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Notes from the Campaign Trail

and New Possibilities for the Recording Industry

The following is from a speech I gave at the Musicians for Change Rally 11/17, edited into an article, that I wanted to share with the Local 802 community: 


My name is Pete Donovan and I am running for a seat on the Executive Board at Local 802. I am also very proud to be running with Adam Krauthamer, Karen Fisher and this incredible group of candidates on the Musicians for Change slate.


Our slate represents four generations of experience in the New York City Music industry and all of the knowledge, relationships and courage that come along with all those years of work in the field and service to the union. I have every confidence in every single one of the MFC candidates to represent you the way you deserve to be represented in negotiations and whatever challenges we face in the coming years. 


Our union can, and should, be guided and transformed by the membership from the ground up. That starts with all of us, the membership, and our engagement. Please vote on December 4, join committees, go to membership meetings and stay aware of what is going on there. That awareness is what I what to speak about first.


In the past two and a half months since we announced our campaign, we’ve had dozens of events and informal meetings with musicians all over the city from multiple sectors of the music industry. It is startling to find out that many members don’t know what is available to them at the union. They don’t know what an LS-1 is, or what Legit 802 is or that there is a Single Song contract for home studio recording. These are great tools not only for veterans of the union but a great entry point for younger musicians and music entrepreneurs who want to have union protections for their work and start paying their way toward gaining benefits. 


Beyond awareness, we must make these tools work better for us. Many musicians have come to me with their stories about going to the union with their projects, but bottlenecks, incorrect information, antiquated technology or just a general lack of good customer service caused delays in project completion or in most cases, people just threw their hands up in frustration and did their sessions without a union contract. With every story I heard that ended that way I felt the disappointment of the member but also realized with every time something like this happens, the union gets weaker. There’s money left on the table that doesn’t go into pension and health and another musician walks away from the union wondering why they need to be a member at all. The real irony is that in doing business this way the union becomes an obstacle in and of itself to getting work under contract. None of these problems are insurmountable at all and we can do much better. By streamlining the workflow and utilizing better technology we can change the experience of frustration into the opposite where members feel they have every reason to go union with their projects and wouldn’t think to do otherwise. 


Fixing those issues is paramount but we also need to create incentive for new members to join. Indie musicians, musician entrepreneurs and new music creators are the sleeping giant of the music industry. This is a whole music ecosystem that is underrepresented or not represented at all in the union and we should be creating tools and contracts for them. My fellow candidate Elise Frawley and I attended a conference by an incredible organization called the Open Music Initiative last week. They are a joint venture between Berklee College of Music and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. They are a non-profit group and their sole mission is to utilize new technology to get musicians paid accurately and fairly for their recording work and to make sure music creators and rights owners are matched to their royalty payments. They already count as their members hundreds of artists including the likes of Imogen Heap and Desmond Child, many composers and creators but also virtually all the music and tech industry giants: 


Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group, Spotify, YouTube, Pandora, SoundCloud, SiriusXM, Netflix, Viacom, Facebook, IBM, Intel, BMG, Round Hill Music, Atlas Music Publishing, and Downtown Music Publishing; performing rights societies like France’s SACEM, Germany’s GEMA, Canada’s SOCAN, America’s SESAC, SoundExchange; and hundreds of entrepreneurs, and music startups. 


Now, at this convergence of artists and industry giants there was one glaring absence: The AFM. After two long days and dozens of speakers our union was not mentioned once. I sat on a panel that was planning Open Music’s next steps in education and advocacy and asked them to come speak to us here at 802 with the hope that we can create support here in NYC and eventually get the AFM to be a member of this group. I have also been in contact with the leaders of Open Music for months now and they have told me that they not only would they love to come speak with us, but they think it is critical to do so. I will write more about the specifics of what they are developing next week but for now I will tell you it’s not a question of if, just when it’s coming and it’s going to come fast. In contrast to the devastating effects of Napster 20 years ago the sole purpose of this organization and the people behind it is to create value in music again, get musicians paid, and protect music creators and rights holders. You hear a lot about how the union needs to adapt to the music industry, well here is our opportunity to be proactive and take part in transforming it. I think this technology and other things like it coming down the road should be a part of the solution to the way we do business. 


This is part of our platform to streamline and modernize the way Local 802 does business. This will be part of our MFC 10 year plan. As much as we’ve spoken about members being frustrated by their experience with the union, you have to know that our employers in the music industry must have thrown their hands up in frustration as well having to deal with an antiquated infrastructure like ours. I’m convinced this is part of the reason there is less and less recording under contract. I’ve spent the past 18 months working on our pension crisis through Musicians for Pension Security and when you step back and look at the bigger picture you come to realize that the pension is just a symptom of the larger problem which is simply how we are doing business and interfacing with the music industry in the 21st century. We cannot remain relevant, nor will we create incentive for new members to join if we can’t do business in these lightning fast, modern times that we live in. It’s time to up our game significantly and this is something I will push Local 802 to do if elected. 


For more info on the Open Music Initiative, visit their site here.

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