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So you want to be in a rock band?: Taking your act to the next level

Rose Cora Perry | Interrobang | Lifestyles | October 29th, 2007

Whether you're an independent act or the latest acquisition of a major label, being aware of the wide array of artist-oriented affiliations (and their services) that are at your disposal, is essential. Not only are there organizations that will assist you in protecting your art, but there are also musician unions whose purpose is to promote and protect your rights as an artist. The latter form of associations go so far as to “attempt” to professionalize music as a career offering legal council, retirement pensions, and tour support.

Note here that I said “attempt” to professionalize music as a career because being a musician, in almost all accounts, is not seen by greater society as a feasible or stable career path for good reason: music is not a “safe” career choice, and most musicians have backup plans because they are aware of their limited chances of “making it” in this unforgiving industry. Often, those who do “make it” are manipulated, exploited, and/or taken advantage of by labels, promoters, and bookers simply because as artists, they remained ignorant to the inner workings of this industry. What one must understand is that most artists, unfortunately, fall into this category of “easy prey”, and the only way alleviate this, and perhaps raise the standard of musician treatment overall is to create more knowledgeable musicians.

Thus, the importance of having associations that exist purely for the benefit of artists as a means to preserve artistic integrity, ownership, and intellectual property and a source of education and advice pertaining to the industry, is crucial.

The London Musician's Association (LMA) & American Federation of Musicians (AFM)

Overview: The London Musicians Association is our local sub-sect of the American Federation of Musicians (AFM), an organization whose main purpose is to help negotiate fair treatment and legal touring policies for Canadian artists wishing to enter into the American market.

The AFM provides legal protection to its artists by mandating that for every gig in which they participate, a contractual agreement must be completed outlining the date, time, venue, length of performance and compensation to be paid to the artist for their services. In the event that a band's performance in the States does not qualify as a paying gig (i.e. music festival/conference), a supplementary letter, indicating that the band is partaking in this event purely for the exposure/potential contents it will generate, will be supplied to the artist.

These contractual letters are very important when traveling to the States as they assist in expediting the border crossing process. Additionally, these contracts can serve as legal proof of the agreed upon terms if an artist encounters a discrepancy with a venue owner/festival promoter. Further, if a discrepancy does arise, the AFM will provide legal council (if necessary) to resolve this matter free of charge to its members. Please note that to obtain a letter in either case, there is a charge of $25 US for processing.

Fees: There is no initiation charge for students and/or musicians who are 20 years of age or younger, however said individuals will be required to demonstrate proof of their academic record/age. For all other musicians, a onetime fee of $100 is charged to initiate one's membership. In addition to the membership initiation fees, in order to stay active as a member, fulfilling a due schedule (which can be paid annually $128/year, semi-annually $74/every six months, or quarterly $42/every three months) is required. These dues not only provide artists with the ability to tour America legally and legitimately, but as well entitle members to additional benefits including: health care, pension and lobbying rights. Each member of the AFM is invited to attend regular conferences to voice their opinions in regards to how the touring process can be improved upon. (Please note that there are no group discounts with fees, so if your band contains seven members, this may be an expensive process.)

Critique: While I strongly believe in touring legally, and advocate the AFM's intended mission, being provided with all of the proper documentation to cross the border does NOT always guarantee access and/or access without considerable hassle. I can recall several excursions to the States in which my entire band was AFM approved, and provided with the necessary legal documents and P2 temporary work visas, yet still we encountered lengthy interrogations from border officers and routine vehicle searches which usually resulted in us being held up at the border for several hours and left scrambling trying to make it to our gigs on time.

Additionally, it's important to note that when touring into the States, a Canadian band is not legally allowed to transport goods across the border (including their own merchandise), and if caught doing so, your merch may be subject to annihilation right before your eyes. Seeing as merchandise sales typically account for the majority of a band's profits, getting your merch transported to every show is a MUST. Thus, additional shipping costs to transport your merch legally need to be planned for, and again these costs add up fast.

Overall, I feel that the AFM offers a useful service to independent bands wishing to break into the American market, however, this can be a costly process! Thus, I do not encourage becoming an AFM member or touring the States unless your band has some serious financial backing, or if you are confident that you will be able to make up for your losses through touring.
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