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AB5 Could Crush Independent Music in California (Guest Column)

AB5 Could Crush Independent Music in
Asilvero via Wikimedia Commons

California lawmakers are poised to vote on Assembly Bill 5, which is largely aimed at “gig economy” jobs such as ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft and is designed to make it more difficult for such companies to classify workers as independent contractors rather than employees. But the bill, scheduled to become law on Sept. 13, could have an adverse effect on the music industry, as this guest column — co-written by RIAA Chairman/CEO Mitch Glazier, A2IM President/CEO Richard James Burgess, and for the Music Artists’ Coalition, Azoff Company Co-President Susan Genco and attorney Jordan Bromley — explains.

California has always been a haven for artists and has inspired songs that are heard around the world. But a recent change in a law, about to get the stamp of approval by the California Legislature, will unintentionally drive independent artists out of the state. While changes in technology have made it possible for artists to remain independent and create music on their own terms, this law will force them to make that music outside of California.

A recent court ruling called Dynamex by the California Supreme Court has redefined what it means to be an independent contractor. The State, in an ambitious effort driven by labor unions, is attempting to codify it in a bill called AB5.

AB5 is being proposed largely in response to the “ride-sharing” companies like Uber and Lyft. The bill is intended to make it more difficult for so-called “gig economy” companies to classify workers as independent contractors rather than employees. We understand, appreciate and support the legislators wanting to protect hundreds of thousands of people in our state who are working without benefits, while the corporations involved reap the profits of their labor.

Unfortunately, the law is so broad it will have outsized consequences for independent musicians: treating them like Uber and Lyft’s executives rather than their drivers. The proposed bill states that any person who provides services that relate to the usual course of the “hiring entity’s” business is an employee of that entity. This makes sense for large corporations; it does not make sense for the independent artist who is trying to make music.

Artists work with many people to help them realize their vision: producers, engineers, musicians, publicists, managers, music video creators, dancers, background vocalists, etc. Under this new law, an artist in California could become the employer of all of these people.

Think of a 14-year-old kid in her bedroom making music with friends: Is she capable of becoming an employer and providing punch cards, time sheets, guaranteed meal breaks, health care, retirement benefits, minimum wage, overtime pay calculation, mandatory tax withholdings?  Imagine N.W.A, when they were making independent records in Compton, faced with the expense and administrative tasks of becoming employers.

In 2019, the opportunities to make music independently are endless, and this law threatens to quash that innovation for:

  • The young girl in her basement recording on Garageband who invites a friend over to play bass. She is an employer.
  • The rapper who hires a mixer to punch up the levels on the production. He is an employer.
  • The producers in a garage who hire musicians to play on a track. They are an employer.
  • The songwriters who ask people to play on a demo so they can pitch it to an artist to cut: employers.
  • People who organize “song camps” where songwriters come together and write songs:employers.

This is not an issue of big versus small; this is small struggling to become big. There are tens of thousands of kids with dreams in California — dreams to become a recording artist, a singer, a producer, a rapper, a small label executive, a major label executive. The unintended consequence of this law is that they will have to move out of California to pursue this dream.

Get ready, Nashville and New York — it looks like you’re about to have your own recorded-music boom …

… Unless there is something we can do about it. AB5 allows industry exemptions. We all agreed on an exemption — and when was the last time recording artists, indie and major labels agreed on something?  We have a good deal of union support, but not all of them.

If you care about allowing independent artists, songwriters, and labels to remain in California, we need your help. Call your local state legislature, your union, the AFM. Tell them how important it is to you that we keep the music in California. Ask them to support an exemption to AB5 for independent recording in California.

But hurry: The bill becomes law on September 13.

California has always protected independence for artists.  Don’t let AB5 pass without an exemption for independent artists and force independent music-making out of California.

Thank you,

Mitch Glazier for the Recording Industry Association of America, Dr. Richard James Burgess for the American Association of Independent Music and Jordan Bromley and Susan Genco for the Music Artists Coalition