Music Lives in New York

Introducing Local 802's new live music campaign

Volume CX, No. 1January, 2010

Joel LeFevre

The challenges facing the music and the members of Local 802 are great. Technology is both a boon and a bane for art and entertainment.

The “long tail” of sales curves shows that 80 percent of recordings hosted for sale on iTunes have no sales after three months.

In film, huge hits have always led the market, but “almost made its” are dwindling.

With all the new ways of finding content emerging to consumers every year, the musicians’ union is forever in a game of responding to change instead of having the market power to be sure the interests of musicians are respected by the marketplace.

Reversing the shrinkage of the market share of unionized work is the challenge we face.

Art and entertainment contribute over $23 billion a year to New York’s economy, yet are left to find their own place in the cultural values of our collective efforts in education and community development.

Every orchestra with a shortened season, every postponed nonprofit theatrical production, and every delayed commercial production are “shovel-ready projects” that will stimulate employment and spending in the communities that host performances, while the attendant employment and purchasing required by these projects stimulate and support spending in other neighborhoods.

The good news is that the National Endowment for the Arts had its funding increased by $50 million for this year.

The bad news is that arts giving has gone down more than $50 million.

The fact that no elected official has even considered adding $1 billion per year from bailed-out bank repayments to the NEA budget as part of an economic stimulus package is testimony to their lack of vision.

The 30,000 new troops going to Afghanistan will cost $1 million each to deploy until their projected withdrawl.

If we could muster the determination to demand that we spend that much on arts education in 30,000 schools over the next decade, we truly could change the world in a positive way.

This year the union may spend 14 percent of its budget on promoting live music in the form of our new Music Lives in New York campaign.

Following this approach, the union actually has the possibility of laying the groundwork for concentrating the message that live music is an economic benefit and an essential cultural value.

Building power for fine art is a task usually left to others: entertainment industry employers, the boards of trustees of major cultural institutions and companies and other power brokers looking to promote some form of their business interests.

But our careers as musicians depend upon the commercial and political success of these entities for our employment.

We usually don’t look upon the policies of government and educators as a target for our activities other than an occasional letter to the editor or committee testimony by an officer. That can change in a very positive way.

I encourage every reader – and especially every union committee member – to study the outline below and determine where the connections you have now can be leveraged to make common cause with one or more elements of our campaign.

It is the best organizing Local 802 could possibly do. It is also a pathway to making every member benefit from union activism.

It portends an exciting time for Local 802.


The campaign’s major objective is to build a strong coalition of arts organizations, labor unions, entertainment-dependent industries (hotel, restaurant, travel, etc), elected officials and public organizations that will:

  1. Promote live music performance. Live music performance is crucial to our city’s economy, playing a key role in attracting local and foreign tourists whose spending is vital to the entertainment and hospitality industries.
  2. Campaign for a substantial increase in arts funding at the city, state and national levels. One of the major goals of the campaign will be to get a substantial increase in arts funding at the city, state and national levels to the many currently cash starved arts organizations, particularly those presenting live music performances.
  3. Support arts education as a required part of the public school curriculum. One of the objectives of this coalition is to insure proper funding for arts education in every public school from the elementary grades to high school. Improving student performance and education levels requires arts education.
  4. Mandate the fair treatment of artists. No professional artist in our city should go without payment for their work, the security of health care, state statutory benefits and the protection of their creative work from subsequent exploitation.
  5. Work towards a permanent funding stream that supports the arts and arts organizations. The arts as an industry cannot depend upon the constantly changing political winds. There needs to be a permanent funding stream in place that grows as the economy grows and opens up the possibility of expanding live music venues throughout New York City and expanding employment opportunities for musicians.
  6. Strengthen AFM Local 802’s visibility and power. The campaign efforts must work to strengthen the union and allow it to reach new members, especially younger musicians and those from diverse ethnic populations.