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To Union or not to Union

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [DB]' started by flowinowen, Jun 7, 2014.

  1. I drove by the Denver's Musician Union a few days ago and it got me thinking about whether or not joining would be something of a benefit to me. Music is not my main income, more like a freelance gig. However, my main form of gigs are studio sessions, theatre subs and bowed gigs (I call it this because I'm asked to sound like a cello). I have one band I play with on a regular basis, when gigs are there.

    My question here is, what are the benefits of joining? Will I be able to take small side gigs without having to negotiate contracts? When looking at the http://www.afm.org/why-join (AFM) website, it sounds like they would be acting as middle man between myself and employers. It seems like this would be a pain in the butt for last minute gig calls. I do use a set standard studio rate, but does this also mean some places might turn to a non unioned musician because I would have a set standard pay?

    Any and all info you can shed on this would be great help!
  2. If it's not your main source of income, and the gigs you are taking aren't technically union jobs, then I'm not sure it makes sense for you to join. Your local will probably expect somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 in annual dues, and they don't guarantee any more work then what you already have. It might give you a better connection to local union contractors, but that's about it.

    The biggest advantages seem to be the pension, access to a health plan if you work union jobs more than X hours, and collective bargaining agreements between employers and musicians. The magazine isn't too exciting, but it does include a fair number of audition/job postings if you're looking for more work. I've also heard many locals offer low rate loans for instrument purchases, but this isn't something I've tried. Most locals also offer a very reasonable instrument insurance package. And if a shady contractor/employer stiffs you on payment, the AFM has lawyers you can use.

    For full-time orchestra and recording artists, joining the Union is the practical thing to do. If you're not full-time, then it really depends on the local scene. When I was freelancing in Houston, I took exactly one gig that cared if I was in the Union. Because Texas is a "right-to-work" state, the Symphony and Opera couldn't ask or require that I join the local (though I was a member for about a year before moving to Europe). This is different from, say, New Jersey, where the AFM locals hold quite a lot of influence over contractors.

    I would also say that I really appreciate that musicians have an organization to lobby for us. The new FAA regulations for traveling musicians would never have become law if it weren't for the AFM. It's very possible the Minnesota Orchestra and the Detroit Symphony would be ruined today if it weren't for the AFM. The Louisville Orchestra would have replaced its entire membership via Craigslist were it not for the AFM. Your membership, in some small way, helps every other musician in the US and Canada. Whether it makes sense for you to join is your decision, but in a global sense it's a nice idea.
    salcott, Tom Lane and Lee Moses like this.
  3. Thanks Paul!
  4. Paul nailed it with his description. I'll add that at least in my local, they don't mind me taking non-union side jobs because they understand it is near impossible to make a living only from union gigs unless I am in an orchestra full time. They also allow sideman contracts, so I can take a non-union gig and have a contract just between me and the bandleader. This way I can make a pension contribution and be legally protected. There are also a small number of gigs that are paid for by a union trust fund - this gives a tiny bit of actual work to members.

    Being part of the AFM can also lend you credibility and give potential clients confidence because they know you are accountable to an organizing body with a long history of professional experience.

    A less visible benefit of joining the AFM is that it makes you part of a community of professionals who care about the long-term health of the music industry. As a young player early in my career, it is a great connection to more experienced musicians who don't mind sharing tips or encouraging me as I try to figure out this crazy job.

    My suggestion would be to stop by your local office and have a chat about what they can and can't offer you and if it makes sense to join given your current situation.
  5. shwashwa


    Aug 30, 2003
    i live in NJ and gig here and NY a lot, and only ever needed to be in the union once in my life (for a broadway sub gig), and even then, you accept the gig, then join the union for a year just so you can play the gig. i let it expire after that because all it was good for was taking $200 a year from me. if you ever get a gig that requires you to be in the union, just accept the gig and join the union the next day. anyone can join if you have the money and there is no delay. you literally dont even need to be a musician. its more like a thing you have to do if you want to play a particular gig, but i think generally, at least around here, there is no advantage to joining if you dont have one of those gigs lined up. joining doesnt typically get you more work, at least around here because we have an overabundance of some of the world's best players here.
    mrefjl likes this.
  6. The Denver union is forbidden to offer insurance by state legislation.
    Membership in Denver is of use only to symphony and 'show' musicians.

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