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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 22, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 21
May 20 was 'Fair Trade Music Day' in Seattle
City supports musicians' organizing
Section One
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May 20 was 'Fair Trade Music Day' in Seattle
City supports musicians' organizing

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Seattle has always prided itself on being a leader in the music scene, and on May 20 it was once again, with the first-in-the-country Fair Trade Music Day.

Passed by a unanimous vote of the Seattle City Council, Fair Trade Music Day was a response to grassroots organizing by local musicians for fair treatment by the city's live music venues.

While music makes up a huge part of the local economy - $2.8 billion according to a 2008 City of Seattle estimate - the musicians who play it see very little of that revenue.

According to musicians' union organizer Paul Bigman, many local bands perform under a 'pay to play' or 'zero less expenses' system, in which they may go home with as little as $10 after a night of performing.

'Our work is given little or no value,' singer-songwriter David Guilbault stated. 'It's considered a labor of love. But it is labor, and I should be paid for my labor.'

Under the Fair Trade Music system, local music venues would promise to sign written contracts with musicians who play there, give them documentation of the total take at the door - which often forms the basis for musicians' pay - provide up-to-date sound systems, and other reforms.

Fair Trade Music will provide window stickers for participating venues to identify the clubs that have signed the pledge to treat musicians fairly. Participating venues are also listed on the Fair Trade Music Seattle Facebook page.

'We're asking that people go to the clubs that treat musicians fairly,' said bass player Nate Omdal, one of the leaders of the musicians' movement. 'Seattle values our music, and we call ourselves a music city. We need to back that up by valuing musicians, as well as the music.'

'The [City Council] resolution provides working musicians with a safety net and a shield to help us organize ourselves,' Omdal added.

'Knowing that we're being taken seriously by the City leaders has helped to open doors to engage musicians, some of whom have been worried about possible retaliation if we stand up for ourselves.'

City Council member Nick Licata, co-sponsor of the Fair Trade Music resolution, said the situation facing many musicians was 'basically a form of wage theft, death by a thousand cuts. For Seattle to remain a national cultural hub, we must treat our musicians to fair working conditions. This legislation is a first step toward that.'

City Council member Mike O'Brien, the other co-sponsor, called the musician's organizing effort a model for other workers.

'This speaks very highly of our music community,' O'Brien said, 'and provides a model for other industries with independent contractors not protected by traditional labor law.'

Motter Snell, President of Musicians Association of Seattle, American Federation of Musicians (AFM) Local 76-493, expressed appreciation to the Council.

'Seattle is fortunate to have a City Council committed to workers' rights and fundamental social justice,' she said, 'and we particularly want to thank Council members Licata and O'Brien for their leadership.'

AFM has worked with both members and non-union musicians on the Fair Trade Music campaign.

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