You Can Say “No.”
Posted Date: September 11 2019You are a musician. Presumably, you have spent hours, days, weeks, and years working on your craft. Hopefully, independent of any market forces, you believe that your work has value. Maybe you play guitar in a Top 40 wedding band and nobody can get more true-to-the-record tones than you. Maybe you play toy piano and sing abstract tone poems inspired by the mystical Sedona Vortexes in a language that you made up. Either way, it can be nice to have some validation in the form of applause, but it is essential to have compensation in the form of legal tender in order to continue in this profession.
1. Avoid Undercutting Your Value
One area in which independent musicians excel is in involuntarily (and voluntarily) undercutting their market value. Plumbers, electricians, carpenters, contractors, mechanics, air conditioning repair technicians, luthiers, etc, most certainly do NOT jump at any and every opportunity to make any amount of money. For most skilled trade professionals, there are itemized costs, and the workers won’t bat an eye at telling you that they charge $90+/hour for labor plus any associated parts. In the spirit of our Austin heat, I have seen zero social media posts that go something like this: “Looking for a reliable Air Conditioning Service Technician with two hard working assistants. My unit died. If you’re good, it shouldn’t take your more than 2 hours. I can pay $75 total, plus a few beers, and it’ll be a good hang.” Granted, there may be somebody out there willing to take on this task and agree to the terms, but I wonder about the quality of the end result.
2. Have A Standard
As Working Professionals, we owe it to ourselves to have a standard when it comes to compensation. If you got into the music business in the Post-Napster era, you are well aware that the financials are not in favor of artists or content creators. If you live in Austin, the costs associated with living in Austin are going up quickly. If you are relying solely on music to pay your way, it’s extremely hard to turn down any kind of work. In the checking account, $20 is significantly better than $0. Employers and potential employers also know this. There is such a saturation of willing and available talent, they know they can get something of relative quality for a bargain basement price. Let’s avoid nurturing this point of view.
3. Move Forward
We need to be a Union. We need to bring the entire music community into the conversation from the big budget touring professionals that call Austin home to the occasional hobbyists. We need to be able to say “No, thank you,” when the working conditions and compensation are not sufficient. We need to be able to say “No,” without worrying that we have burned a professional bridge. We need to be able to say “Yes,” when a working opportunity is universally good and not out of a sense of fear that if we say “no,” there are thirty other people directly behind us in line to take that spot. I feel that we too often sign on for sub-par compensation because “A gig is a gig, and playing is better than not playing.” A younger, hungrier version of me would have agreed with this, but it’s not sustainable or healthy. If we don’t fight for our well being, nobody will do it on our behalf. It doesn’t have to be the way it currently is. I know we all love to play, but in order to keep a collective monetary value on live music, we need to band together in Solidarity and use the standards that we have set in place: The Wage Scale Committee Recommendations are in this issue and the current Wage Scale Book is available on our website. Use the scale. File your contract. Not just to protect yourself, not just because we need to make examples out of employers who are stiffing musicians, but to strengthen our organization for the benefit of all.
By Executive Board Member, Pat Harris