[Dixielandjazz] Musician's Union

Larry Walton Entertainment - St. Louis larrys.bands at charter.net
Sat Nov 4 19:12:11 PST 2006

Dave Said - Everyone knows you can't make a living playing music, unless you
are in a symphony somewhere, have a song on the top 50 or are lucky to live
in an area where you have the best group and fairest prices.

I don't think that's entirely true.  I have a bunch of friends who are in 
the Air Force Band and they make a living at it but of course aren't getting 

Many of us make our living from music but not necessarily 100% from playing. 
Since I was 15 a significant part of my income has been from playing but I 
made more teaching music and from being in the AF band.  The past 15 years I 
started a sign business that I enjoy doing and it keeps me off the streets. 
I still teach music and playing is still a significant part of my income.

Unfortunately I am busy making a living and I don't have a lot of time to 
hang around the union hall.  It is very true that you get out of something 
approximately what you put into it but because I'm not a symphony or show 
player the Union really doesn't do anything for me and I can understand that 
to a certain extent.  Even though I don't camp on the union steps there are 
those who do but eventually give up.  It's been the same for the past 40 
years or more.  The point has been made thousands of times and mostly by 
musicians beating feet as fast as they can.  Many of the ones that are left 
don't pay work dues and have a poor attitude.  Some of the union leadership 
use their positions to glom off gigs that come in.

At one time hanging the union label out made a difference.  No politician 
would dare not hire a union band and the union halls insisted on live union 
music.  When I was young I played for a lot of union parties and it 
generally meant something.  Today our brother unions no longer hire union 
bands and union halls no longer insist on a card to play.  I remember the 
carpenter's hall here having five union bands at a time on Friday and Sat 
nights as well as several during the week.   In this day and age of Wal-Mart 
labor relations there is a huge number of people who shun unions even though 
their employers are screwing them left and right.  I guess the philosophy is 
that if you have a job keep your mouth shut and if you don't like it look 
for another job.  Union band in many peoples mind means expensive.

Even having said all that including I make zip from union jobs I still pay 
dues and  think it's the right thing to do.  The union isn't there to get 
you a job or to save your butt if you can't make it otherwise.  It's a good 
place to meet other musicians and even with all the problems I think they 
are trying.  I think that the musician union is on the South side of history 
at this point and who knows if the musician unions will survive.
St. Louis
----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Dave Hanson" <jazzdude39 at comcast.net>
To: "Steve Barbone" <barbonestreet at earthlink.net>
Cc: "DJML" <Dixielandjazz at ml.islandnet.com>
Sent: Saturday, November 04, 2006 4:33 PM
Subject: Re: [Dixielandjazz] Musician's Union

> Steve,
> Thanks for the reply and we all know that there are far too many musicians
> and bands, some of which are very good, that play for free or next to
> free.
> The digital era we now live in has cut the MPTF funds dramatically, now
> called MPF, as we no longer have any clout with the record labels. Free or
> next to free downloads has robbed thousand of musicians and composers of
> their income from CD sales.
> Point in fact. When I moved to Atlanta from NYC in 1969, the population of
> this city was just under one million and the local had 1000 members.
> 37 years later the city is now 4 million and the local still has about
> 1000 members. That tells the whole story as the union movement is in
> trouble, and the AFM is trying everything in the world to attract the
> younger players, but it's tough, especially when many only play on
> weekends and many have good day jobs. Everyone knows you can't make a
> living playing music, unless you are in a symphony somewhere, have a song
> on the top 50 or are lucky to live in an area where you have the best
> group and fairest prices.
> I will add that out of our 1000 members only about 450 actually play, the
> rest being inactive.
> I will also add that my union experience has been very helpful to my
> playing career and still  get calls from the union directory, however as I
> age I find that many leaders that once called me have died, retired or
> moved to Florida. I re-invent myself about every 6 months, but must admit
> that I play now for the fun of it and the ego push I get, certainly not to
> make a living.
> Here in Atlanta we are blessed with many world class musicians and the
> Broadway shows and other great acts continue to appear as they get quality
> players as they would in NYC or LA.
> Nuff said and good to hear from you again. Keep blowing !
> Dave Hanson
>  ----- Original Message ----- 
>  From: Steve Barbone
>  To: DJML
>  Sent: Saturday, November 04, 2006 5:17 PM
>  Subject: [Dixielandjazz] Musician's Union
>  When, in 1950, I first joined Local 802, AF of M in New York City, like
> Don,
>  I had to take a test. I did come with some help from clarinetist Hank
>  D'Amico and trombonist Charlie Butterfield, both of who were studio
>  musicians and had some clout. Plus, I had recently joined a band that had
>  just gotten a 6 month steady weekend gig under union contract rules.
>  Otherwise, I think I would not have passed the first time.
>  The local was VERY STRONG back then. You couldn't work a NYC gig (in
> almost
>  any venue) without being a member. The business agents would come around
> and
>  check your card, as well as the contract which had to be on file at the
>  venue. If a club was not in line, they would picket and/or send Guido
> around
>  to persuade the owner to book union musicians.
>  The union also ran a hiring hall, like the dock workers shape ups. It was
> at
>  Roseland, every Tuesday. Musicians and contractors would show up there
> and
>  network. Everyone schmoozing everyone else. And that's how the jazz guys,
>  like Erwin or Cutshall or whomever, got the higher paying private party
> gigs
>  with Lester Lanin, or Meyer Davis. That's why Condon worked with so many
>  musicians. He had to, because he often had to sub when a regular got a
> more
>  lucrative casual. Any muso who was make a living performing, showed up.
>  That's how it was until I left NYC in 1962. When I did so, I quit playing
>  and 2 years later, dropped my membership.
>  Thirty years later, when I retired from my day gig and started playing
> again
>  I discovered that most gigs in Philadelphia, Washington/Baltimore,
> Atlantic
>  City, etc., where I sought musical work were non union. Even the hotel
> rooms
>  were non-union. So I never re-joined.
>  But I did stay aware of the union scales. (One guy in the band retains
> union
>  membership) and never undercut them. In fact, never came close to
>  undercutting them.
>  Bottom line is that in this area, the unions are pretty much dead except
> for
>  symphony players. And the "union supplied" gigs, (very few) pay scale,
> which
>  is horribly low.
>  If things were like they were when I was a kid in NYC, I'd join the union
> in
>  a heartbeat, but times have changed, at least in this area. Basically
>  because the demand for live music is much less than it was in the 1950s,
> and
>  there are far too many musicians around who give their services away
> without
>  regard for those who depend upon the performance of music for a living.
>  I think Dave Hansen's situation in Atlanta is different.
>  Cheers,
>  Steve Barbone
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