Benefits of the London Musicians Association
Many years ago, in the 70’s and 80’s when I played bars, we had what we called the Musician’s Union that you had to belong to in order to play venues and anything above that.
We had agents back then who would do all the booking and look after the contracts the band had to sign.
Prior to 1992 – licensed agents were ONLY allowed to book AFM members. VPC Ray Petch changed the booking agent agreement that year, allowing for agents to book non-member bands, as long as AFM contracts were used for members, and a generic contract for the non-members.
That was the norm back then – a contract between the bar and the band to cement an agreement and terms of performance, payroll and anything else agreed to with the bar. The contract protected both parties. If the band failed to deliver on their end of the agreement the venue had grounds to not pay the band, and conversely, if the venue failed to pay the band as agreed, the union would go after them for the agreed amount. The hammer here was that if venues hired non-union bands or failed to live up to their side of the agreement, they would be put on the “Defaulters List”. and no more union bands would be allowed to play that particular club.
This list was found in the International Musician along-side the Unfair List, and was called the “Defaulters List”. It was discontinued as laws in the United States changed and made it illegal to identify employers who owed musicians money.
The terms of payment was set by a committee of members who determine the market for a particular category, then recommended to the membership, who then vote to make that the prevailing scale so that no one was under cutting their peers.
Band leaders paid the union work dues for each contract, which kept the union strong financially and for all intents and purposes “kept the lights on”.
In those years, annual dues were in the $50 range. The theory behind work dues is that those who play the most (and are therefore exposed to more chance of default or other contractual issues), would pay a little more. It didn’t make any sense to charge high periodic dues to a musician who worked very little.It’s better to pay work dues on a gig, than not have a gig to pay work dues on.
Musicians would also take advantage of the union’s optional benefits like instrument insurance (Your gear was in a bar for a week at times or in constant travel in a van, so protecting your investment was crucial much the same as it is now.)
The Musicians Pension Fund of Canada is entirely employer funded, which over the length of a long and busy career would guarantee you decent monthly pension payment when you finally retired to that favorite porch after your playing days. Its Members may, however, include pension in the gross amount of the contract, and then remit ON BEHALF of the employer, as long as the contract indicates that pension was negotiated. It’s worth mentioning that in the 60’s through the 80’s, many Locals had mandatory pension, and agreements with many venues who would automatically remit pension on behalf of the band.
In those days bands were working “week residencies” where they played from Monday to Saturday at the same bar, sometimes a matinee on Saturdays, the times were 9-1am and venues from Thursday night to Saturday were packed with patrons who had money in their pocket and bands usually played in venues with large stages, lights and PA’s. I remember being in bands where we used our own PA for shows, two massive Peavy PA cabs that stood 5 feet tall and took an army to load in and out. There were also “back enders” (Thursday to Saturday night) or “front enders (Monday to Wednesday).
Keep in mind too, people could smoke right in the bar. There were no anti-smoking crusades and everyone knows that a beer and a smoke go hand in hand. I smoked back then and even I came home disgusted with the heavy smell of cigarette smoke on my clothes after a night in a bar – so I was one of the ones who was glad when they took smoking out of clubs.The upside – we got paid well – very well in fact and everyone was basking in the sunshine. Bands were making good money, venues were raking in great revenue as the bars were packed and agents could raise a family based on all the work they got booking bands into clubs.
Then in the early 80’s things changed.
The AFM chose not to be a certified union in Canada so that its members could be classified as self-employed, for tax purposes. Only under certain circumstances is it beneficial to have employee status – in some orchestras, in a theater pit and so forth. You were now a dues-paying member of the Canadian Labor Congress. In some provinces, they have negotiated agreements, had them ratified and then registered them with the Labor Board in those provinces – making them “voluntary recognition” agreements, and giving the CFM access to the Labor Board as a remedy for any labor issues. That said, the AFM is a union in the US, incorporated in California. As an international union, that status carries over into Canada.
In Canada, the big change came with the Charter of Rights, whereby we could no longer extend our agreements to a third party. For instance, if we had an agreement with a legion, they were compelled to hire union musicians, as were anyone who rented to the facility, such as the father of the bride. After the Charter came in, it was no longer legal to extend that restriction to a 3rd party. The father of the bride could hire whomever he wanted, and by extension, the bartender could hire whomever he wanted in a venue where the owner had signed an agreement.
Another huge change happened in the United States in approximately 1978. A National Labor Relations Board decision which was imposed upon the AFM, made the bandleader the employer, not the venue owner or father of the bride. This was because the bandleader would payroll the other musicians and issue them 1099 tax forms. It shook the entire industry, weakened the position of all similar unions, and while there was no corresponding law in Canada, had an impact here as well.
Slowly the CFM started losing membership as the six-nighter's disappeared, and venues that previously used several musicians cut back to one or two, or went with DJ’s, karaoke, or became a sports bar. Large home entertainment systems appeared, meaning you didn’t have to go out for your entertainment, and bars were no longer the sole place to socialize. From a high of 350,000 members in 1985, it dropped to about 80,000. However – the majority of the musicians that played in large bands in the show venues and six-night cabarets left the business. Or, they got day jobs and jammed on weekends.
This set-back opened up a crack in what had been a solidified front between the musicians and the CFM in terms of business dealings with the venues. The great recession of the early 80’s was staggering to the economy as interest rates went up to over 20% resulting in people literally walking away from their homes as they couldn’t afford the massive mortgage payments at 20% plus – it took nearly a decade to see any form of recovery as people were filing for bankruptcy by the thousands and their entertainment dollars were redirected merely trying to survive.
The venues hung in there trying to navigate the economic storm that has encompassed the country, yet the cost of doing business, the constant crackdown and ridiculous smoking restrictions that seemed to change endlessly based on full moon’s, the staggering taxes on venues and the ridiculous prices they still have to pay for a case of beer vs. those of us who walk in off the street – and the sun was setting in the distance for some. London had a ton of great music venues – Campbells, the iconic London Hotel, Fryfogles, Old City Hall, Kipling's, The Brass Rail, The Barn, The Wellington, The Ridout, the Talbot Block complex with Mingles, the Firehall and the Cookery, The Abby – all of which hired bands ALL the time and were “go to” destinations for patrons of live music. Most of those venues had great stages, in-house PA and lights and sound men to go with them – for a music fan AND musician it was heaven.
Fast forward to now – well it’s the Wild West out there.Venues are still staggering under crushing government tax and regulations. Non-smoking on patios has forced the closure of venues this year, and some others are on the verge as their patrons, fed up with being treated like children by intrusive government laws, opt to stay at home.The later bar hours (10-2am) has become the new norm and effects those that work on weekends thus causing them to not go out to live music or leave sooner than they would want which reduces revenue for the bar. Also, young people who do go out to bars, now choose to pre-drink at home before going out. They generally arrive late – after midnight – and only order one or two drinks for the remainder of the evening, ensuring that bar profits are way down from what they were in the 70’s and 80’s, and ensuring that the venue cannot afford live music in a sustainable manner such as in the previous era. Liquor laws are a lot tighter than in the 70’s & 80’s (which is a good thing).
Musicians belong to the American Federation of Musicians (AFM). The Canadian Federation of Musicians (CFM) is an operating name only. Similarly, there are no CFM Locals. The charters are all issued by the AFM. Many “bands” are not members because we have not adequately organized in the freelance sector yet in the symphonic and theater world, they are almost ALL members.
Most musicians/bands don’t use contracts anymore - granted a piece of paper is only a piece of paper - but it at least gives you some legal ground to stand on and it also allows the AFM local to help you retrieve your money should you get shafted by a shady promoter, or the very rare venue that doesn’t pay you.
What is lost to them though by not being a Member is among others, the Pension aspect followed closely by the alligator clauses against unauthorized recording or broadcast, access to the venue by a union rep, and the fact that our newest contract has no cancellation clause. Unless mutually agreed upon, a club owner can simply not cancel a band with short notice because a better band because available, or because not enough tickets were sold, or any other reason. As it was in 1975, it still is a poor business move for a band to embark on a tour with only a phone call or email verifying gigs are in place.
Fortunately, from my experience in London the venue owners are reputable business people who work hard and take pride in their integrity, and you will find that integrity throughout the vast majority of venues owners across Ontario. Promoters’ too, for the most part, are excellent reputable people to work for, but you must realize that it only takes 1 or 2 bad ones to tarnish the reputation of them all.
Yet at the end of the day you HAVE to realize that your music career is YOUR BUSINESS !
Think about it, venue owners sign contracts for everything else – the beer delivery, the liquor order, food, plumbers and electricians – they only get away without signing a contract for music because the musicians want all the money trail “under the table” or they are afraid of asking for a contract.
It’s not a pragmatic business decision not to obligate the employer by having them sign the contract – not only for pension purposes and all the other reasons referenced above, but so the musician has a record of income for tax purposes.
If you are a young musician, the London Musicians’ Association has a wealth of members with decades of industry experience to provide along with many resources to help you out in your music career – and for the cost of about 45 cents a day, that’s a pretty cheap investment in your music career.
London Musician’s Association http://www.londonmusicians.com/
Members are provided with free Canadian & American contracts, which provide binding protection on all engagements.
CONTRACT DEFENSE FUND
If members have a signed filed contract, the LMA will advance emergency funds should they be cancelled, fired, replaced or given a NSF cheque. Then the LMA will then handle their claim.
Through a reciprocal agreement within the AFM, Canadian Members have access to temporary US Work and Showcase Permits.
FREE $3,000 AD & D coverage through American Income Life (AIL) included with LMA membership.
AIL provides group rates for medical, dental and income replacement insurance. Membership with the LMA also provides access to affordable insurance rates and benefits though the London Chamber of Commerce. Through Hub Insurance, members have access to affordable instrument insurance, travel insurance and liability certificates for up to $2M/person. The instrument insurance also provides for gig cancellation and income loss, as well as many other benefits.
In addition to the LMA’s online musician/teacher search and booking referral, the AFM provides a host of services for the freelance musician or group including AFM Entertainment, GoProMusic, GoProLessons, GoProAuction, GoProHosting and GoProTunes for international exposure.
COLLECTIVE BARGAINING AGREEMENTS
A number of local, national, and international agreements with major employers of musicians offer access to all types of employment at industry standard wages and working conditions.
Automatic Musicians Pension Fund of Canada contributions on most employment covered by collective agreements and the option of including pension contributions on other contracted employment.
Musicians should be encouraged to negotiate pension on ALL gigs. The MPF Canada is one of the best, multi-employer defined benefit plans in the world, with higher returns than RRSP’s or similar plans.
Performance Trust Fund
Through its affiliation with the AFM the London Musicians’ Association administers the Musicians’ Performance Fund, which provides up to 50% co-funding for non-ticketed live music events.
We actively encourage the public to use our booking-referral service for their music needs. We provide help and advice for clients as well as performance opportunities for our members.
Blog Author: Jim McCormick
President of Allstage
Member of London Chamber of Commerce
Member of London Musicians Committee
Member of London Business of Music Committee
Member of the Executive Board at London Musicians Association