Sunday, September 23, 2012

Should I Join The Musicians Union?

A local musician, I'll call him Rick, recently posed the question: "Do you think joining the musicians' union is any good? I've heard varying opinions on how useful that is."

Here's my response.

Hello Rick,
Some musicians are finding the support of the
Union to be relevant and useful. As a professional
association, with each member making
a contribution and participating,
the union can still serve a purpose.
I've recently re-joined the musician's union, after a hiatus of about twenty years. I've had the opportunity to meet and dialogue with the president Larry Fuedo. I play in a band with vice president Brent Malseed and Brent's wife Janna is also on the executive.
I attended my first union meeting last spring, where the executive comprised one-third of the membership in attendance at the meeting. I have to admit, I was hoping for something a bit more impressive. But then as I have listened to them I've learned that the Hamilton musician's union local is recovering from a terrible situation where a past executive member has been charged [and convicted - ed] with embezzlement. Many long time members feel ripped off, disgusted and even enraged. Membership has suffered greatly, and the drive and motivation to recoup losses and rebuild has been difficult. But things have really been starting to turn around of late.
However, I see great opportunity within the union organization. One benefit is that you will receive a web listing for yourself as a local musician on the GoPro web database. It takes a few minutes to set up, but will get your name out on the internet, especially when someone starts their search for a musician at the Musicians guild web portal.
Another benefit is relationships. New friends are always a good thing, in my opinion.
The union is like anything. Some see it as a being increasingly irrelevant in today's music market. Others see it as just a waste of money, with little immediate benefit in return. In my opinion, the union is a great opportunity to serve the musicians' community, if only through providing a means of associating, networking with others who are in the same business and facing the same challenges. I believe I may have something to contribute as a writer as well.
Together is always better, so I see no reason why getting musicians to associate and improve their situation would not be useful.
It comes down to sounding like JFK in his famous address: Don't ask what your union will do for you; ask what you can do for your union.
Thanks so much for your involvement. - GB

What do you think? Do the benefits of being part of the musicians' local outweigh the costs?  


Barry Simmons said...

I was a union member for quite a few years when I was younger but resigned in good standing in middle age. I renewed my membership a few years ago. While I live (and gig) in the greater Hamilton area, I am a member of the Ottawa-Gatineau local, my old location.

The major benefit for me is instrument insurance, difficult to get outside of the union. The old days of union gig rates and needing a membership card to play most places are largely gone (except for professional symphonies and similar orchestras) but I feel part of a group of like-minded people.

anonymous said...

I have very little choice as to whether I should join the union. Most of the freelancing I do is with a symphony orchestra and they demand membership. There are benefits that come with having a contract. I remember some of us got hired to be a background band in movie. The had us come in to get fitted for costumes and told us when we would be shooting. It was either going to be the next evening or the one after that. I can't remember. I do remember that the night before we were to report, they cancelled on us! That's when the union took over on our behalf. We were cancelled because they thought it would be too expensive to use us. Well, cancelling was not cheap either! They had to pay us for the costume fitting among other things. It ended up costing them between a third and a half of the original fee just to fire us! I didn't have to lift a finger. My union fought for me and made sure my contract was honoured.

GB said...

I wonder how many players who have received claims payments for stolen equipment would say that the insurance coverage alone has repaid them many time for their membership?

GB said...

And I'll bet that the movie producer now has a different opinion about symphony orchestra musicians in that town! ie, they stand up for one another, and are not to be taken for granted.

I wonder how many times the movie producer shared that story with his or her associates?

Barry Simmons said...

When we gig we have maybe $15,000 of gear with us so theft is a concern. Separate coverage for our recording studio for gear and liability. All at low rates not available through the standard service groups. We find this a major benefit of union membership.

Lily Sazz said...

I had 2 separate claims on my instrument insurance. Once, my full Martin p.a. was being rented by Bannister's in Hamilton as a house system, and when the building next door had a fire, my gear suffered some smoke and water damage. The cleanup and restoration was fully covered. Another time, my lighting console was stolen out of a club in North Bay. Again. Covered. Hassle free and friendly, too.

I even cover my iPad and if I'm taking something I don't usually use, a simple phone call covers it immediately, even if it's just for the day. I can't say enough about how great this is. If you're a professional musician, and your gear is stolen from your vehicle, good luck getting your homeowner's policy to cover it. Plus, you have liability coverage, too. If your amp falls on someone's head, you're covered for that, too!