Artists can be pretty emotionally flighty people. In some ways it’s a job requirement, and fostering the ability to embrace one emotional state or another at the drop of a hat is a useful skill in many creative fields. It’s not without it’s downside, though. As any musician will tell you, organizing a committed and reliable group of folks to form a band with is a significant hurdle. One which many times is never surmounted. Organizing artists for anything beyond personal interests is almost laughable most of the time. Yet, that is what I am trying to do with Fair Trade Music, organize musicians around the concept of equity in their business dealings for live performances as well as organizing their community around the idea and the musicians. It’s an idea which is met with general enthusiasm by most who encounter it yet little actual support in the way of action and engagement. It’s sort of passively accepted by musicians that they should be making more but they won’t stand up and say it out of fear of being labeled greedy or self-righteous. It’s a vicious cycle. Despite this, the idea is spreading. Seattle, Portland, and New Orleans have formal campaigns to recognize venues that treat musicians professionally and it’s in the works elsewhere. I’m personally working to establish a working group in Washington D.C. and may soon need to connect a few entities in NYC to solidify a campaign there.
In keeping with my theme for the year of being more intense, the next few months for this are going to require some big moves. The main issue facing the initiative is actually the support it receives from the American Federation of Musicians, the musicians union. The AFM is a group which exists solely to uphold musicians rights and equity, yet they have a slight handicap. They aren’t really setup to deal with situations where there isn’t an employee-employer relationship. Most (if not all) of the independent musicians out there fall outside this realm, we’re entrepeneurs and business owners by default (well really U.S. case law, but that’s another story). For ultimate success with Fair Trade Music it’s going to take me and a couple other folks to initiate at least a partial refocus of the AFM, a 120+ year old, international organization with tens of thousands of members. Yeesh!