[Dixielandjazz] Former AFof M member and officer...opinion on passing out cards on a job.

Artwoo@aol.com Artwoo@aol.com
Fri, 13 Sep 2002 04:27:58 EDT

Hi All:
As a former President of a local of the AFof M, I clearly understand the 
diversity of opinions regarding passing out cards or "soliciting" a future 
job. The union position is clear: this is forbidden and known as 
"solicitation."  The reasoning stems from a pecking order in musical 
engagements. The one who contracts a job, whether a leader or a booking agent 
has the rights of hiring and firing sidemen, who are employees of the leader 
or agent. Therefore it is in bad taste to "bite the hand of the one who feeds 
you" and try to supersede the leader or agent. Any sideman of long standing 
knows that you simply do not try to enter into the domain of the leader or 
agent on a specific job. You keep quiet (verbally), show up on time and 
follow the orders of the leader and do not stir up any controversy. Just play 
what the leader wants and you will be hired again. 

Now, on the other hand, many OKOM musicians are either former members of the 
union or are mavericks who have never seen the need to join. Music for them 
is a pleasure that is not to be confused with a business pursuit. A musician 
in this environment does not need a union to tell him what he can or cannot 
do. Thus, if he wants to play for beer and pizza, and not receive union scale 
or report a job to the union who cares? By the way, I respect this approach 
and feel there is room for these players and professionals as well. This is 
one reason why I am no longer affliated with the union.

This issue reminds me of the controversy started by Ernie Carson a few years 
ago on this list. He had a legitimate gripe of a true blue union musician who 
was offended by the nonunion musician taking away bread and butter jobs. As a 
professional Ernie felt that his income was being affected by amateur 
musicians. In truth, however, most pizza parlours, festivals and other OKOM 
music venues do not pay union scale. I think that a working band or 
extraordinary musician will receive what he deserves and demands. Thus a 
person or group that has talent and can deliver what the audience wants will 
be paid well and refuse to accept low paying jobs unless for some reason they 
are not motivated by money and don't care. Sometimes a great talent can be 
his own worst enemy and lose work for reasons other than talent. We all know 
who these unfortunate souls are.

There are many bands in the Bay Area that charge thousands of dollars for a 3 
HR gig. Why? Because they can provide exactly what the purchaser wants in a 
professional, unique and efficient way. These bands do not advertise. All 
their work is repeat business or word of mouth and they truly deserve the pay 
they receive. They are not amateurs and the sidemen would not think of trying 
to do an end-run around the leader or agent. These bands are mostly nonunion 
as well.

In truth, most amateur or semiprofessional groups do not deserve to receive 
union scale.  A discerning ear can tell quickly that a group may sound ok, 
but there is something lacking. Maybe the ensemble has never learned dynamics 
or the ability to listen and respond to fellow musicians in a heartfelt and 
creative way. Most amateurs only think about their own playing and want to 
flash on a solo, but forget the audience or fellow musicians. 

Well, if you have read this far, you can see that there is a place for both 
camps in this controversy. I am no longer a member of the AFof M. The reason 
is simple: the union in today's world is not needed for most garden variety 
"casual" music jobs. There is a place for the union: major symphony, ballet, 
opera, stage, recording, shows, major hotels and other big ticket events. The 
musicians who play these venues are professional and don't have a "day job" 
music is their "night and day job." (Cole Porter, 1932)

Many successful leaders today are nonunion because the union in the past was 
not effective or used out-dated orthodoxy that was inappropriate. The union 
way was to punish members for breaking rules rather than to help seek and 
maintain employment. This was another reason that I left the union.

A primary purpose of a union is to protect the rights of the worker who 
depends on the income from the endeavor. There is always a talented minority 
of professional musicians who are always working in the venues mentioned 
above. These are the people who need help in bargaining for salary, medical 
benefits and pensions. A professional union is expected to fight for these 
benefits for the member. These musicians can play a sonata backwards or hit 
triple hi C's all night but have no skills in negotiating a collective 
bargaining agreement.

Bill Gunter is a talented semi-professional musician but does not depend on 
music for medical insurance, or pension or working conditions. Therefore, his 
position on passing out his card is acceptable in his musical environment. I 
suspect that most of his musical engagements do not involve a written 
contract. The music business in this case is not a business but a pursuit of 
happiness. If money is involved that is fine, but there is no particular 
structure or etiquette for future jobs...if someone from the audience asks 
you individually to perform a future engagement and form a band of your 
choosing you take it. 

Well, I have now donned my flame retardant suit and await criticism.

Thanks for listening.
Art Wood