Quit complaining: Get organised and start campaigning!

Thursday, 13 Nov 2014

Katie Wighton is a working musician in Sydney alt-folk four-piece All Our Exes Live In Texas. She’s also the National Musicians Organiser for the Australian Freelance Musicians Alliance (AFMA), part of the Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA).

It would be very easy for me to write this piece complaining about everything that is wrong with the music industry in Australia. It’s often assumed that’s what unions are about. Occasionally viewed as an angry mob – intent on pot stirring and only drawing attention to the negative parts of our industry. 

As musicians, we are quite separated from each other. Scattered around the country with no centralised connections - we live in tiny little vacuums. Remember though, there are plenty of people like you, trying to make a living out of music and I’d like to take this opportunity to tackle some of the issues plaguing our industry.

Most of us operate as sole traders. We take responsibility for our own business and professional decisions. Did you know that there are legally enforceable minimum rates and conditions for live performers in Australia? They are contained in the Live Performance Award; the award contains information like what happens if your gig is cancelled within 48 hours. 

Our federal government does not place the same value on the arts as they do in other parts of the world. In Germany nearly 4.5% of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($USD3.635 trillion) was committed to the cultural budget in 2013 –the equivalent of $USD20 per person. The Australian federal government has committed just over 1% of our GDP to the cultural sector – around $AU6.90 per person.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think there is a silver bullet – there are many societal factors that contribute to this individualistic world we live in. I also don’t believe there is one omnipotent and benevolent music industry body that could wave their magic wand and reform the industry, giving musicians the chance to make a full-time living with their craft above the OECD poverty line*. 

I also don’t think I have all of the answers. However, there are some things I do know as a union organiser and a working musician. 

  1. It is easy (but boring) to complain. 
  2. It is easy (and understandable) to feel trapped in your own individual frustrations.

It is impossible to solve these issues on your own.  

So, what to do? You could stay feeling isolated, frustrated, bored and complain some more. Or you could talk with some other like-minded musicians and try to do something about these issues. Join one of the many industry groups, talk to your friends, lobby your local council OR do all of the above and join your union, the Australian Freelance Musicians Alliance (AFMA) – part of the Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA). 

AFMA is committed to a fair-trade campaign – ensuring venues, musicians, agents and other music industry bodies who are doing the right thing are rewarded. We are committed to providing representation when things go wrong. We are committed to providing public liability insurance and journey insurance as part of your membership. We are committed to developing a positive, innovative and most importantly, collaborative future for the music industry in Australia – not just sitting around complaining about it. 

So herein lies the shameless plug. Join your union; quit complaining and start campaigning!


*According to the Throsby Study 2008, musicians earn less than $10,000 a year from arts related activities which is less than 50% of the median income of Australians. The OECD poverty line is 50% of the median income. 

Head along to the MEAA Fair Trade Campaign launch for more information. The launch is on December 8 at 505 in Surry Hills. For more information see the their website.

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