Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Musicians Solidarity Council against Nonpayment in NYC Clubs

The Musicians Solidarity Council describes themselves on their website as "an autonomous group in affinity with Occupy Wall Street and the labor movement at large. We are musicians: instrumentalists, singers, DJs, audio engineers, producers, composers, performers and teachers. We are the 99%. Like many other workers, we are integral to city life, but often live in precarious conditions."

Today, May 1st, the group is planning actions against clubs in NYC that don't pay performers. The following is from the press release for the actions.

"On May 1st, a historic day for Occupy Wall Street, labor and immigrant rights movements, OWS activists from the Musicians Solidarity Council (MSC) will hold actions in several nightclubs in Manhattan's Lower East Side, highlighting the venues' practice of not paying musicians – in effect, asking performers to volunteer their talent and services to a for-profit business."


"New York City is known for its rich cultural heritage, and many popular clubs derive their success from live music. However, they rarely pay the musicians that bring draw in their customers. Instead, the bands typically "pass the hat," asking the crowd for donations; talented performers often end the night with $5-10 a person. Musicians may also be required to spend their own resources on promotion, and guarantee a minimum number of paying customers.

"Musicians are not covered by New York State regulations that protect other nightclub workers like bartenders and waiters. In fact, they are explicitly excluded."


"As rents reached record heights in the 1990s and 2000s, clubs that did compensate musicians fairly (such as Tonic in the Lower East Side) were squeezed out. A growing number of venues adopted these exploitative practices – including Rockwood Music Hall, the Living Room, Pianos, 169 Bar, and Zebulon Cafe Concert – and nonpayment of performers has since become conventional wisdom in the NYC music scene."

Ah, Tonic how I miss thee! I remember going to protests when they were being evicted to make way for the luxury condo building Blue. Goliath won that day.

I play regularly at the venues mentioned by the MSC. In the past 6 years living and performing in NYC I've come to accept that venues in this town don't pay, that nearly all gigs are "pass the hat".

I don't like it but I'm not sure what the solution is. So many musicians and performers of all kinds flock to NYC desperate to play for people, and they'll play anywhere for free. I can understand that the venue owners may have trouble seeing the point of compensating the performers when talented people are beating down their door to play at their dive bar. I don't know any of these venue owners personally, but I'm sure that the exploding NYC rents haven't made things easier for their bottom line. I wonder how well they're really doing, are they really getting rich of our "volunteered labor"?

Wouldn't it be great if all the musicians in the city joined together and decided not to perform anywhere that didn't pay us at least $50 for a gig? Hmmm, probably impossible. Hey, isn't there a musicians union? What do they do anyway? I don't know any musicians who are members.

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