THE BLOG

Art vs Employment?

08/06/2013 20:57 BST | Updated 07/08/2013 10:12 BST

What if the producer's artistic vision is threatening not just live music but also the employment of musicians?

One of the things that crops up from time to time is the hoary old subject of the producer's artistic vision bumping up against live music performance and the employment of musicians.

Whether it's a dance company wanting to use recorded music instead of musicians because the composer has created a 'soundscape' in his home studio, or a singer choosing to lip-sync because it's hard to sing and perform the dance routine - mind you, if I remember rightly, Beyonce wasn't actually dancing when she chose to lip-sync rather than sing at Obama's inauguration ceremony - there is always a difficult conversation to be had between the Musicians' Union (MU) and the producer.

The MU rightly believes that it is the producer's right to produce and we wouldn't ever seek to interfere with that. However, when the artistic decisions that the producer makes impact unfairly on the employment of musicians then we have a problem. We often hear the argument that the music is not conventional (what they usually mean by that is that it's not necessarily got strings or a brass section) but it is in fact electronic and therefore cannot be reproduced by "conventional" musicians. What a load of old tosh. If that was the case then bands like The Chemical Brothers, Orbital and Underworld would never do gigs. Kraftwerk, for very obvious reasons will never release an unplugged album but that doesn't stop them from selling out their recent UK gigs.

The fact is that there is no music ever recorded that cannot in some way or another be performed live. We all accept that the performance of the acts that I have mentioned will involve a fair amount of pre-recorded material, loops and click tracks but that does not prevent or even necessarily detract from the live performance. The point here is that it is being performed by human beings and isn't simply a recording because if it was, the fans wouldn't bother to turn up.

Recently, a producer decided that, for artistic reasons, he no longer wanted to employ the musicians he had engaged and who had performed without fault for several years. Instead, he wanted to replace the musicians with a recording. Fortunately, this was not possible under the terms of the prevailing collective agreement between the Union and the producer's trade body, and the Union stepped in and prevented the producer from serving notice on the musicians.

The producer put forward a reasonable (if subjective) artistic argument as to why he no longer wanted to employ the musicians but nevertheless, the Union had to point out that whilst he may believe that he has very good reasons for wanting to do something, on this occasion he is prevented from doing so under the terms of the contract that he freely entered into with the musicians. In much the same way as I would be able to put together a very robust and convincing argument as to why the locks should be changed on 10 Downing Street to prevent the government from entering but I am prevented from actually doing it by the law of the land.

Audiences repeatedly tell us how much they value live music and our Keep Music Live campaign has been, and remains, our most successful campaign bar none. Nevertheless, the artistic whims of producers will, from time to time, undermine our efforts to keep music live and threaten the livelihood of our members. Wherever possible we need to ensure that we have agreements in place that offer the highest level of job security achievable in this difficult profession.