“The String Quartet Had to Play the Chicken Dance…”

…and Other Pitfalls of the Single Engagement FieldMember to Member

Volume CIV, No. 11November, 2004

Diane Michaels

So you’ve got a gig on Broadway, or you play with a symphony, but you get a call to play a wedding on a Saturday night. The pay sounds great — $300 (cash!) for a one-hour ceremony, so you book the job.

Congratulations on joining the ranks of those musicians who play single engagements!

What’s this, you ask? Single engagements (a k a “club dates”) are just what they sound like — a gig for one-time events such as weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs, corporate parties, and so forth.

At Local 802, club dates represent the greatest number of contracts within the Contract Administration and Field Services Department, which also keeps track of hotel work, steady engagements and about 50 collective bargaining agreements.

Club dates are not just for wedding bands, either. You are as likely to hear strings or a jazz trio on a club date as you are to hear a band playing participation dances.


Let’s get back to your upcoming engagement. Compared to scale for a single show or concert, $300 may sound like a windfall. But is it really?

We’ll start by examining union scale. Musicians recently ratified the new master club date contract, so beginning on Oct. 15, union scale for Saturday night (for any job lasting up to four hours) is $275. There are also provisions for rehearsals and overtime.

(That information, plus a whole store of other pertinent facts can be found on the 802 Web site, at You will need to log in as a member to access the scale info for this field.)

So, in our imaginary scenario, you’re getting paid $300 for this job — but union scale would be only $275.

However, as with a Broadway or union classical gig, scale is only the starting point.

For instance, pension contributions are made at a rate of 9 percent of scale. Also, $23 per service towards the union health plan is also part of the bargain. (Remember, pension and health is not deducted from your paycheck — it’s additional money on top of your take-home that your employer pays for you.)

Keep the calculator handy, because if you play a larger instrument you will also receive cartage.

And if you travel farther than 25 miles from Columbus Circle (excluding Nassau County), there will be reimbursement for the mileage. Plus parking reimbursements for people who receive cartage.

Are you being hired as a doubler? Or as a leader? The club date contract covers all of that, too.

There are other less obvious perks that merit discussion. With the union behind you, you are protected from late payments, cancellations and illegal recordings. Scale plus all of these benefits really does add up!


Now that I’ve told you what a union single engagement can do for you, I want to appeal to you as to what you can do for the union, especially those of us who make a living playing single engagements.

Things are not so hot in our field right now: there doesn’t seem to be as much union work as there used to be. And a lot of the nonunion work pays so far below scale that the playing field is nowhere near level for union signatories to compete.

We can blame the economy or D.J.’s, but the problem starts closer to home. Any time a contractor hires a musician under scale, the market adjusts to the lower price.

We know there are many factors that lead a musician to accept a lower fee; for instance, not being informed about union scale, or simply being desperate for any work at any pay.

We’re here to raise consciousness about the field, not to deny any musician the chance of work, regardless of fee.

If you are so lucky as to be gainfully employed under a union agreement in another field, and you only occasionally work as a club date musician, you are in a particularly good position to help change things. You can turn your upcoming wedding gig into a union club date.

This used to be a difficult process, requiring the leader or employer to be incorporated. In the event that this was not the case, the client would have to agree to be the employer and then, in addition to paying the musicians, write separate checks for healthcare and for pension.

These problems have been solved with the creation of the LS-1 form, which basically is an agreement allowing the client to designate the band leader as the payer to the funds, who in turn will write the separate checks. (See Sue Terry’s article about LS-1 forms on page 14 for all the details.)

Filing your next gig is a surprisingly easy process that accomplishes so much: ensuring decent wages and benefits for the players, and helping to maintain our union standards. The Contract Administration staff is happy to help you navigate the process.


There is another thing that members can do to help, and that is to report nonunion club dates, in total confidentiality, to the union’s organizing department.

Be alert to some of the red flags out there: an office which calls you regularly and seems to have a lot of work in the field, or a call to play a high-profile job at a prominent venue, for example. These are great opportunities for the organizing department to get involved in bringing more contractors — directly or through their musicians — into the fold.

I’m asking for a lot here — more paperwork for you to handle, for starters.

Or perhaps if your steady job (“day job”) provides your health insurance, you may have less incentive to get contributions towards 802’s health plan in your contract. However, for the musician without any job that pays benefits, or without a partner who receives health benefits, he or she must play 18 union club dates every six months to qualify for the union’s basic health plan. Sadly, that goal is harder to realize each year and surprisingly few 802 members who earn a living playing single engagements actually qualify for the plan.

It may seem odd — we’re asking you to get involved in playing union single engagements at a time where we are finding fewer for ourselves, but you really will be helping the industry in the long run.


Often musicians who are paid above scale for nonunion single engagements use that fact as a shield to protect themselves from any sacrifices or complications which they imagine would arise upon converting their dates to union gigs.

The answer to that, of course, is without a union, there is no scale.

Our collective bargaining agreement is the foundation for these above-scale gigs. In time, without a collective bargaining agreement, it would become harder and harder for anyone to book a club date at a true living wage.

Conversely, if more jobs are negotiated either through union signatories or via member/leader contracts, the field will be revitalized and the musical community — our union — can only become stronger.

Diane Michaels plays single engagements and is a member of the new Club Date Organizing Committee. To join this committee, contact the Organizing Department at (212) 245-4802.