Portland Musicians Launch “Fair Trade Music” Campaign


Project Seeks to Establish Minimum Pay Guarantees for All Working Musicians

Portland, OR – September 8, 2009 – A coalition of Portland musicians has launched the “Fair Trade Music” campaign, which is seeking to establish minimum pay guarantees for all performing musicians in the Portland area.  Co-sponsored by Local 99 of the American Federation of Musicians and the Labor Education and Research Center, the coalition includes union and non-union musicians.

Most music fans assume that 100% of the cover charge goes to the artist but in fact, through extensive deductions for venue expenses like sound staff, door staff, promotional fees, and ‘house fees,’ musicians routinely see their compensation reduced to a tiny fraction of what was brought in.  “This is simple,” stated Bruce Fife, President of the Musicians Union, “we think there ought to be a reasonable, minimum compensation for musicians when they work for a business enterprise.  And when you, the consumer, pay your $5 or $10 at the door, we want you to know that your money actually makes it to the artists.”

In response to this ongoing problem, the Fair Trade Music coalition has developed a tiered pay scale based on venue type and capacity that adequately compensates musicians while still allowing the house to make a fair profit and eliminates questionable deductions for venue overhead.  Fair Trade Music asks the general public to only patronize venues displaying Fair Trade Music window stickers indicating their support and commitment to fairness.

Ryan Biornstad of the band Starf*cker said, “I fully support the Fair Trade Music campaign.  It reimburses musicians fairly for their time, both onstage and off – where most of the real work happens.  Musicians need to realize that their time and energy is worth something and clubs need to properly appreciate that.  You spend a lot of money on equipment and a lot of time writing and recording and then you have to haul your gear to the club and that’s just to get paid nothing.  That’s just the norm right now, but we can change it.  I hope all Portland musicians will join the campaign.”

Fair Trade Music is endorsed by over 200 Portland-area bands including such well-known acts as March Fourth, 3 Leg Torso, and Keegan Smith.  It is also supported by the Cascade Blues Association, the Portland Songwriters Association and the International Alliance of Theater Stage Employees (Local 28).

The coalition is offering all musicians Fair Trade Music buttons and stickers to display at their gigs in silent solidarity with the campaign.  Musicians are encouraged to visit the Fair Trade Music website (www.FairTradeMusicPDX.org) for more info and to register their endorsements. Additionally, the campaign will be hosting regular gatherings to raise awareness and answer questions about the program.

Simply put, “When a band performs for exposure,” said local blues great Norman Sylvester, “they expose themselves to poverty.”

** FAIR TRADE MUSIC – Because Music is a Day Job!  **

2 Comments so far

  1. paul (unregistered) on September 8th, 2009 @ 11:08 am

    What a fantastic way to destroy live music and replace it with a jukebox/karaoke machine/guitar hero game. What struggling bar/club would voluntarily comply with this? And what happens to a band who doesn’t care — it’s a hobby, they want to keep it that way. Here’s a tip for musicians who want to make more money: work harder, get better at what you do, learn how to entertain a crowd, learn how to network (no, that’s not a dirty word invented by some corporate maggot), learn how to sell your music. If all that fails, it means no one is interested in your music and you should find something else to earn money from.

  2. Sean Hudson (unregistered) on September 15th, 2009 @ 3:06 pm

    I’m curious as to whether you are a full-time working musician, club owner, an interested observer of the local music scene, or employed in some other fashion that gives you insight into the work done by local musicians. You write as though you have the experience to have some authority on the issue.

    Curiously, you don’t address the issue of club overhead being paid for out of the pockets of musicians. There are plenty of instances where bands have been paid a pittance after playing to full or nearly full clubs. Likely, if this practice were to stop, musicians would be much better paid. All the while working as hard as anybody else who holds down a full-time job.

    How many full-time musicians have you spoken with to figure that if they are not earning the money they would like, it is the result of; not working hard enough, not networking enough, or not exploring different avenues to profit from their craft? I personally spend a great deal of time around musicians and the majority of them work very long hours to perfect their craft.

    As for musicians that aren’t interested in making money: There will always be venues for those folks, just like there are playhouses for community theater and amateur orchestras. The Fair Trade Music campaign actually seeks to improve upon the professionalism of the whole experience between musician and club owner. Also, to let club patrons know that the money they spend on door cover charges goes to the bands and not to club operating expenses.

    I’m interested in your response.

    Sean Hudson
    Fair Trade Music Campaign
    steering committee member

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