Wednesday, December 02, 2009

From the mailbag...

MoC writes:
Interesting letter from anon re being asked to play overtime for less than scale.

I guess my question is, does a band leader have to require union scale for himself? As a business owner, shouldn’t he have the flexibility to negotiate a price different from scale in order to land a gig as long as he pays his players scale for their part of a gig)?

In the current economy, everything is negotiable when it comes to service providers. And I mean everything. My firm puts on a number of big conferences every year. We have been able to negotiate favorable deals with hotels that used to do you favors by letting you book them.

I have also been able to negotiate fixed rates at very steep discounts with major law firms on a number of litigation matters. I’m not saying it’s a good thing. I’m just saying it’s a fact of the current economy.
In general, the union sets the wage scale for musicians. Not every band is a union band. Only union bands are contractually obligated to pay that scale. That said, the going rate for musicians even among non-union bands has typically been at least scale, which is not that much, relatively speaking. Most in-demand musicians typically command a premium above scale. The office is free to mark up the price they charge the client as they whish. There are no union schedules for that.

For a mitzvah tants, typically the only person staying behind is the keyboard player and many band leaders don't charge a mark-up on that, in my experience. So, what this guy is complaining about is that he’s being asked to stay and play for less then what he considers the reasonable going rate. Personally, after having played a 5-6 hour wedding, I think the keyboard player deserves a fair hourly rate for a mitzvah tants. Based on this letter, it sounds like that’s what he was saying too.

I do agree that in this economy people need to be flexible, but they also need to be appropriately compensated for their work.

The problem, is that some people are negotiating gigs at less then scale (in other words, at less than cost). The only way to do this is by underpaying the musicians. This can be done if the musicians agree to it, and might occasionally be done by an office for legit reasons, say promotion. More often though, it is being done by bands who then screw one or more musicians after the fact, by not paying them.

The economy is forcing some painful, but much needed changes on the simcha band industry. I do think there are areas where the community can be helpful, or at least not harmful, to people from the industry in financial distress. (Not everybody is feeling the pain to the same extent.) And, there’s a difference between negotiating a fair price in a down economy, and taking advantage of someone in need. It’s legal, but also unethical. It is quite ironic to do so for something called a mitzvah tants.

E. writes:
Who is this United Tzedaka Group? How much will each charity actually receive?
Not a whole lot, I'd guess.