On the Top of Our List: Musicians’ Jobs!

Recording Vice-President's Report

Volume CIX, No. 10October, 2009

Bill Dennison

Everyone’s hope is that the current recession, reportedly the deepest since the Great Depression, is coming to an end. The drop in our members’ jobs has been as bad as right after 9/11.

There are however some glimmers of hope.

  • A number of new shows are scheduled on Broadway in the coming months.

  • There are some signs of an increase in jingle work.

  • There are even signals of an upturn in the stock market, which is helping orchestra endowments.

While we have no control over the industry, or control over investments or new product, there are things we can do.

Our main mission is to ensure the stability of our union, including the funds that members depend upon.

But another crucial job is to cultivate and maintain our relationships with other unions, employers and political leaders. And that is something we have done well.

If indeed the economy improves, we are in a position to take advantage of it.

Arts funding helps us all

Government funding is vital to nonprofit arts organizations and their ability to employ our members.

Our contacts and relationships in government are strong. And more of our members have been involved in lobbying efforts in Albany, Washington and City Hall than in many years.

We’ve already demonstrated success on a number of issues, including film tax credits and tax credits for theatres and jazz clubs.

We need to continue to argue that measures to support the arts and entertainment industry are smart economic policy.

Every dollar spent on the arts creates at least seven dollars in economic activity, which benefits related businesses as well as city and state revenues.

We have already begun talks with our friends in the state about next year’s arts budget.

In addition, there are programs that are part of the unemployment insurance system designed to help businesses avoid layoffs through wage subsidies.

Unfortunately they are not designed with the entertainment industry in mind.

For example some of these programs are designed based on a 35 to 40 hour work week, which doesn’t fit into musicians employment patterns.

These programs need to be changed to fit the circumstances of our work environment. We have begun discussions in Albany on this issue.

Economic development issues affect the arts industry. When we argue that our city and state has an economic interest in maintaining sound stages and recording studios, we are fighting for jobs.

Like any industry, ours has an infrastructure of investors, facilities and skilled workforce. If we lose any part of that, the entire industry is threatened. The notion that we shouldn’t be involved in these efforts is short-sighted.

The Local 802 Executive Board has been working with Locker Associates, a union consulting firm, on crafting the outlines of a live music campaign.

As we see it, there is very broad self-interest on the part of our employers, the restaurant, hotel and travel industries and the city and state in promoting our city as the live performance capital of the world.

It makes good sense to work towards organizing this sentiment to expand employment opportunities.

I should emphasize that this is not about returning to a world that no longer exists.

This is about real steps that can be taken to protect live music and expand jobs.

It is built on a solid foundation that emphasizes working with allies, not alienating them.

Paradigm shift in recording

There has been a paradigm shift in the recording industry that has lessened the value of recorded product and increased the value of live performance.

Recordings have become as much marketing tools as profit centers.

That’s why we supported the media agreements that began with the New York Philharmonic and Metropolitan Opera and later expanded to the New York City Ballet and Broadway.

What the agreements have in common is the realization that the real source of income and jobs is putting audience members in the seats.

I believe that Local 802 and its members have demonstrated real wisdom in reaching these agreements that protect income while seeking to insure and even expand employment.

But this is only one part of the equation. The other part is organizing.

Organizing for the future

It’s not enough to fight for tax credits to keep film and recording work in New York City if musicians are not going to be adequately compensated when they get this work.

It’s not enough to support economic development if it doesn’t mean fair standards for those who work in these new businesses.

That’s why we have to organize.

More cable TV shows like “WonderPets!” must be brought under contract.

We have been talking with both AFTRA and Actors’ Equity about some joint organizing projects in this and other areas.

We need to reach out to the growing number of musicians whose creative work now involves synth programming and Pro Tools.

We have been and must continue to grow and change with a rapidly changing industry.

It’s usually our own members who are on the cutting edge of change.

Because of that I feel confident that we can find a way to navigate these new waters.

It’s often just a matter of listening.

October membership meeting

On the front page, you’ll see a notice of the upcoming membership meeting on Tuesday, October 20th.

Those who were at the last meeting know that our club room could not accommodate all those who attended.

We had an overflow in the back room who couldn’t really participate in the meeting, and we heard from others who just didn’t even try to get in because of the crowd.

In addition, the meeting could not conclude its work and lost a quorum because of curtain times.

For these reasons the meeting has been moved up the block to St. Malachy’s Church, which has a much larger space than our club room.

And instead of starting at 5 p.m., the meeting will start two hours earlier, at 3 p.m., to ensure that we can accomplish the business at hand.

I urge you to mark the date, time and place on your calendar now and plan on attending this important meeting.