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AB5: Assessing its implications, impact and the impetus for fair wage progress. Is an Independent Musicians Alliance part of the solution???

Gigging jazz musicians convened in a “town hall” discussion at the bookshop on February 25th to discuss the prospects for an “Independent Musicians Alliance” – a solidarity organization without dues or meetings – to encourage a free flow of information among musicians that might facilitate collective action seeking overall improvement in wages, benefits and working conditions for working artists across a range of workplaces.

The IMA idea is the brainchild of Mario Guarneri, founder and artistic director of Jazz in the Neighborhood, with the input and cooperation of Eric Whittington from Bird & Beckett, and the two seek to push it into being with this February 25th brainstorming session and a benefit at the bookshop on February 29th.

(A town hall meeting at the Flight Deck in Oakland earlier this month on February 5th brought musicians, promoters and experts in law and arts advocacy together for an initial consideration of State Law AB5 and its implications for independent musicians.)

State Law AB5, which became effective at the start of this year, set new requirements for determining when an individual worker should be considered an employee or an independent contractor, and was at first thought by most voters to pertain basically to people who drive for ridesharing and delivery behemoths — Uber, Doordash, etc. — and other app-based employers. What has emerged is that it is also being applied to performing artists (musicians, actors, etc.) and therefore to arts presenting organizations (like Bird & Beckett and Jazz in the Neighborhood).

Independent musicians, by and large, fear that their slender existence and that of those who might hire them, will be strangled by paperwork, administrative burdens and tax scrutiny, not to mention taxation of their small earnings, as they are reclassified as employees rather than independent contractors for virtually every gig they might take. Legislators are now looking to carve out some breathing room for musicians under AB5. We’re hoping to understand the law, work with it and, ultimately, to go beyond it. Higher guarantees, benefits and improved working conditions are the goal.

If independent musicians are exempted from AB5, should that leave them with small earnings, no benefits, no pensions, nothing but nickels and dimes on gigs where they might have to travel 50 miles in a $500 car with a $5,000 instrument to play for thirty-five bucks??? We want them to agitate for more money and some fringes, we want them to know their worth and insist on it.

Bird & Beckett is in league with Jazz in the Neighborhood to press for improvements in the wages and working conditions of the Bay Area’s gigging jazz musicians. We continue to press the issue with musicians and audiences alike.

A pair of town hall meetings for jazz musicians on the law, its implications and a positive path forward has been planned by Bird & Beckett and Jazz in the Neighborhood. The first, on February 4th at the Flight Deck in Oakland produced much discussion and food for thought.

A second town hall meeting will be held February 25th, 6 to 8pm, at Bird & Beckett in San Francisco to discuss current implications of AB5, as well as the formation of an Independent Musicians Alliance to encourage the free flow of information that might facilitate collective action seeking overall improvement in wages, benefits and working conditions for working artists across a range of workplaces.

We’ll soon launch an “Independent Musicians Alliance,” intended to be a musicians’ solidarity organization that can promote the free flow of information among artists about the Bay Area’s gigging landscape, so they can, as a group, push for and achieve better wage standards (including “fringe” benefits like group insurance for health care, dental care and vision care;  a pension fund; an emergency support fund for housing and similar crises) and better working conditions.

To achieve these wage and working conditions improvements, and especially if AB-5 takes full effect, the IMA might also act as the employer of record on musicians’ gigs — lifting the administrative burden off the shoulders of bandleaders and venues of complying with the law, and reducing costs so that less money is extracted by the taxing authorities, the accountants and lawyers (god love ’em all) from the money gigging musicians make on their gigs and from the budgets of small producers and presenters.

More immediately, the IMA would lobby government at the local, state and federal levels to step in and stabilize gigging musicians’ economic circumstances — like socialist-leaning governments in France, Germany, Norway and many other countries have long done.

The main thing we want is for musicians to be free to pursue their art as a profession, and to be able to afford to live in the Bay Area so that our cultural landscape is something we can all be proud of, enjoy and benefit from in these trying times.

We ask you to keep in mind the key question:
Should professional artists work for free or for peanuts?
Or for fair pay?

Stay tuned… and whether you’re a pro or a fan,
start thinking in terms of solidarity.

We’ll leave you with ABBA’s mission statement – which we could do well to take as a model:

“Arts for a Better Bay Area’s objective is to develop a network of artists, advocates, and supporters dedicated to building community-wide solidarity to increase support and equitable access to the arts. As a coalition of individuals and organizations we inform and mobilize the arts community through community-driven action.”

or, as it’s been put by that other ABBA:

You can dance
You can jive
Having the time of your life
Ooh, see that girl
Watch that scene
Digging the dancing queen

Gotta love those socialist Swedes!

And Sweet Sue, who’s learning to lead
after a lifetime of relying on someone else to do it.
It’s really never to late to learn a new dance step
and it’s always time to teach it to someone new!


JitN’s Mario Guarneri suggests that the article linked here, posted online by the organization “Arts for a Better Bay Area” (ABBA) is the best current round-up of information on AB5.  Read up on ABBA itself here. We welcome new links to sensible discussions as we go forward.


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The Bird & Beckett Cultural Legacy Project

Our events are put on under the umbrella of the nonprofit Bird & Beckett Cultural Legacy Project (the "BBCLP"). That's how we fund our ambitious schedule of 300 or so concerts and literary events every year.

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The Independent Musicians Alliance

Gigging musicians! You have nothing to lose but your lack of a collective voice to achieve fair wages for your work!
The IMA can be a conduit for you, if you join in to make it work.


Read more here - Andy Gilbert's Feb 25 article about the IMA from KQED's site

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