Bitter Music Industry In-Fighting Prevented Any Action Against California’s AB5

California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, lead sponsor of AB5.
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California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, lead sponsor of AB5.
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California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, lead sponsor of AB5.  She says the music industry failed to offer a compromise.

California’s AB5 was signed into law this week without any exemptions or concessions for the music industry.  So what happened?

California’s AB5 is designed to curtail contractor abuse by tech giants like Uber, Lyft, and GrubHub.  But the law generated disastrous implications for a number of other industries reliant upon temporary contractors.

Talk to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), American Association of Independent Musicians (A2IM), and the Music Artists Coalition (MAC), and California’s AB5 has the power to destroy the state’s music industry. Richard Burgess, president of A2IM, told DMN that the bill would single-handedly“gut the music industry” by making it impossible to hire the ad-hoc teams required to produce music and collaborate creatively.

Yet despite aggressive protests and consultations with California lawmakers, the bill was recently signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom without any music industry exemptions — without even a mention of the industry at all. Meanwhile, a raft of other industries and professionals, including lawyers, fisherman, plumbers, barbers, tutors, and even newspapers won special exemptions and considerations from lawmakers.

So what happened?

According to California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, the lead sponsor of AB5, the music industry simply couldn’t craft a workable set of compromises.  Instead, they chose to fight the legislation entirely.  “We were hopeful they would reach an agreement, but once language was drafted to chart a path forward… the recording industry preferred no legislation at all,” Gonzalez said.

But that wasn’t quite what happened, at least according to the MAC’s Jordan Bromley, the RIAA’s Mitch Glazer, and A2IM’s Burgess.  In an email this morning, the trio explained that despite their best efforts, they became locked in a battle with the American Federation of Musicians, or AFM, which had a decidedly different take on AB5.

Instead of seeing a ‘gutted industry,’ AFM welcomed AB5 as a healthy change for abused musicians.  Accordingly, they fought efforts to amend AB5 or block its passage.

“The music industry coalition did not oppose the legislation,” a joint statement from the RIAA, A2IM, and MAC began.  “In fact, we submitted two ‘support if amended’ letters to the legislature.”

Interesting that the RIAA, A2IM, and MAC refer to themselves as the ‘industry coalition’ — does that mean the AFM isn’t part of the music industry?  That’s certainly debatable, though perhaps it simply illustrates the fractiousness and division ahead of the AB5 vote.

Either way, the RIAA’s “coalition” was apparently locked in a bitter battle with the AFM’s “coalition”.

“Nor did we refuse to compromise,” the RIAA/A2IM/MAC statement continued.  “We offered several times to sit down with AFM to work out a solution that would allow independent musicians, artists, producers, engineers and others to continue to collaborate. Unfortunately, AFM refused to speak or meet and delivered language that would still make individual artists and indie labels employers of every contributor to every project in which they engage, and that put current collective bargaining agreements at risk.”

As for the AFM, they’ve yet to respond to us.  But maybe their job is done here.

“Uber and Lyft are upset that the legislation has not exempted them from the court ruling,” AFM expressed on their site.  “But side musicians have always been properly classified as employees, even though they are sometimes misclassified. Unlike Uber drivers, nothing for us has been changed by AB5.”

16 Responses

  1. Anonymous

    Oh god I feel like I’m watching Hitler find out he just lost Italy just reading anger coming from these industry people lol

  2. Thunder

    From All The Indies That Were Smart Enough To Abandon SHIP!!!
    Now COMPOUNDING INTEREST WILL hit the big pieces left
    And no Indie competition from the left overs who would try to rebuild
    INDIES WIN!!!!

  3. Jim - Michigan

    Plenty of talented musicians et al. who are outside California. Plenty of music production studios and sites that are outside California.

    Keep the foolishness, mismanagement and political madness in California and the rest of the world will be just fine, thank you.

  4. Gordon Gekko

    So now what? As a producer, if I hire a singer or musician to play on my song am I now breaking the law? Do I need to first make them my employee? Can I fire them after the song is complete? lol. I’m still trying to understand what this all means in practical terms.

    • Anon

      It Means….
      That That The BIG MUSIC EXECS Want To KILL The Independent Industry In California Because They Want To Kill The Competition!
      Small Guys Like YOU!!!
      I’m Glad Your All Listening Now!
      Lyor Cohen And His ILK Are Waging A Full Fledged War Against Independent Musicians!
      This Was Done ON PURPOSE!!!!
      Just Like Earlier Last Week They Made It “Illegal” To Count Views From Ad Buys Through Google On You Tube!
      Welcome To The Fight!

  5. Paul Resnikoff

    So, a mastering engineer is hired for two days to help EQ a track. That’s core to the business of a producer (which is to produce a finished piece of music). So does that mastering engineer get Kaiser health benefits for the two days?

    • I'm Out

      It is a way to snuff out pesky indi’s that will destroy the industry eventually.
      Hedge Hedge Hedge

    • Anon

      Health benefits don’t kick in until you’re both no longer classified as a small business (>50 employees) and the employee in question works 40 hours a week

  6. Just sayn'

    Hmmm, “employee”, “employee for”, “employee for hire” … where have I seen those words before? What, if I follow the new law, you become my “employee for hire”? And if I meet the other tests (tell you what to do, set you hours, etc.) I own any interest in copyright in musical composition and possibly sound recording? Am I missing something in this possible situation?

  7. dhenn

    Good luck enforcing it. This indie has ZERO intention of abiding by it. The whole thing is ridiculous. If Uber/Lyft drivers want to be employees then go work for a cab company. You don’t get the flexibility of being an independent contractor, calling your own shots, and the benefits of being an employee.

    • Make Me A Bird

      Yeah until you want to submit an album to GRAMMY
      Or belong to ASCAMP Or BMI
      They will find ways…
      before submitting to Spotify or You Tube?

  8. Bernardo

    Seems like the only thing AFM will ”hear” are members LEAVING because of this. Union music members MUST walk in order for the severity of this issue to ring clear.

  9. Stuart Burleson

    Of course the union supports AB5…it’s the only chance they have to gain more members, to get more dues because they got all of those pensions to pay out. Nobody would join the union for any other reason…it hasn’t been relevant since the big band era. They are completely useless for contemporary working musicians.