We strongly support the effort underway in Congress and the states to craft effective COVID relief packages and support working people through this crisis. For creative people who have seen an almost complete shutdown in live gigs and collaborative group projects like studio recording, this relief is especially vital.
That’s why alongside these efforts, California must also act urgently to fix the flawed AB5 legislation passed last year that has proved so costly and damaging for working artists and independent creative professionals in the state. It’s one of the easiest, simplest things California’s legislature can do right now. And while we know stakeholders have been working hard to solve this problem, we also know there is simply no more time to waste.
AB5 is Vital — But Shouldn’t Outlaw California’s Music Business
We strongly support the baseline effort by California and other states to provide basic protections to ride-share app drivers and other workers in changing industries. Like so many Americans, we have been appalled by the stories of drivers treated as disposable commodities, the relentless pressure to stay on the road, and the one-sided “take it or leave it” economics of the industry.
But as is now widely understood, in its effort to help these workers and others facing similar abuses, the California Legislature inadvertently set in motion changes that cause great harm to the state’s rich and historic fabric of creative arts: music, dance, photography, and journalism.
That’s no hyperbole; it’s what the law says. The AB5 legislation bans the many independent contractor relationships that artists and other creative professions depend upon to collaborate, partner, and connect. The law deems virtually every bar band, session player, freelance journalist, wedding photographer, and songwriting partner “employees” of the bar or producer or editor that arranged the gig, imposing massive contracting, recordkeeping, and other costs on professionals who can’t afford them and who genuinely don’t want or need that kind of locked in arrangement.
The Artist Rights Alliance represents songwriters and musicians trying to build sustainable careers in the new economy. For many, that means cobbling together gigs, tours, sessions, and writing gigs to come up with a living wage. Under the new legislation, that kind of creative hustle is not possible — since every one of those jams or writing freelances or sessions would require an employer/employee relationship, something only the most well-heeled could ever manage. The days of hearing someone with a great sound and paying them to play on your record could be long gone. That would be bad anywhere, but it would be ruinous in California, one of the historic incubators of new sounds and eclectic collaborations in the world.
No More Time To Waste — Fix AB5 Today
No one really disputes any of this, and for months the sponsors of the legislation have been working to fix it. We have trusted in this process and waited to see what it produced.
But as the clock ticks on and more and more California artists and songwriters are left in limbo, we have to ask: if everyone agrees the law requires a simple and straightforward fix to allow creative artists to continue doing their work the same way they always have — why has nothing been done?
We don’t know the answer to that question because we do not have a seat at the table. But at this point independent musicians, songwriters, and vocalists — and our creative peers in arts like photography, freelance journalism, and independent film — cannot sit back and trust others to fix the problem anymore.
We are grateful for artists like Ari Herstand for leading the charge on this issue. Major stakeholders from different perspectives like the Recording Academy, the Recording Industry Association of America, the Music Artists Coalition, the American Association of Independent Music as well as many others have been sounding the alarm and working to educate policymakers and the public about this problem.
We also appreciate the efforts of the American Federation of Musicians union to push for a solution to the problem as well. But at the same time, like a vast majority of working artists, we are not all members of the AFM, and we cannot expect the union to represent those of us who work and operate independently.
If you share our concerns about the delay in fixing this problem and ensuring the continued vitality of California’s creative community, please join us in calling on the State Assembly to enact new legislation now.
If you agree artists and creators can’t wait any longer for a fix to AB5, please sign the petition!