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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 5, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 06
Music industry generates $4.3 billion in economic impact, but musicians don't get their fair share
Section One
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Music industry generates $4.3 billion in economic impact, but musicians don't get their fair share

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Seattle's music industry accounts for $1.8 billion in direct output and generates more than $4.3 billion in total economic impact, but musicians don not get their fair share of the economic benefits, a new report says.

The report, titled 'Seattle's Working Musicians,' was written by labor activist and PhD student Megan Brown and commissioned by the Fair Trade Music Project of the Seattle Musicians Union, AFM 76-493.

The document was presented to Seattle City Council member Lisa Herbold's Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development, and Arts Committee on January 26.

'Because our local works with freelance musicians, and we had so much anecdotal evidence, we wanted a report on what's actually going on in the industry,' AFM 76-493 President Motter Snell told the committee.

'The music industry has seen 50% growth since 2008, but the musicians at the core of the industry are not sharing in that growth. In fact, a typical musician earns only about $15,000 per year in music-related income.'

According to the report, the music industry supplies more than 30,000 local jobs, with working musicians being 'the engines that power the broader industry.'

Nevertheless, musicians say they are subject to uncertainty and outright mistreatment at work, including extreme non-compete requirements and unfair compensation for performances.

According to musicians who testified before Herbold's committee, non-compete requirements like blackout dates and geographical restrictions unfairly limit a musician's ability to work and make money.

'Blackout dates could be as much as one month before [the performance] and one month after, and cover the whole Seattle area,' singer-song writer Joey Walbaum explained. 'There's one festival - I won't say which one - that has a 300-mile radius [where musicians are not allowed to perform before and after playing there].'

'Other states address this issue through non-compete laws,' jazz musician Nate Omdal explained. 'Washington is behind in that regard.'

'For the $400 I can make playing a festival, you're going to ask me not to work for two months statewide? How does that make sense?' Omdal asked.

State Reps. Derek Stanford (D-1) and Mike Sells (D-38) are drafting a bill that would deal fairly with musicians, Omdal told SGN after the hearing.

Musicians also say that venues regularly pay them less than was agreed on before the performance. Often venues that promise a percentage of the show's gate are not transparent about how much they took in, musicians say. In other cases, the venue's management pays for fewer hours than musicians actually worked.

Music promoter Steve Rosetta, who supports the musicians' union's Fair Trade Music campaign, says unscrupulous music venues count on musicians lacking the resources to collect money owed to them.

In fact, some freelance musicians say they prefer to work as buskers, playing in public places for tips, rather than going through the hassle of dealing with music venues.

'For me, busking is a better business model than being exploited by the music industry,' busker Francis Brennan told the committee.

Brennan, who performs with Luz Gaxiola in many places in Seattle, told SGN that 'busking is getting more common among gigging musicians,' because they are becoming frustrated with the uncertainty and unfairness of the current industry. If new laws regulated the industry, Brennan added, 'I would be seeking out more gigs.'

Musicians say the legal protections they want are similar to those outlined in the Fair trade Music pledge that some local clubs and theaters have signed:

o To provide musicians with a written agreement that lays out the terms of payment

o To provide musicians with a record of how many tickets were sold and how much money was made

o To have a decent sound system and capable sound tech

o To work with Fair Trade Music Seattle to resolve disputes, if there are disagreements

A list of Fair Trade Music venues that promise to treat musicians with respect can be found at fairtrademusicseattle.org.

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