Happy Blogiversary! This article marks two years since the launch of “Who’s Your Audience?”.
It’s been an interesting way to put my thoughts to paper…er, computer screen. There have been a variety of issues covered, and my approach has evolved too. At first, I felt compelled to write in “term paper” mode. Now, I feel a bit more conversational with you.
Or at least, informal.
Like using one-sentence paragraphs.
In fact, that wasn’t even a sentence.
Anyways, I imagine many anniversary posts are often upbeat, optimistic, having some big announcement, and maybe some fireworks too. But the truth is, I come to you today from a bit of a concerned place. This stems from two recent events.
First, a couple weeks ago, a dear friend of mine posted something on social media that caught my attention.
She has been a full-time musician and out of school for about eight years now. She plays her instruments at a very high level. She’s extremely devoted to the art-form. She has what some refer to as a “portfolio” career, meaning her work is comprised of many different facets without primarily centering around a particular institution.
She teaches. She’s a member of several different types of ensembles. She plays with orchestras as a substitute/extra musician. But none of these things is a singular focus of her musical life.
My friend was expressing her worries for the longevity of this type of self-made career.
Where will it take her?
Will she be able to weather the financial storms that come her way?
What is her “end game”?
How does she know if she’s attained success or not?
Very real concerns. And frankly, exploring each could be blog posts in and of themselves.
Now, for the second item that caught my attention. There have been recent additions to the American Federation of Musician’s Unfair List. In other words, the Musicians’ Union has added to its ongoing list of employers and contractors with which union members have very serious, unresolved disputes.
Two of the new names on the Unfair List were due to instances that included hiring musicians right here in Washington, DC.
I don’t know how much more detailed I can be without saying something I shouldn’t. So this post won’t be a place where you can get some juicy gossip. (And if you’re trying to figure out who I’m talking about based on the work I do, I’ll say upfront that I’m not referring to any of my current employers at any point in this post.) But suffice it to say that hard-working, highly accomplished, incredibly deserving musicians–like the friend I just discussed—are owed money.
(Just to be clear, I’m not accusing my friend of taking this kind of work. It was merely the juxtaposition of her post and the Unfair List update that prompted this article.)
(See what I mean about the informal writing? I’m sure all these parentheses would be a big “no-no” if this were a term paper.)
So what do we do?
I’m not here to spread leftist hippy kumbaya crunchy-granola propaganda, but there are some simple things that would make a huge difference.
First of all, when we’re the ones doing the hiring, let’s not make promises that we can’t keep. Many of us remember the fiasco that was last September’s Newport Contemporary Music Series, where someone who wanted to create a star-studded, pull-out-all-the-stops music festival couldn’t pay his roster of 100+ performers and composers. Certainly, not every example of failed payments is a disaster of these proportions; but fundamentally, it’s exactly the same thing.
So if we want to hire musicians, let’s make sure we have the money first. All of it.
Second, let’s not deceive people.
Paying people late. Paying people less than they are owed. Failing to make pension contributions. Hiring people for a gig that goes overtime and neglecting to pay them for that extra time. The list goes on and on… I’m not saying every contractor who breaks a rule is scum, genuine mistakes happen. I’m referring to the people and organizations who routinely and knowingly commit these transgressions. You know, the ones who make you wonder, “Is the Golden Rule really that hard to follow?!”
Finally, at what point do we decide that someone who is offering us work isn’t worth working for? And I’m not even talking about taking a stand for union solidarity–although there’s that too–I’m talking about self-respect and self-worth. We have bills to pay. Not just rent and utilities but also bills from the very degrees we earned to become musicians in the first place. We have instruments to buy and maintain. Reeds. Valve oil. Rosin. Drumheads. Concert clothes. Car payments–or, public transit cards.
And oh yeah, we have to make time to prepare for the music we’re being paid to play.
We didn’t get this far in our careers by accepting mediocrity in ourselves. Why should we accept failure from the people who hire us? And by the way, this AFM Unfair List is hardly a comprehensive list of offenders, I’m sure every musician knows at least a couple employers in his/her city who are known for their shenanigans.
There’s so much more that needs to be said and done about this dirty truth of the industry, but I’m afraid I run the risk of being unproductively preachy if I continue venting here. So I’ll be cute and leave you with a visual. When Classical Music feels like the Wild West, who do we choose to be?
Subscribe via Email
Enter your email address to subscribe and receive notifications of new posts on the first Monday of each month by email.