A New Year and New Visions
Recording Vice President's Report
Volume 116, No. 1January, 2016
Andy Schwartz is the recording vice president of Local 802 and the supervisor of the union’s organizing, jazz and single engagement departments. Contact him at email@example.com or (212) 245-4802, ext. 110.
This is my first column writing to you as your new recording vice president. We in the Local 802 administration are grateful for the expression of confidence you have shown in returning us to office by acclamation. To be entrusted by the members with these positions of leadership is a great privilege and we will continue to work hard to represent your interests. I want to begin by thanking outgoing Recording Vice President John O’Connor for earnestly working with me on my transition, and for his service and devotion to our union. I’m sure his planned return to making music will be a wonderful experience.
My own progress to recording vice president has been the culmination of 15 years on Local 802’s boards, including the past nine years as your representative on the Executive Board. I’ve also been active as a member of the board of directors of the New York chapter of the Recording Musicians Association and more recently as a member of the board of the RMA International. Those of you who have been friends and colleagues over my past 40 years of performing may recall my various “side trips” and professional reinventions. For the benefit of those whom I’ve yet to meet, those experiences include: working as a freelance guitarist in nearly every field here in NYC and on the road; five years at Sony Music in the areas of A&R administration and copyright; earning an M.A. in music business from NYU as well as a certificate in advanced union leadership from Cornell’s Union Leadership Institute; coordinating fundraising for 802’s Emergency Relief Fund; and leading the music business program at New Jersey City University for the past decade. It all seemed to point the way toward my new job and I am truly honored to now be working for the musician community I dearly love. Taking care of our members will be my number-one priority and you’ll find the door is always open when you need me.
What are the responsibilities of the recording vice president? The title itself is often confusing to our members, as the word “recording” was intended to refer to record keeping, a function of the office of the Secretary/Treasurer before it was split into the two vice president positions (recording vice president and financial vice president. Among my responsibilities are overseeing operations at 802’s building, supervising the Electronic Media Services Department, and negotiating and enforcing collective bargaining agreements for live performances in nightclubs, hotels, on club dates and in the fields of jazz and Latin music. The recording vice president supervises a great staff of business reps and organizers, and works with 802’s officers and Executive Board to plan strategically for the future well-being of our union’s members. It’s a big job.
Nine years ago, as a new member of the Executive Board, I began to investigate ways for Local 802 to open its umbrella and welcome in musicians working in fields not traditionally covered by the union. This meant going where the music is being made, regardless of genre or union affiliation, to open up dialogues with any who might want to collaborate with 802 and organize to improve their working lives. Along the way I met some very forward-thinking indie musicians. They provided a tutorial on their wonderfully diverse world, and I was encouraged enough to think that something good could eventually come of a broad-based collaboration. It led first to the formation of the AvantJazz/802 Committee and later the Winter Jazzfest negotiating committee. The result was the first-ever union agreement for a new music festival in NYC. It’s a hopeful start. The challenge to find activists and partners in all realms of music making will continue. I’ll be looking for support and good innovative ideas from the membership to further expand this initiative.
A very big question in my mind is how to encourage our own members to “go union” when they make the leap to becoming a leader and employer. Speaking as a side musician, regardless of the gig, I always wanted to be covered under an 802 agreement to build my pension and health benefits. Knowing I would be paid a negotiated wage that leveled the playing field for all of us was important. That should be no different today. So why, when reliable contracts are available to cover most types of work – including low-budget entry-level agreements – would any of us avoid doing the right thing by our brother and sister musicians? It seems shortsighted and encourages a “race to the bottom” mentality that hurts all of us. Call me and we’ll figure out how to make an agreement happen for your next job as a leader.
I want to jump right in with a report on my activities just prior to taking office. I hope it will give you an indication of some of my interests.
ON THE ROAD
I had the very good fortune of attending a brand new gathering of music advocates and representatives of municipal governments under the banner of Music Cities Convention: Creating Vibrant and Sustainable Global Cities. The 11-hour series of short presentations took place at Georgetown University on Oct. 25 and focused on the intersection of local music communities and their elected leadership.
Some very strong presentations were made on the issues facing musicians, the positive effects of collaborating with local governments and progressive strategies to enhance the benefits to both groups. Musicians’ advocates and representatives from New York, New Orleans, Boston, Washington D.C., Austin, Denver, Seattle, Lafayette, Burlington, Madison and Nashville were joined by those from Sweden, Australia, Northern Ireland, Ottawa, Norway and Germany to share initiatives and best practices. Also speaking were officials from the U.S. Department of Transportation and the President’s Council on the Arts as well as the special assistant to the president for labor and workforce policy.
What jumped out from these offerings was the snowball of activism on the part of musicians in cities of all sizes. They are seeking to go beyond the common frustrations and get past the obstacles so as to make real progress. Learning to work with local governments means embracing methodologies that will resonate with lawmakers and civic leaders. These may include the creation of collaborative task forces, quantifying the impact of music communities on local economies, and examining city-wide issues, like a lack of low and middle income housing, the requirement of urban planning to address artist workspaces and performance venues, and the realities of the regulated nightlife sector – one that must be supported to keep a city vibrant. There is clearly success to be had when we musicians take a mature and elevated approach in confronting our macro-sized problems. I’m hoping that during the next three years we will focus our organizing energies on this mode of activism.
Next, the Future of Music Policy Summit took place on Oct. 26 and 27, also at Georgetown University, and Local 802 was once again in the house. Each year, for the past 15 years, the Future of Music Coalition presents a forum for musicians, government policymakers, lawyers, advocacy organizations, creators of new technologies, music industry representatives, artist managers, educators and students to come together to speak, listen and debate about the current state of our industry and what the future may hold. The AFM and a group of locals including NYC, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and Nashville are among the sponsors. Attendees came from across North America, the U.K., throughout Europe, and as far away as Australia, to share new ideas, network, and take home the inspiration we all need to remain hopeful about our way forward. Panel discussions were wide ranging, covering topics including:
l The state of the music community in New Orleans tens years after Katrina
l Grassroots organizing in music communities
l New trends in music education
l Time management for musicians
l The challenges for composers and songwriters facing a market that has devalued creativity
l The true value of music brands on social media
l The critical importance of understanding digital data for musicians’ careers and the industry as a whole
l Direct-to-fan engagement
l The move toward a global metadata platform to authenticate our performances and enable accurate payment to creators
l The evolving roles and responsibilities of artist managers
l The transition to and ascendance of the streaming model of music distribution and how it might evolve to deliver sustainable revenue to musicians, record labels and publishers
l The future of radio, both terrestrial and online
l The pros and cons of the existing music licensing structure, leveraging your power as an artist to control where and how your music is distributed in the digital domain, who collects on your behalf and, importantly, the impact of direct licenses versus the benefits of the compulsory license system that sets transparent standards for payments to musicians via SoundExchange.
As you can easily imagine, some of these topics were subject to intense debate. Strongly voiced disagreement sometimes erupted between panelists. While we all share many of the same ultimate goals for the betterment of music creators, the means to get there are far from universally embraced.
My participation on behalf of 802 and the AFM was on a panel entitled Herding Cats in Theory and Practice: Musicians Making Impact. While the title itself may have seemed less than optimal, in fact it turned out to be a good discussion of the way forward to organize music communities. Moderated by Bertis Downs, manager and general counsel to the band R.E.M., the participants included members of the Content Creators Coalition, Featured Artist Coalition, Future of Music Coalition and the AFM. I proposed the concept to the audience that while we musicians identify as “artists,” to the employers who pay us, we’re “labor” and no different from the other workers that they employ. When we can act collectively as labor we will increase the chances of having impact. The “artist-worker” conundrum is one all of us will need to acknowledge if we are going to confront the forces in opposition to our progress. For some in the audience this was a new concept and I believe their response and recognition of the new title of “worker” was encouraging.
In terms of our future success in organizing, whether the community is grassroots in nature or more formally established as in the case of the AFM, we must learn to listen to each other, be willing to collaborate in new and as yet untested ways, and build consensus and power from the ground up. Evidence of such collaboration can be found in Seattle’s Fair Trade Music initiative, one that has successfully engaged musicians, the Seattle AFM local, the city and music venues, and is providing a model that we in NYC will likely want to build upon.
The many voices of music cannot be easily pigeonholed. We know that music is being made in ways and in places that never occurred to the founders of the AFM. We will want to be a major part of any discussion about the future of music and stand ready to provide our expertise. We will also need to be ready to adapt and evolve to become more effective community leaders. I firmly believe as we work together for the success of all musicians that their advancement will ultimately bring them to our door as union members. We have a lot to offer in terms of our knowledge, resources and the ability to advocate on the highest level. Let’s use it for the benefit of all.
I look forward to the years ahead and count on your input and support to make this a great experience.