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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 15, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 20
Musicians win support for fair treatment - Seattle City Council to declare May 20 'Fair Trade Music Day'
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Musicians win support for fair treatment - Seattle City Council to declare May 20 'Fair Trade Music Day'

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Local musicians won important support from the Seattle City Council May 13, when Nick Licata's Finance and Culture Committee voted unanimously to 'reaffirm their support for all workers, including musicians, having the right to negotiate fair contracts, establish equitable business relationships, and abide by enforceable standards.'

In addition, the committee's resolution, co-sponsored by Licata and Mike O'Brien, will declare May 20 'Fair Trade Music Day' in Seattle.

The resolution goes before the whole City Council on May 18, but with eight of the nine Council members plus Mayor Ed Murray already on record in support, it is almost certain the measure will pass.

Fair Trade Music Seattle is a grassroots campaign bringing local musicians - union and non-union - together to fight for basic rights.

'This city does a good job of supporting music, but often not a very good job of supporting musicians,' musicians union organizer Paul Bigman told Licata's committee.

While it may seem obvious that musicians should have written contracts with club owners and be paid an agreed-upon amount, musicians say even these simple rules are far from standard in their business.

Testifying before Licata's committee, local musicians recounted how club owners often refuse to sign contracts with musicians, and then pay them less than was agreed on verbally.

One musician who spoke with SGN before the committee hearing asked not to be identified by name because he feared retaliation by club owners. A recent incident illustrated the problems musicians have to face, he said.

His band was hired to open for a nationally-known band. He was 'treated with disdain at best,' he said, when he asked for a written contract.

Then he was informed that the band was touring without instruments, and his group would be expected to loan them theirs. When he again asked for a written agreement with assurances that the headline act would pay for any damage to the instruments, he says the venue offered him a mere $50 extra for the use of his instruments.

'I found out later that the venue was paid $2,500 to rent instruments for the [headline] band,' he told SGN. 'They offered us $50 and pocketed the rest.

'A month later I saw a Facebook post with that same band destroying their instruments in another city,' he continued. 'What if it had been our instruments? I don't have $5,000 to throw down for new instruments.

'I have a day job where I don't even make a living. I'm lucky if I go home at the end of a gig with $50. We're expected to fill the club at $25 per ticket and we end up with $1 or $2 per ticket.'

Bigman also explained that some music promoters make musicians sign onerous non-compete clauses in order to play at local music festivals.

'Several local festivals, including the Capitol Hill Block Party, require excessive and unreasonable non-compete clauses,' he said, sometimes making musicians promise not to play at other festivals with a 300-mile radius.

A number of local venues have already agreed to Fair Trade Music principles, including enforceable written contracts with musicians and fair pay for a night's work.

Fair Trade Music venues that may be familiar to SGN readers include 88 Keys, Capitol Cider, Chop Suey, Re-bar, Showbox, Showbox SoDo, and Vito's. The Seattle Theater Group - which produces shows at the Moore, Neptune, and Paramount - has signed on to the campaign.

Last year Fair Trade Music won their first victory when they were able to get four designated 'musician loading zones' in front of the Crocodile and Tula's in Belltown, High Dive in Fremont, the Showbox by Pike Place Market, and the Triple Door in downtown Seattle.

The group has also written a template for musician's performance agreements so that venues and musicians can agree on terms and conditions of employment quickly and fairly. They have also conducted training for musicians on how to negotiate a contract with club owners.

AFM (American Federation of Musicians) Local 76-493, their national union, and the Washington State Labor Council have put up funds for free diagnostics and tune-ups for sound systems at Fair Trade Music venues.

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