Should You Join a Musicians’ Union?

The freelance and diverse nature of our job makes it quite hard, and sometimes confusing, to deal with all the admin and legal aspects of it.

Many musicians, especially the young ones who are just starting a career in the business, often overlook aspects such as salary standards, pension schemes, insurance, or legal requirements.

Let’s face it: we are busy enough practicing, writing songs, booking gigs, or promoting ourselves to keep under control the numerous, complicated, bureaucratic sides of our job.

That’s when joining a musician’s union can be of great help.

How can a musician’s union help you?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll be aware of how difficult it can be to make a decent living as a musician.

With the quick and constant technological changes we are facing, music sales keep dropping, eroding one of the traditional revenue sources performers and songwriters could rely on. Not to mention musicians performing in smaller venues, who are often underpaid or not paid at all.

With the many issues you could face as an artist, unions have your back, by advocating for your working rights and by helping you with legal advice, pension schemes, and insurance.

Among the valuable resources a union can provide you, you may find templates for contracts, legal advice on copyright issues and taxation, retirement schemes to guarantee you a pension, insurance options to protect yourself, your instruments, your collaborators and give you peace of mind in case you fall sick or get injured. Many unions also provide ongoing education to help you keep up with the many changes taking place in the industry. They also have job noticeboards for freelancers.

Unions frequently create campaigns to raise awareness on musicians’ working conditions, in the attempt of improving them and securing better jobs to their members.

What are the rules?

Of course, to get all these benefits you will have to comply with specific rules. Mostly, you will be required to observe the union’s instructions, avoiding, for example, to play unpaid or underpaid gigs. Unions might also have a list of unfair or unlawful organizations their members shouldn’t work for.

Unions around the world

It doesn’t matter where you live. Whether you are in America, Europe, or any other region out there, a musician’s union is likely to be present in your Country too.

Musician’s unions all work pretty similarly, although the campaigns they promote are sometimes different.

If you’re a United States resident, the AFM (American Federation of Musicians) is the association you’ll want to join. There are many campaigns and activities undertaken by the AFM.

Among other things, the AFM has a brilliant Emergency Assistant fund, designed to help musicians who underwent a natural disaster, such as wildfires and tornados. The AFM is also supporting musicians working at streaming films and television shows, often heavily underpaid for their work. With their new organization Fair Trade Music, they are also raising awareness on general musicians’ working conditions, fighting to improve them.

Canadians can join the AFM’s “twin sister” CFM (Canadian Federation of Musicians). It helps its members with issues concerning visas, taxation, pensions. It also provides agreements for song placements and a list of reliable booking agents, associated with the CFM themselves.

British musicians can rely on MU, the Musicians’ Union, now particularly involved with campaigns concerning Brexit and #MeToo issues. The Musicians’ Union also fights for fair pays and the defense of its members’ copyrights. The British union has a busy schedule of workshops and educational events too.

Australian artists also have a solid union. The Musicians’ Union of Australia can help you with payments, contracts, taxes, insurance, and copyright disputes. Its website also features a fun section called Myth Buster, where false myths about the music industry are debunked.

When it is necessary to join a union

Sometimes you will be required to be part of a union to work.Specific organizations, such as national televisions, can only work with unions’ members, so it may be a necessary step to take to enhance your career and get to the next level.

However, you should consider the costs associated with this choice. How much money will you have to pay to join the union? How many gigs will you have to turn down under the union’s rules?

While no musician should work for small pays and bad conditions, it is almost impossible for young, emerging artists to avoid this kind of unfair gigs.

Unions, on the other hand, are a precious resource for musicians employed in orchestras or theaters, as they can secure better wages, sick leaves, pensions.

In conclusion, every artist should consider joining a union. With a bit of research, you can easily understand whether it is something you could benefit from.

It could surely be the next step to take your career to the next level.

Brian Clark is a multi-instrumentalist and music producer. He is passionate about practically all areas of music and he particularly enjoys writing about the music industry.

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