At Red & Black Music, we believe in free trade. This means that trade is left to its natural course without tariffs, quotas, or other restrictions. In the arts and creative industries, it means that the individual is free to take or leave work regardless of the rates rubber stamped by the trade unions. In music specifically, it means that the musician is sufficiently equipped to stipulate their own rates relative to their ability, availability and experience.
We have experienced first hand a wide range of professionalism among musicians (documented in this blog). We believe that the rates should be relative to this: i.e., a musician cannot justify charging professional rates if they do not conduct themselves in a professional, accountable and reliable manner. We've seen it many times that musicians are too quick to adopt politically correct standpoints and 'blindly' quote Musicians' Union rates, but never think twice about the implications and repercussions of breaching a contractual agreement, even if it results in financial losses for the label and other musicians. In our opinion, this widens the disparity between available opportunities and musicians who are prepared to be compliant.
Just to clarify: while the Musicians' Union rates are a useful tool to shape the profession and a reminder not to undermine our worth, there is a narrow line between knowing what you 'could' be quoting, and what you 'should' be quoting. For example, it's unrealistic to expect musicians to be paid minimum £144 per head for a jazz club gig; the promoter will simply hire another production. In other words, it's both an enforcement and a denial of what actually happens.
What if musicians are hiring a venue and promoting an event themselves? Will the musicians still demand the standard Musicians' Union rate? Who will enforce these sorts of regulations at ground level if it's a less 'formal' arrangement such as a 'group' venture? Who will be liable for picking up the pieces (financial losses) when the lead vocalist cancels, the show has to be pulled as a result and the label/musicians are charged a hefty bill from the venue (staffing and technicians) and marketing overheads?
For the above reasons it's completely unrealistic to expect all promoters to adopt a 'one size fits all' approach: pay the same rates to all musicians regardless of the circumstances. It's a lovely thought, yes, but in practice it's implausible.
By the same token, Red & Black Music was prohibited from disseminating an advertisement for a paid recording position among students at the Royal College of Music. As we all know, many 'bands' expect their musicians to record for free and it's rare that these paid opportunities are put forward to an educational establishment in such a transparent, straightforward way.
Trumpet, Diáspora (London)
What were the implications?
While we fully understand and agree that the Musicians' Union rates are in the best interests of musicians; we recognise this to be a form of idealism. Yes, we agree that the musicians shouldn't be expected to work for lower than they feel they ought to. However, we believe in realism: musicians having the motivation to make these sorts of decisions for themselves: i.e., not letting a centralised union dictate what they should and shouldn't be earning via a universal/set standard that hardly reflects the reality and diversity in today's industry.
By the same token, it's not right that a session musician being booked as a deputy and coming in for a one-off performance should be paid the same amount as a regular musician, who has contributed to the label/production over a long period, and has shown steadfast loyalty and commitment over the years.
We believe that the independent labels, productions and other small businesses, and creative individuals (arrangers, composers, producers and songwriters) should be empowered to increment levels of pay according to ability, availability and experience, without being forced to adhere to the strict guidelines of a centralised union. This ultimately gives musicians more choice, more freedom and more autonomy in terms of what work they wish to take and how it might craft and shape their musical careers, and contribute to their personal artistic goals. We believe that people who have this level of insight, commitment and motivation should be rewarded for their hard work.
There are too many 'drifters' who lack foresight and do not adhere to obligation and personal responsibility. They are a law unto themselves and are getting equal pay and opportunities. This is an injustice. We want to champion the brightest and the best individuals who do go that extra mile and generate opportunities through their own initiative; rather than those at the opposite end of the spectrum who expect something for nothing, but simply coast through life letting opportunities fall into their laps and yet are the first to complain if the rates aren't aligned.
In both of the following examples, musicians were too quick to align themselves to the Musicians' Union rates in order to justify higher rates of pay. Upon supplication, neither musician was able to produce a quantifiable or substantiated fees structure themselves without resorting to these external measures. Basing minimum costs on a 'gig-by-gig' basis amounts to an uneconomical, overly social 'cloak-and-dagger', wheeling and dealing style approach; pulling arbitrary figures out of thin air, depending the time of year, passing of seasons and mood. It's this symptomatic, apathetic: "this is the way things are" resolve that overrides the enforcement of musicians' rates.
Interestingly, the musician in the first example chose to accept the engagement - even after acknowledging the fact that the rates didn't comply to the Musicians' Union rates - thereby undermining their own argument for having quoted the Musicians' Union rates in the first place.
From: Red & Black Events
From: Red & Black Music
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A category naming and shaming unreliable musicians.
A category reporting unscrupulous venues and traders.
A category exploring the issues faced working via agents.