The Musicians Union - is it for you?
What's in it for rock musicians? A spokesperson answers your questions.
Many of the letters to Making Music have been from musicians wanting to know if they should join the Musicians Union... how useful is it, are rock players really catered for, etc. We put nine of the most common questions to Brian Blaine.
Will you help me get insurance?
"Yes, we have an underwritten insurance company (MUBA) and the people there have been dealing with musicians and their particular needs for a long time. The first £400 insurance is free if your subs are up to date."
What is your policy over minimum payment at gigs?
"We expect a minimum payment of £20 per musician; having said that there is more of an acceptance now of how the rock scene works, an acceptance of the realities of the rock business and its different deals. It would be dishonest to pretend it's written in any strict code. We won't turn our back on a band if they accept a lower rate."
Will I have to belong to the Musicians Union to appear on TV or video?
"Yes, and the MU has struck a deal where musicians get paid for the use of their videos. That's not a statutory right, like copyright, we did succeed in negotiating it."
How much will it cost me each year?
"That will depend on how much you are earning, there is a sliding scale, but the basic rate is £28.60 a year, plus a £1 joining fee. Some larger branches may need that all upfront, but others may accept quarterly payments."
What is the minimum age for joining?
"There is no minimum age."
I phoned the Musicians Union four times, and spoke to a different secretary each time who 'couldn't help me'. Is it true the MU is really only interested in classical players, and doesn't want to know about young rock musicians?
"There are 130 branches throughout the country and most of those have only part time secretaries. Human beings being what they are, it's inevitable that some may be less easily contactable than others. If you are having trouble getting through, then contact one of the full time central offices - Glasgow, Manchester, Birmingham, London, Bristol etc. To be frank about it, classical players think we're only interested in rock musicians, dance band players think we're only interested in jazz musicians, and so on. It's harder to make it work for the local gigging rock musician playing for a tenner, we accept that. We can negotiate rates and fees for classical players because their world is more orderly, but generally the union responds to the section of membership who take the most interest and apply the most pressure."
Can you advise me over copyright of my material? Do you have legal advisers to offer advice on contracts for rock bands?
"Yes, we have a back up firm of solicitors who specialise in contracts and copyright. We have a preliminary vetting office for contracts, and if they're sticky they're passed further on. You don't have to pay, it's a service for members."
How many people belong?
What can the Musicians Union offer the rock musician?
"There's no simple answer, I hope the rest of the questions give some examples. Perhaps the knowledge that musicians don't exist in isolation and that there are people who've accumulated a considerable experience since 1921. The union is not a slick, pace setting institution, it evolves behind the business, adapting to the changing structure, and the rock scene has obviously proved a lot more difficult to adapt to in many ways."