.

Clearly something is pushing us apart, and I think it boils down to conflicting agendas. Any union’s top priorities revolve around securing decent wages and working conditions for its members. Those are, without question, important considerations for musicians in any genre. But new music practitioners also have a third priority: advancing the cause. Nobody just happens to fall into new music because of all the great gigs that came their way. We choose new music despite the fact that it’s a hard slog, because we want to champion the art form. So when push comes to shove—and new technologies have created a lot of shove—we sacrifice pay or benefits.

I’d very much like to see more music unionization; both in our genre and across the board. Musicians of all stripes are facing strong downward wage pressure, and a lack of collective action is only making things worse. But for the AFM to win over the new music community, the realities of why we make music will need to be better accommodated.

What makes an occupation unionizable?

To better understand our situation, it’s useful to look at where unions enjoy the greatest successes. Most union-friendly occupations have the following characteristics:

  • Clearly defined roles
  • Static employer–employee relationships
  • Proven business models
Fast food workers strike

Fast food workers strike in Richmond, Virginia
Photo by Bernard Pollack, via Flickr

That’s why coal miners, fast-food workers, teachers, sanitation personnel, home health aides, and orchestra musicians are good candidates for unionization. If you’re a garbage truck driver, you’re unlikely to show up one day and find yourself designing a new waste treatment facility. Similarly, if you’re the principal bassoonist in an orchestra, your job is not likely to involve playing the viola part or planning the marketing strategy for the next concert season.

Now consider a profession like dentistry. Most dentists are not unionized, and that’s because the majority are self-employed or work as associates in small practices. Professional lobbies like the American Dental Association are a better fit for their needs, which typically revolve around regulatory overhaul and dealing with the insurance market more so than collective bargaining.

Still, there’s nothing intrinsic about dentistry that precludes unionization. If the growth of multi-office, corporate dentistry continues, we might expect to see more collective bargaining in that field. After all, dentists have clearly defined roles and responsibilities, and the business model doesn’t change dramatically from dentist to dentist—everyone basically has the same teeth. The only missing element is an employer with multiple dentist employees. Look at the parallel world of the hospital, where healthcare personnel are increasingly classified as employees. There you’ll find increasing unionization, in contrast to the general anti-union trend in American society.

Like dentistry, music affords us many possible working arrangements. That’s why it’s not enough to say a violinist is a violinist, so you should all join the union. If you’re playing for a Broadway musical, then yeah, it makes sense: fighting for a union contract will be good for you and for all future pit musicians. But if your grad school buddy asks you to join a fledgling ensemble dedicated to promoting new music for harpsichord…well, the choice isn’t so obvious.

The “sharing economy” of new music

Musical employment tends to be piecemeal, but especially so in new music: multiple part-time ensemble gigs, some teaching, perhaps grant writing or administrative/logistical support, another music gig that’s less inspiring but pays better, and so on. Musicians often collaborate with each other on different projects, sometimes swapping roles depending on who’s leading.

Zoom in on any one new music ensemble and it might resemble a traditional employer–employee setup, but that’s misleading. If Suzie plays in Johnny’s string quartet, Johnny plays in Frederica’s Pierrot ensemble, and Frederica and Johnny both regularly perform solo sets on Suzie’s recital series, can anyone really be said to be the employer? It’s better to think of these musicians as colleagues who collaborate on whatever opportunities present themselves.

In this sense, the production of new music resembles “sharing economy” businesses like Uber and AirBnB more than it does the employer–employee world of the symphony. More specifically:

  • A need isn’t being well provided by existing institutions
  • There are people with the expertise, resources, and time to fill that need
  • The need can be filled without necessarily making it into a full-time job

Let’s compare our hypothetical harpsichord ensemble to Uber:

Uber vs Ensemble

One major difference, of course, is that Uber and AirBnB have become wildly successful on a commercial level—enough that they cause negative ripple effects. The City of San Francisco is opening an Office of Short Term Rental Administration and Enforcement to deal with the shady landlords who evict tenants to rent apartments on AirBnB. Uber is facing a class-action lawsuit as to whether its drivers should be considered employees or contractors.

It’s worth remembering, however, that those negative effects are problems of scale, not design. There’s nothing inherently evil about renting out that extra room in your apartment to a backpacking college student. It’s only when the AirBnB market gets big enough to push tenants out of their apartments that we have a problem.

We would do well to think about unionization in new music along similar lines. There may come a point when your new music ensemble becomes successful enough that it would be unethical to oppose unionization. But in the scrappy, small-scale production environment more typical of our genre, you’re not really dealing with the traditional employer–employee model of the union. It’s more like a fluid group of like-minded professionals, or an employee-owned worker cooperative.

For the love of money

None of this is to imply that, hey, you should always take the gig, because new music! There are plenty of poorly run and exploitative organizations that build their successes on the backs of overly accommodating musicians. While researching this article, I interviewed Bruce Fife, president of AFM local 99 in Portland. He had this story to share:

“…major nonprofit in Portland, advertising for live music, told musicians that as a nonprofit, they couldn’t afford to pay. As is usual, they said it would be great exposure for the musicians. This, from a nonprofit that did over $20 million in revenue, $2 million in net profits in FY14, and has $39 million in net assets.”

But on the flip side, there are also a lot of talented people out there with great ideas but little financial backing, especially among early-career, emerging musicians. The standard AFM shtick is that collective action gives musicians increased leverage against employers—which is true. A union contract would be extremely beneficial when dealing with an organization like the nonprofit Bruce described. But not every gig is like that. What happens in the more typical new music scenario where the role of employer is essentially honorific?

If we insist that every self-producing ensemble or upstart music festival provide a full union ride, it means only organizations with pre-existing financial support will be able to produce anything. True, the AFM does sometimes grant exceptions for specific use cases, but the application process is bureaucratic and requires a new petition for each project. That’s not the best use of time for emerging musicians trying to hustle together something amazing with limited resources and bandwidth. And what if your local decides not to grant your exception, or doesn’t respond in time for your production?

In actual practice, emerging musicians with an interest in new music quickly learn that the AFM has little to offer them. If they played by the union rules, there would be precious few opportunities for them to work in our genre. While they aspire to a level of career success that would command union rates, they’re not willing to stop making the music that matters to them in order to get there. Yet somehow this basic fact gets lost in recruitment appeals from the AFM.

Collective action: you’re doing it wrong

collective action megaphone

Photo by Molly Sheridan

A couple years ago, Tom Olcott of local 802 wrote a piece calling out several New York new music ensembles for not being unionized. He also listed several union members in good standing as counterexamples, including the New York Pops and the Mostly Mozart Festival. Unfortunately, his argument was apples to oranges in the extreme. Orchestral pops and the music of Mozart—these are widely known and artistically conservative genres. They appeal to a broad audience, with a market that was established long before either of those presenters came onto the scene. So while the repertoire undoubtedly has value, I’m pretty sure no one plays in the New York Pops because they feel that Rodgers and Hammerstein are underappreciated by society.

New music, on the other hand, is basically evangelical: we’re hooked on the thrill of new, unorthodox repertoire, so we toil to build awareness and expand audiences for living composers, to push the boundaries of musical experience, to make art that might someday, if we’re lucky, add something new and unique to the cultural heritage of humanity. But there’s no pre-existing market for the unknown and the unproven—by definition. So unless the American political climate becomes much more supportive of state-sponsored arts funding, new music organizations will have to continue operating on shoestring budgets, below union standards. They have no other choice.

The kind of musicians who gravitate toward new music will always choose love of the repertoire over financial considerations. But that doesn’t mean new music is anti-union. Comments like the following were typical among the musicians I interviewed for this piece:

“Organized labor is the reason that music is where it is.”
“We are 100% in support of an organized labor system that can accommodate our reality.”
“I try really hard to pay as close as I can to AFM standards.”
“Union scale is a benchmark that we quote to all presenters.”

Nor is the AFM completely unsympathetic. In my interview with Bruce Fife, I asked what he thought a group of young composers with a limited budget should do if they wanted to throw together an ad-hoc ensemble to perform or record some of their pieces:

“Anybody can approach their local board or the IEB to request waivers or considerations or promulgated agreements to make those kinds of things work so they accomplish what the goal is….To me it’s always about what’s going to happen to that music, how is it going to be utilized, and are the musicians being fairly compensated for the use.”

I think this emphasis on usage is probably the best way to bridge the gap between traditional union mandates and the needs of the new music community. Bruce described how a similarly “sideways” approach worked in Seattle, where that city’s local fought for better loading zone access at nightclubs instead of focusing solely on wage considerations.

The AFM will get more sympathy from new music if it concentrates on helping musicians and presenters develop practical usage agreements that meet the needs of all participants, instead of insisting on pension contributions, minimum scale, and secondary market considerations more applicable to the film industry. Not that wages and re-use fees aren’t important, but downward price pressure in music is a complicated and pervasive issue. When even star economist Paul Krugman admits to being confounded by the economics of music, we’re unlikely to solve the problem by towing the traditional party line.

There is a lot of useful work that can be done to strengthen the standing of musicians outside of the wage issue. This in turn will bring more musicians into the union fold and give the AFM greater lobbying clout to tackle the big economic trends. But nothing’s going to happen so long as young musicians entering new music see the AFM as an institution that is incompatible with their aspirations.

Potential solutions

Here are two ideas that would immediately improve this situation. First, I propose that the AFM abolish scale and simply provide average and median fees paid for similar engagements, in similar genres and markets, over the past five years.

The problem with something like a minimum scale is that it can be twisted into a glass ceiling. No matter how high or low you set the rate, music presenters without a collective bargaining agreement can use it as a justification to pay something lower: “Well, we’d really like to pay that rate and we’re trying hard to get there, but the economy blah blah blah, so right now the best we can do is X.”

By providing averages instead of scales, the AFM would torpedo this sleezeball approach. Employers would have to justify their offers based on what others are actually paying, giving musicians much firmer ground to stand on than some bleeding-heart appeal to fairness. “You should be paying union scale, because that’s the right thing to do” becomes “Why would I work for you at half the rate those other venues are paying?”

My second suggestion is that the AFM create genre-specific, graduated paths toward full union compliance. At some point, all musical employers of a certain size should be providing decent wages, pensions, and benefits; it’s just not always feasible for a new organization on a shoestring budget. So instead of forcing emerging musical employers to work outside the union fold until they can afford full participation, start looking at what musical organizations of a similar scope are doing, then develop best practices and a roadmap for growth. As long as the employer stays within the bounds of what’s acceptable given its mandate and stage of development, it would get the stamp of compliance from the union.

There would be a path for a string quartet playing new music, and a different path for one playing wedding gigs; a blueprint for a regional pops orchestra, and one for a film scoring orchestra. And naturally, the requirements for each group would change over time. In the beginning of an organization’s existence, obligations would be few and benefits would be many. As the organization grows, financially and otherwise, more stringent requirements would kick in. The new music ensemble that tours internationally and has steady operational funding should absolutely be held to a higher standard than a self-funded group that is putting on its first show. If the successful group can’t provide the types of benefits and support that similar groups are providing, it should rightly get heat from the union.

Naturally, there are details to work out before either of these suggestions could be put into practice, but they’re not insurmountable. I know we can do better than a system where an entire class of pro-labor musicians feel that the musician’s union doesn’t apply to their careers. None of my ideas are all that radical, nor are they meant to be a rigid, unchanging formula for all time. I’m just trying to get the ball rolling, because I want new music to have as many allies as possible. What a shame that the AFM isn’t among the most important.


Aaron Gervais

Aaron Gervais
Photo by Tracy Wong

Aaron Gervais is a freelance composer based in San Francisco. He draws upon humor, quotation, pop culture, and found materials to create work that spans the gamut from somber to slapstick, and his music has been performed across North America and Europe by leading ensembles and festivals. Check out his music and more of his writing at

NewMusicBox provides a space for those engaged with new music to communicate their experiences and ideas in their own words. Articles and commentary posted here reflect the viewpoints of their individual authors; their appearance on NewMusicBox does not imply endorsement by New Music USA.

15 thoughts on “Are Unions Relevant to New Music?

  1. Dennis Bathory-Kitsz

    Disclaimer: I come from a union family. I am a member of the AFT. But I’m not a member of the AFM. (The Vermont AFM local 351 in fact closed its doors a few years ago for lack of interest.)

    An issue Aaron never addresses directly is that the musicians’ unions have consistently made it difficult if not impossible for composers to make and use recordings of their performances, particularly premieres that may indeed by the only performances of works. This has been difficult enough that, for many years, composers have gone abroad for opportunities for usable recordings, paying out-of-pocket. Anybody reading NMBx is probably aware of this situation. (Aaron obliquely notes it when he writes that new music folks may see “the AFM as an institution that is incompatible with their aspirations.”)

    When the union makes a rule that all premieres may be recorded and used by the composers for any purposes (other than sale for profit), then I will join and support the AFM.

    1. Melissa Dunphy

      Ding ding ding! Came here to say this, glad someone beat me to it. This is an especially obvious problem given the changing nature of media; union rules that make it impossible to easily throw videos of rehearsals or concerts on a service like YouTube (which is possibly the best way in the current online environment to promote what we do) are a big reason why I am very wary of involving a union in anything that I do as a composer or producer. This is not only a problem with musicians’ unions, but also actors equity. There is a failure by these organizations to recognize that many forms of video and recording are no longer revenue streams which must be monitored to avoid exploitation, but casual promotional tools that are extremely effective, to the point where the level of restriction currently placed by unions on these tools is doing serious damage to the reach of the art form.

  2. David

    For most new music situations, union involvement would be disaster of the highest order. Most Locals would have no interest in a “pathway” program, their interest is collecting dues. Full dues. I assure you, any sort of “waiver” would not waive away dues.

    The protections that most locals can supply to a situation like a smaller new music group wouldn’t be applicable. “Job Security” doesn’t apply. Time rules wouldn’t apply to many situations, unless the new music group plans on having a shop steward with a stopwatch, timing breaks to the second. Other than that, there is almost nothing else for a union to offer such groups. They aren’t in the business of promotion or providing work, they are in the business of collecting dues. Yes, every group should be providing fair wages and pensions, but few do. One can look at current union groups with ridiculously low wages as an example. Union involvement doesn’t really change the wage, it usually means that the 2.5 hour rehearsal will be 2.5 hours.

    The AFM can be helpful in some situations with the right ensemble- mainly large orchestras with large budgets. Managements of those groups can turn “corporate”, and it’s a constant battle where the musicians need someone in their corner. For those groups, the AFM can be a powerful ally. A situation where an orchestra CEO is making $350K and wants player making $23K to take a pay cut= that’s a union situation. A situation where a new music director is making $30K and is suddenly faced with pension demands on a budget of $300K will just shut down the new music group.

    1. Tret Fure

      In reading these comments and this article, I am struck by the lack of knowledge of Local 1000, the Traveling Musicians Union. Local 1000 was chartered 11 years ago for the purpose of providing a home and protections for the touring acoustic musician. I have been a member of AFM since I was 16 but I have been a member of Local 1000, AFM since 2000. It was the best decision I could have made. Not only am I in the company of wonderful, like minded performers, but I know that the union has my back. We offer contract protection, instrument insurance, fair wages, disability and most wonderfully, a pension! I personally have gone to bat for a musician that was ‘stiffed’, and I have worked hard with my brothers and sisters to get venues to sign our Fair Trade Music Agreement, insuring that our members and all musicians will get a fair wage and a pension contribution. In less than six months, I will start receiving my pension. I would have never thought that I, a folk singer, would be able to collect a pension for my work, but it is so. And I can keep working and contributiing to my fund for many years to come. Local 1000 is the way to go if you are a traveling musician. Not all locals are closing their doors. Ours are wide open and our membership continues to grow. We are over 500 strong! Check up out, you won’t be disappointed!

      1. Sohrab Saadat Lardjevardi

        I know about Local 1000. And it’s great to hear again that when musicians organize they can achieve important things together.
        But one important thing you forgot to mention is that you and your fellow members represent yourself as “working people, as a profession or as a business league.”
        Please support and advocate #MakingMusicIsAProfession!

      2. David

        Tret, I’ve been in the AFM since the late 70s, in more locals than I can count. I’ve worn many hats, including playing on TV show scores and some hit albums that I’m still getting residuals for. Trust me, I know a bit about the union, good and bad. Besides your positive cheerleading, try to look at it from the point of this conversation, which is very specific in scope: New music, composers etc. There’s a good reason why most of these groups aren’t union. Simply put, the parameters of the job don’t really fall into a category where the union would be of much help. I think most AFM officials would readily admit that. It’s not a situation where some evil producer wants to rip off musicians, or an overpaid CEO with a bloated staff wants those symphony hacks to take a pay cut. It’s usually groups with extremely limited funds, often relying on grants, playing to a certain type of audience. Let’s face it, if the money isn’t there, the money isn’t there. If there’s a new music group that’s overflowing with cash, has a CEO with a huge staff that’s raking it in, is playing to full houses in large venues, then they should join the union. If a group like that exists, somebody please let me know. ;)

        When reading the posts, one topic stands out above the rest: recordings. Sorry, but that’s not happening. No way, no how, it’s contrary to how the union established itself. The whole premise of “well, I’m not making any $$ from youtube so gimme a free recording” is deeply flawed, even if it’s true. What’s missing is that the players aren’t going to get anything either. A composer can whine and scream, it’s just reality. It’s often presented as a win-win for both parties, when it’s not. It’s a win for the composer, it’s nothing for the performer. Ye olde “Think of the exposure” doesn’t apply. Nothing applies, currently. I’m on both sides, I compose and play. The composer side of me would love free recordings, the performer doesn’t want me to have them.

        There’s probably a solution, one that strikes a happy medium and doesn’t really involve the AFM directly: Some sort of fund that gives out small honorariums to performers in this situation. Nobody expects “union scale”, that ship has sailed. But let’s not lie about it, a recording has great value to the composer and little value to most players. A token amount, like $25 per player or a small donation to the ensemble, might make everyone happy including the local, if it’s a union group. We’re talking musicians here, pizza and beer might be the perfect bribe. ;)

  3. Sato Moughalian

    This is an excellent, thoughtful article. I am a member of the AF of M and a flutist with several orchestras and new music groups. The “apples and oranges” metaphor is exactly right. There is no comparison between a pops orchestra with a well-established board that plays concerts in Carnegie Hall with high name-recognition soloists and a small, musician-run group that specializes in, say, spectral music and performs in tiny venues in Queens. There are other aspects of the current freelance contract paradigm that simply don’t work, namely, the health insurance contribution. While this was a noble idea, once upon a time, to make contributions on behalf of players’ union health insurance, we are now in a completely different landscape. The NY union abolished its two-tier program whereby someone at a much lower level of contributions could at least get $5k a year worth of doctor visits when ill. Now the only people who are covered are those with full-time jobs, or with tenured or multimonth positions (like Mostly Mozart or NYC Ballet), or with Broadway shows. What happens to the contributions that are made on behalf of those who play one or two union engagements a month (this description may fit many at the heart of the new music community)? The money that is contributed in their name shores up the health plans of those who have the ballet or Lincoln Center positions. In the past, the players whose contributions didn’t meet the threshhold for health coverage received a partial cash disbursement. Now they receive NO value from the dollars contributed on their behalf AND now also have to purchase their own insurance. That is a issue that needs to be addressed immediately, particularly as the large non-profit health providers are failing (see Freelancers Union health insurance and Republic Health).

    As the author does, I would also advocate for entirely new paradigms. We in the union are building on or diverting slightly from templates that were established many decades ago. There is definitely a purpose to solidarity, whatever that means today. But most of the new music groups I play with have been established by and are fundraised by musician or composer members. Why graft a paradigm that is a relic of a completely different era? There are many other terms and conditions–for example–the fact that you essentially cannot record concerts and upload them or stream concerts without going through a byzantine process at the end of which you will have the right to stream a three-minute excerpt. Have the persons who continue to support this rule ever tried to complete a grant application? Have they thought about the benefits that come with having a representative online presence?

    I’ll stop now, but these are just a couple of my own concerns. I’d love to see a way to make it possible for tiny groups to contribute to players’ pension funds (everyone gets the benefit of that, after a certain period) or make direct contributions to individual players’ health funds, now that everyone has to have health insurance. But I believe that we need to throw all the old paradigms up in the air and see where they come down.
    Within our community of musicians we have an abundance of very smart people. Surely we can figure out creative ways to look out for our interests while also advancing the cause of the music and musicians and composers we feel passionate about.

  4. John Porter

    Well, it doesn’t exactly help that the president of local 802, Tino Gagliardi, has stated publicy that new music was why the New York City Opera went out of business, among other similar tropes he has expressed.

  5. Well

    Aren’t a lot of the people playing new music, in effect, doing it as a hobby? A lot of them have other sources of income (other musical or non-musical jobs, in a few cases independent wealth), or are in school. And a lot of them (like Mr. Gervais) are under 40, so they have on average fewer family members to support (and probably less likelihood of major health care needs) than older musicians.

  6. theodore mook

    Very nice article, and bold. My experience has been that certain structural definitions, like doubling, page rates in music copy, recording and rehearsal time limitations, overtime, principal-pay, chamber-music premiums, H & W percentages, Vacation Pay, Low-budget pay scales – all designed to protect musicians – were the very things that collapsed under the pressure of smaller economies of scale in new music and advancing technologies. I will never forget my meeting with the 802 brass to try and mount a Harry Partch show at the American Theater – which, needless to say, did not go well. In a country that can’t set a minimum wage, the hostility between capital and labor is at an all time high. You have only to read the WSJ to recognize that the mere mention of a Union sends any self-respecting right winger into a war dance – educational “reform” and the demonization of the UFT is but one example. If you have kids in school, you will recognize this. And don’t forget the Performance Rights Act, the Digital Performance Act and the iTunes model itself, which has sucked value out of musicians pockets under the pretense of making things better. Sad to say, but the minute you set a standard, a couple of MBAs with suits and calculators will figure out a way to beat it. While you were practicing scales, they were honing their skills. You have only to ask some of the folks that did Broadway negotiations a few years ago. I wouldn’t hold out too much hope for a union, but I do hold out hope for the goodness of like-minded people to build what works for what they love.

  7. stevenr

    Having been on the long and winding road as an experimentalist since the mid-70’s, I had many conflicting thoughts about this piece. The first being that the conceit that serious artists whose work is outside the commercial mainstream are respected and taken seriously in the U.S.; which I haven’t found to be true. The second is that, outside of a handful of urban centers, practitioners of such works are rarely fairly compensated, the notion of unionizing in that context is absurd for those in most of the country. The third is that so-called “arts support” institutions have evolved into hegemonic organizations that are siphoning the majority of funding into administration -i.e. their own careers- at the expense of actually producing artist’s works. As was noted by another commenter, many 501c3’s de facto business plans are contingent upon artists donating their work to one extent or another. And fourth, the AFM has not kept up with realities on the ground for several decades, what public image they have is not a good one and it is old and musty to boot.

    It seems to me that society is just beginning to get a grip on the contours and qualities of life in the 21st Century. If artists are going to find a way to prosper, they have to get ahead of the curve and find/invent a construct in which content can be reasonably well supported. Clearly this will disrupt commerce as we know it across the board. The reason stuff is so cheap in America is because content provider’s, be they fiddlers or (foreign) factory workers are being short-changed. We all know where the revenue is flowing and where it isn’t. Placards, megaphones, and getting red in the face isn’t going to have any effect on the current conditions or make one whit of difference to those looking down from 36,000 feet.

  8. Robert Couture

    In thinking about Aaron Gervais’ concerns about the Musician Union’s ability and willingness to help the musicians who specialize in the important work of performing new works with organizations that are often fledging or not well established, AFM Vice President, Bruce Fife’s comments are apropos:
    “Anybody can approach their local board or the IEB to request waivers or considerations or promulgated agreements to make those kinds of things work so they accomplish what the goal is….To me it’s always about what’s going to happen to that music, how is it going to be utilized, and are the musicians being fairly compensated for the use.”
    The Musicians’ Union is composed of musicians whose primary concern is to develop the business of music so that it satisfies artistic aspirations while providing a living wage, much as any professional expects remuneration for his or her expertise and intellectual property. Local union officers and board members are musicians themselves, often from various sectors of the industry. As in any organization, evolution and adaptation are crucial to the health of its members, and unions are no exception. Participation of all interested parties is the life blood of any organization, including unions. “YOU are the UNION,” is a correct statement.
    As Aaron suggests, “At some point, all musical employers of a certain size should be providing decent wages, pensions, and benefits; it’s just not always feasible for a new organization on a shoestring budget.”
    This is where the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) is most useful because it is negotiated directly between the employer and the musicians and can be tailored specifically to the mutual needs of all involved, including wage and pension growth appropriate to the resources of all involved in the venture. Often, the CBA functions as a “road map” to the growth an organization projects and expects. Negotiations in themselves are useful because they provide a forum for structured discussions specific to the art and business model being developed by artists and management.
    No question, when folks with similar interests work together collectively, there is better potential for strength and viability. But it is also true that crafting a useful model for a particular collective can be a creative challenge which is best shouldered by those who are most directly affected. That is why the professional musicians who are championing new music must band together to develop business models which honor their hard work and expertise. The musicians’ union is an excellent place to start.
    Bob Couture
    Vice President of the Boston Musicians’ Association, AFM Local 9-535

  9. Sohrab Saadat Ladjevardi

    The MUSICIANS FOR MUSICIANS, Inc (MFM) is an option and a chance to make a change. Why?Because this non-profit organization is run by and financed by musicians. Advocating the notion that #MakingMusicIsAProfession. MFM demands from her members not to play for free anymore!
    Organizing is the only option we musicians got in order to tackle all our problems. Only (big) numbers can make real changes. Without big numbers no power…no way to make OUR demands.
    Complaining doesn’t help at all. Let’s be honest and admit that we’re responsible for our misery.
    Musicians, become adults and take care of your business! There’s no daddy or mama who can help you out.

  10. Michael

    Reality: In general, the AFM scales make no sense in the world of digital music video content creation.

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