How do we convince our fellow musicians to stop the race to the bottom?

Last night, I had the pleasure of meeting a new friend and fellow musician, Steve Moore with and He is an alumnus from my husband’s college, and they reconnected via social networking. Steve is a musician, but is also an entertainment attorney who has been in the music business for many years. One of our many topics discussed was how the value of musicians themselves has not increased over the past thirty to forty years. We shared stories of tours and other musicians, as well as discussions of how bands have played bars “for the door.” He spoke of how bands made more money “back in the day” than they do now as many are still just playing for the door. It’s not just that the bands keep this vicious cycle going, but that the “door” price also has not increased in over twenty years!

Prices for everything have gone up in the past twenty years, but yet there are musicians who still think they should only be paid what someone offers, no matter how ridiculously low. If everyone worked for that, then the standard would be set there. Instead, there are those of us trying to make a real living and career out of music who are being undercut by those who are in it as a hobby or other part-time job. So how do we convince musicians to stop racing to the bottom?

One complaint I hear a lot is “Where is the musicians’ union? Aren’t they supposed to help me?” As a member of the musicians’ union in a right-to-work state for almost 20 years, I feel it is my duty to REMIND all the other members that it is YOUR responsibility to follow the guidelines set by your union. If you agree to play for less than the agreed-upon and VOTED BY MEMBERS minimum scale, then you are the one to blame. If you want to change that scale, then get involved with your union and make that change from the inside! Stop complaining and do something about it. The union is there to provide services (insurance, pension, etc.) and help protect you and your contracts, but they cannot help those who will not help themselves. And they certainly will not help those who keep undermining the efforts of those who are indeed the professionals by playing for such ridiculously low pay. If we do stick together and act like a real group of professionals, then the bars, restaurants and other venues will stop asking for the freebies and low-paying work. They know the value of having live music in their establishments – people come in, stay longer, drink more. The money is in the alcohol, not the food.

This is only one suggestion and is only my opinion. I admit that I get frustrated when I hear of musicians accepting (or offering) low-paying or free work. I just want to get their attention and ask “Don’t you realize that you are not improving your career or condition, but harming yourself and all the other musicians here trying to make a living?” Sigh! I guess I just have high hopes that everyone will play by the same rules that were set up by the same organization to which many belong. What’s the point of having the rules in an organization if no one follows them? I encourage anyone reading this blog to respond via my Facebook link and tell me your suggestions on how to solve these problems.