Musicians are often asked to play for free, because this would give them exposure. Sometimes, employers pay less than agreed or nothing at all. Researchers spoke to 70 musicians in London, Paris and Ljubljana and wrote an article in Jabobin Magazine.
Some unions try to support musicians. For example, the British Musicians’ Union has launched a Work Not Play campaign to name and shame employers who ask musicians to play for free. However, organising musicians isn’t easy.
There are significant obstacles to such efforts, due in no small part to many musicians’ skepticism of unions. In France anarchist ideology is also alive and well in the music scene, and we found widespread resistance to the idea of formally regulating labor markets.
Some musicians expose bad employers by word-of-mouth and social media. Some go one step further and organise into collectives that aim to change labour relations. For example, in Ljubjana
we spoke to members of collectives founded on egalitarian principles that had created alternative venues and production and distribution channels. They also built new relationships with venues, asking the venues to commit to pre-agreed pay rates in return for booking them for well-attended cultural events. While these collectives fight to improve material conditions for musicians, they have also projected a radical political message against the privatization and commercialization of venues and distribution channels.
Ian Greer, Barbara Samaluk, & Charles Umney. Work Not Play.