OWS Music Group Plans to Take May Day to Nightclubs

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One Occupy Wall Street group is taking May Day to places that probably don't get a lot of protests -- the Lower East Side's nightclubs.

Tonight, a faction of OWS called the Musicians Solidarity Council hopes to draw attention to the common practice of clubs bringing in musicians without actually paying them by protesting inside a few venues.

"It's really important to recognize that musicians are workers. Musicians are part of the 99 percent," Matt Plummer, a musician who is part of the council, told the Voice this morning. "I've played in clubs...that are clearly bringing in a lot of money...but we finish the night with a couple dollars a person."

Plummer, 32, and a trombone player, said that it's become a standard practice for musicians to play only for tips, which can be very burdensome for performers trying to make a living.

May Day seemed like a perfect opportunity to draw attention to this issue of nonpayment which lines up very well with the larger message of Occupy Wall Street, he said.

"It's just the idea that another world is possible," he said. "What we're saying here is that this is not the way things have to be."

He said that part of the effort is making audiences at these venues aware that the musicians they are watching may not be getting any legitimate compensation for their work. But Plummer said he also wants to try and get musicians to speak up more, since some just accept it as a fact of the music scene in New York City.

"While I might volunteer my services to play at Occupy Wall Street, I don't think it makes sense to volunteer my services at a for-profit club," he said.

A common explanation for this practice is that rents are too high for clubs to pay musicians -- but Plummer said it just doesn't make sense for musicians to bear the burden of an unhealthy real estate market.

"We've all been thinking about this for a very long time. This has been a standard practice for years that you play for tips," he said. "[May Day] just seemed like a perfect time and place to bring up the problem."

The group is meeting at 9:30 p.m. in Sara D. Roosevelt Park at the corner of Chrystie Street and Houston Street. From there, they will stop in local night clubs, pass out leaflets, and talk to patrons.

[SamTLevin / @SamTLevin]

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40 comments
ProMusician1
ProMusician1

I'm a professional musician who has trained intensively (a minimum of 4 hours practice daily) for the last 20 years.  I was awarded scholarships to study at two of the most prestigious conservatories in the country.  When I was in High School, I toured in Europe and was voted the best player on my instrument in my state by a panel of professional judges.  I've peformed all over the world with famous musicians including Beyonce.

I perform at least six times weekly at some of the most desireable clubs in the city including Le Poisson Rouge, Rockwood Music Hall, Zebulon Cafe, Knitting Factory, Pianos, Brooklyn Bowl, Nublu, Barbes, Mercury Lounge, etc. 

I recently performed (worked) every night for seven straight nights at these clubs and made less than $200 total.  This equals a total of less than $800 for performing (working) 28 nights out of the month.  For each of these performances, I regularly do multiple rehearsals which occupy 3-4 hours of the day.  Also, I spend at least 4 hours a day doing the administrative work necessary to schedule 28 performances a month.  This is in addition to practicing my instrument daily.

I do not have health insurance and NEVER waste my money on luxuries.   

Last week I played a concert in which my group was asked by the audience to do THREE encores, each one to standing ovations.  For this concert I was compensated $11 through audience tips.

Having not heard my music, you all can say that I don't deserve to be paid.  I disagree.  I do deserve to be paid more than I currently am.  This does not make me not entitled.  I just want to make a lower middle class income and eventually want to send my kids to college to study something other than music.

The problem is rooted in supply and demand -- there is a great supply of musicians in NYC.  However, those musicians who are serious working professionals need to stand up to this expoitation and not undercut each other.  

The problem is that even good bands and players accept the playing for "Tips" system as a status quo.  They supplement their income through teaching music and with other part time work.

Even if a good band/musician says, "I'm not willing to play Rockwood Music Hall for tips", another good band will step in and do it for tips. 

I hope that through raising awareness of this issue, we as professional musicians can work together to stop undercutting each other and to make clubs like Rockwood, Zebulon, Knitting Factory and others pay a guarantee or at least agree to charge a cover and give a minimum of 75% to the musicians.

Thanks for reading and for your compassion on this issue.  

Thedean
Thedean

The amount people generally tip a band is extremely low.  Playing for tips could work if the people in the audience would tip appropriately.  Most people tip their servers appropriately at a restaurant.  I would guess that most of these people tip their server more than they tip an entire band for an entire set of music. 

I think it's probably true that most of the clubs we're talking about aren't getting rich.  It's my opinion (I frequent these clubs and am a musician myself) that the majority of the musicians that perform at these clubs should be getting compensated better than they are, and this money needs to come from the customers.  Either from tips, cover charge, or higher drink prices. 

A pretty cool idea would be to try and replicate the system restaurants/servers use for tipping.  Perhaps an extra line on the check for tipping the band?  Maybe we can create some sort of guidelines than can be published, "How to Tip a Band."  If you like the band, $10, if you love the band, $20, etc... 

megasheilae
megasheilae

I like your idea. But waiters are legally subject to minimum wage laws. Musicians in clubs are explicitly excluded.

Michelesmith
Michelesmith

At least you have come up with an alternative.  I love the correlation between tipping the servers and tipping the band.  However, anything in this city that is not cumpulsory - such as a tip - can easily be ignored or abused.  Musicians should be paid just like anyone else.  Most do not even get minimum wage.  We have student loans, rent, groceries, families, just like anyone else and we work hard.  It is an art to make it seem just "fun" so that the audience has a good time.  But it is not all fun.  It is WORK for us - hopefully fun for the listener.   Just because the clubs are not making a ton of money doesn't mean that the musicians should be the ones to have to pay for that.  The janitor is paid, the bartenders are paid, the bouncer is paid - why are the musicians singled out not to be paid? We play for free so often because we have no other recourse.  Right - we should have taken a job on wall street so we could make 6 figures and afford to live in Manhattan. 

Gregory Dinwoodie
Gregory Dinwoodie

if you're gonna comment about clubs, owners, bands, etc please have the experience to make a valid argument. If you have no idea how the industry works I suggest you re-evaluate whether or not to make a case for or against something you know very little of... because for those of us that do know the ins and outs of this business, it's not only annoying and frustrating but insulting to those of us who have worked for what they have. Things are not always what they seem and bands are not obligated to pay for free.  Clubs are not obligated to pay for bands as it is their establishment and must do whats best to for the club. Unlike a corporate job where minimum wage is dictated, playing a show is not considered work.. come on.. this is so ludicrous

Gregory Dinwoodie
Gregory Dinwoodie

*play for free

Ows
Ows

T o everybody,NYC music scene is the cheapest in price compared to other cities, so let's just all enjoy.

Rob F.
Rob F.

Re: the previous posts below—I'm reminded of an old saying, "skilled labor ain't cheap, and cheap labor ain't skilled." The issue is more complex in the music biz, because it's harder to define "skilled" labor. For example, what about a punk band where the guy playing bass learned how to play last week and doesn't have a lot of technical chops, but still plays with energy, emotion, soul? Assuming the group is "good" (again, really subjective here), they should be compensated for playing a show and drawing a crowd.

One argument for not paying the bands is "there's excess supply of bands, not enough demand for all of them." Again, I don't think it should work quite that way. Assuming equal draw, the club owner should (a) know what the group sounds like, (b) only host musical acts he/she wants to listen to, and (c) pay the band a reasonable sum. When you build a business model around compensating the musicians, you get great venues like the Blue Note and Iridium clubs, or Le Poisson Rouge, etc. Places where people go because they KNOW THERE WILL BE GOOD MUSIC, even if they've never heard it before.

The problem is club owners don't take the time to actually listen to the music they host, and put all of the creative/artistic onus on the musicians. They also expect the musicians to do most of the legwork when promoting the show, and often drop the ball (no flyers, no web promotion, etc.).

Gregory Dinwoodie
Gregory Dinwoodie

A friend of mine put it best... "Its funny how entitled and greedy people can be while complaining about other people being entitled and greedy" 

jnbstraight
jnbstraight

yeah, it's entitled and greedy to want to get paid to work. Americans really have turned into a truly stupid lot. 

The Witty Biddy
The Witty Biddy

Of course they do! It's one big party. At least now they're recognizing it as such.

Meester Fudge
Meester Fudge

Jesus christ these people are stupid.  It really is making me feel sad.  Every time they open their mouths they say something dumber than the last time I heard from them.  Oh well.

jnbstraight
jnbstraight

That they want to get paid for playing for an audience in bar or club? Oh how awful and stupid, especially when those patrons are paying money to get in the place and buy drinks. I mean really, what a novel concept it is to pay the help!

You're the sad one my friend and yet another American impeding progress and freedom for all.

Doperush
Doperush

If I'm not going to that club to see "you" perform you don't deserve a penny.

jnbstraight
jnbstraight

Oh I see, so everyone that enters should be asked if they are there to see the band and if not they dont have to pay. Yeah, that makes sense....{sarc}.

The bands are part of the establishment, it's business, and it's reason for being. They should get paid if they play there. What kind of business opens and then doesnt want to pay for the supplies that the business sells and would rather get them for nothing? Answer: an imaginary one or a criminal one which is what's really going on. Stop being such a hater too.

Meester Fudge
Meester Fudge

Oh really?  Hmm why don't you take a minute to think it through.  You see, even though you may not realize it, we live in a market economy.  That means that pay and profit are tied to demand.  I understand that in your mind none of these things matter and the only value anyone should worry about is "equality" (whatever that is), but since we are in the real world and not in your brain we have to deal with how it works.  

If you want to know the real reason that most bands don't get paid in NYC it's because there are zillions of bands competing for the same attention and money.  In other words the market is flooded.  There's no incentive for a club to pay the average band because the average band doesn't bring many people to their shows.  If you are a good band and you have lots of fans you will get paid.  If not, you won't.  See how simple it is?

jnbstraight
jnbstraight

No you will, you will work for free when you shouldnt have to and believe silence is the only answer. Good luck with that.

jnbstraight
jnbstraight

I have no idea what Im talking about? This is very simple and even someone as misguided as you should be able to keep up: YOU WORK, YOU GET PAID. 

Jacob323
Jacob323

No buddy, I think you lost...you're one resorting to terms like "dummy"... what are you 16 years old? looking for your big break?

Meester Fudge
Meester Fudge

Good luck little boy.  You will need it in this life.

Jacob323
Jacob323

obviously you have no idea what you are talking about and must be one of the disgruntled "band" members thats gonna occupy a venue tonight.. lol.. please.. educate yourself and put in the time and effort to gain recognition enough to actually even be invited to play a show at a club.. before you spout some nonsensical activist rhetoric

jnbstraight
jnbstraight

LOL! Live in the real world? Hhahahahaha! In the real world people get paid to work for someone which is what bands are doing when they play in a club. Man, you're funny. Face it, you have lost this argument. 

jnbstraight
jnbstraight

it's amazing that being paid to work for someone has become a radical notion for you. Weird...of course it's a matter of "deserve" you dummy if the bands are bringing business into the club. What do you not get here Archie? No, the club owners use the "you're getting exposure and fans" crap as a way to get out of paying the bands. it's a joke.

And tough if the clubs are making less money. Perhaps employees of business's everywhere should take pay cuts or work for free because the business is losing money? Right, they dont because if they were made to they wouldnt show up and there would be no business. Business owners take risks when opening and know they have to pay the help to keep the business running.

Meester Fudge
Meester Fudge

Ahh, here we go again with "deserve."  What do they deserve?  You're going to tell us?  Well most of my friends are in bands, get paid almost nothing for shows they do, do it anyway BECAUSE THEY LOVE IT, don't complain about it, and go about their business. They do it for exposure and fun and making fans.  If they don't want to do it without getting paid, that's their right and they don't have to take shows where they don't get paid.  They're not irrelevant to bar owners, which brings up another inconvenient point that someone else already made - bars also suffer from the same overexposed, flooded market, and many of them are struggling right along with the bands that play them.  

You think you know so much but you don't know shit, instead go off spouting this garbage about rights and progress.  Live in the real world for a second.

Jacob323
Jacob323

if the band signs on to play for tips.. that's the bands decision.. its better than playing in the subway.. how can u fault the club for the band choosing to play for tips? this is so moronic, its not even worth discussing

jnbstraight
jnbstraight

Wrong, if the bands are there as entertainment for the bar or clubs patrons they deserve to be paid more than tips. End of story. if they are irrelevant to the bar owners business and/or because they suck take away from the business then why have them there in the first place? I highly doubt the owners of these establishments are doing this for charity. They are booking bands to bring people into the club to drink and hangout hence the musicians inside are help and deserve a wage.

Jacob323
Jacob323

if they want to get paid for working in nightclubs, its up to them to set a price at the door and collect a door fee. It's not up to the owners to take care of shitty bands that suck. Good luck with this bullshit since most nightclubs don't even get customers till midnight... and to average poor dirtbag it may seem like the club is raking in a fortune but they are actually in fact struggling.. there's multiple costs to running a club and I guarantee you clubs in the LES are definitely not making as much money as mega clubs in the meat packing district.. these people are obviously attention driven and fucking stupid

jnbstraight
jnbstraight

The jokes on you dumbass. If you cant see that not paying someone to do a job and then reaping the profits off of that labor isnt exploitation I feel sorry for you and you should probably read more to correct your stupidity. Like I said, the US has really turned into a nation of sheep and you are a glaring example.

Doperush
Doperush

or they would turn up the mp3 player.

Doperush
Doperush

Meester Fudge, preach brother.

jnbstraight
jnbstraight

And dont try to justify the exploitation of these people with "they are happy to do it for little or nothing". They are desperate and have no choice and because of that sleazeball club owners take advantage of them like a common pimp. 

Meester Fudge
Meester Fudge

I'm actually not "pro-capitalist" - I'm just anti-horseshit.

jnbstraight
jnbstraight

it's ironic that for someone who is supposed to be "pro-capitalist" you belive people should work for nothing.

jnbstraight
jnbstraight

Really? So a majority of people work for free in adulthood? Didnt know that? Perhaps we could apply the "trying to get in the door and will work for free model" to other business's. People are trying to get in the door for all jobs these days but that doesnt change the fact that things cost money and when you work you are supposed to be compensated with real things like cash. And you're asking me how i made into adulthood? 

And again if the bands are helping to bring business into the club then they are entiteled to a cut of that money since they helped bring in that business. You cant hide behind "there's a deluge of bands". Club owners arent booking bands to do a good deed. they are booking them to bring in business. Enough is enough with this industry, and this applies to film as well, where operators employee a group of slaves with no pay thinking it's a privilege for an individual to be there at all. No more. That mentality has gone far enough. What would these owners do if bands no longer would work for nothing? They would have to pay them or they would lose business.

Meester Fudge
Meester Fudge

You still don't understand.  WHY should they pay for it when they're deluged with bands TRYING TO GET INTO THE DOOR and more than happy to do it for little or nothing??  How can you have grown into adulthood without this basic understanding of human nature?

jnbstraight
jnbstraight

Oh, so it's the bands problem that the owner of the club isnt making enough money> Too bad, it;s the price of doing business and if club owners want to use bands to help bring business into their establishment then they should be paying for it. Why should the bands play for free and when the club owner makes money off of their sweat not receive any compensation? That makes absolutely no sense. What's even more amusing is that you're so far gone that being paid for work seems like a radical notion to you. If the bands went and played in the subway then the clubs would do less business. So how these things are related?

jnbstraight
jnbstraight

To simply repeat my earlier statement and to clarify that yours makes absolutely no sense:

Wrong, if the bands are there as entertainment for the bar or clubs patrons they deserve to be paid more than tips. End of story. if they are irrelevant to the bar owners business and/or because they suck and take away from the business then why have them there in the first place? I highly doubt the owners of these establishments are doing this for charity. They are booking bands to bring people into the club to drink and hangout. 

And it's not the bands problem if the club owner isnt making enough money. If they want to use bands to help bring in business then they should pay for that privilege. Amazing how you think the bands should do a freebie for the club owner.

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