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I Met With Senate Majority Leader of CA About AB5. Here’s How It Went

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Ari Herstand
Ari Herstand is a Los Angeles based musician, the founder and CEO of Ari’s Take and the author of How to Make It in the New Music Business.

I just left Senate Majority Leader of California, Robert Hertzberg’s office in Van Nuys.

We were awarded this meeting based on the petition (started by Alicia Spillias and Adrianne Duncan) which now has over 30,000 signatures. SIGN IT!!

If you’ve been out of the loop about the shit show that is going down in California right now, read my piece California’s Music Economy Is About To Crash and then the recap of my meeting with AB5 author, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez.

Adrianne Duncan, Katisse Buckingham, Nick Campbell, Danica Pinner, Elmo Lovano, Karen Garrity, Peter Petro and Ned Menoyo and I piled into the Senator’s office and took our seats in extremely comfy chairs (he mentioned were from the old Beverly Hills hotel). The Senator came into the room singing. We joked that he can join the band!

I started off the meeting explaining that we are in support of the intentions behind AB5 – how it is intended to help the little guys getting taken advantage of by greedy corporations – however it will be absolutely catastrophic to how we, as independent musicians and music professionals, run our businesses. He asked, “why haven’t you guys been in the other meetings” and I explained that the organizations who have been invited to all the meetings previously do not represent us. The organizations that have been part of these conversations are the AFM (the union that represents primarily orchestral musicians and those who play on major label records), the RIAA (the organization that represents the major labels), A2IM (the org that represents the independent labels), and MAC (the new org formed by Irving Azoff and includes superstars like Anderson.Paak, Maren Morris, Don Henley and Dave Matthews and others). Since most of us are not in the AFM, are not on a label or superstars, our voices have been completely absent from the conversation.

Hertzberg quipped “good thing you’re not here on behalf of the cosmetology industry” (referencing my crazy hair) and I popped back “so my parents got ahold you before this meeting huh.”

He is very charming and it’s clear how he has risen in the ranks of California politics.

He was very present for everyone speaking and, for all the power and weight he holds, he kept the meeting casual and made us feel at ease. At one point he even mentioned how he wished we brought our instruments.

He was engaged and generous with his time – our meeting lasted over an hour and a half.

We went around the room and explained how each of us run our businesses. I discussed how, as a singer/songwriter, I am both the contractor and contractee – oftentimes on the same gig. The music venue cuts me a check and then I pay each of my backup musicians. And how throughout the year I may hire 40+ musicians for one-off gigs. With AB5, I would be required to put every single musician on payroll with a payroll company, W2 them, get workers comp insurance, incorporate myself, get unemployment insurance. But it doesn’t just affect musicians I hire. For the studio, I hire recording engineers, producers and at live shows I’ll hire lighting designers, front of house sound engineers along with the musicians on stage with me.

My accountant informed me that it would cost an additional $6,000 a year to comply with this law. Others have estimated it will be an additional 20% in costs for every person hired.

When Danica Pinner mentioned she’s a cellist, Senator Hertzberg shared an endearing anecdote about his cello playing son, David Hertzberg – who happens to be a very accomplished Opera composer. The Senator reminisced about how when David was auditioning to get into arts school on the cello, he had only been practicing at home on their carpeted floor. But at the actual audition, which was on a concrete floor, his cello slid all over the room because he was unaware he needed a floor stop endpin to keep his cello in place (he made it into the school all things considering!).

It was clear that the Senator was very empathetic to our cause.

He understood that the music business is one of the huge parts that makes California so special. What would our state be without the music industry? What if California lost all of our incredible musicians to Atlanta, Nashville or New York. It would be an awfully sad reality for the state. But this will happen if nothing is done very soon.

Elmo Lovano, founder and CEO of the musicians app Jammcard, discussed how his community of vetted, working music professionals has 4,000 members just in the state of California – nearly the same amount of Californians who are part of the AFM and the Recording Academy. And shared the results of the survey he sent his California members concerning AB5:

Are you a member of the AFM (musicians union)?

64.8% – No I’m not

17.8% – Yes I am

13.2% – I used to be

2.4% – I am but I’d like not to be

1.7% – I don’t know what the AFM is

Do you make the majority of your income from union work or non union work?

97.6% – Non union

2.4% – Union

How do you prefer to be taxed as a music professional?

76.4% – 1099 (freelance/independent contractor)

15.6% – W2 (employee)

8% – I don’t know

Do you support California AB5 for music?

66.7% – I do not support it

8% – I support it

25.3% – I don’t know what it is

Karen Garrity discussed how she lost a major account YESTERDAY which cost over 50 music professionals their jobs.

She runs a contracting agency for composers. When a composer needs to get one of their scores recorded she contracts the musicians, recording engineers and studios for the job. Yesterday, a composer she had worked with many times before, backed out of a major deal after the studio, engineers and musicians were all in place and took the job to Florida because he couldn’t feasibly W2 all of these people for a one-off gig.

Karen revealed that she had actually spent the past 3 months working on how to comply with AB5. She discovered that payroll companies are not setup for one-off contracts. Payroll companies do not know how to add someone on for one gig and would charge a monthly fee for each “employee” – not to mention the payroll taxes that come with each added employee. She also learned that tracking down workers comp insurance was all but impossible for this kind of company with hundreds of one-off “employees.”

Here is an example of someone attempting to comply, but simply cannot because the infrastructure is not setup for it. Not only is this completely cost prohibitive, but actually impossible to do.

Adrianne Duncan introduced herself and the Senator joked “Yo Adrianne” – and she hit back “you’re allowed one more of those this meeting. Well, because you’re the majority leader you get two more.” And then she told a sweet story about how she was in love with Sylvester Stalone when she was 12. The Senator humblebragged how he just ran into Stalone at Arnold’s (Schwarzenegger) party. Ahhh the perks of being a power player in CA politics.

She explained that because of the new Trump tax law, she would be unable to itemize her expenses as a W2’d employee. Her accountant estimated that if she had been unable to itemize her expenses for 2018, she would have owed $8,000 MORE in taxes. This, she said, would have put her under and she would have had to move back to Atlanta to survive.

In the end, he got the point. He felt our plight.

So! Where are we now?

Well, Assemblywoman Gonzalez asked us to give her language that she can add to the cleanup bill. While the RIAA, A2IM, MAC and AFM and the other unions are duking it out, I sent her language that we in the independent music industry agreed on (and the 30,000 who signed our petition are relying on us to speak on their behalf).

Speaking of which, last I heard, IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) got ahold of the music carve-out language, completely rewrote what the RIAA, A2IM, MAC and AFM all agreed upon, to something totally unacceptable to us.

IATSE is now holding this all up and could kill all the progress we’ve made.

Frankly, it’s a shit show with all the powerful organizations and unions. And while they are throwing their proverbial dicks around breaking out their rulers, thousands of independent, working musicians are suffering. We do not have time to wait for them to agree on where the commas should be placed.

We need a carve-out NOW. Like 12 days ago.

So, to Governor Newsom, Assembly leader Ian Calderon and Assemblywoman Gonzalez, we BEG of you, please add in clarifying language which will give music professionals an exemption from this law. You can add it to section 2(c)(2)(B), directly following: esthetician, licensed electrologist, licensed manicurist, licensed barber, or licensed cosmetologist:

“Musician, or music industry professional except where a collective bargaining agreement applies.”

This doesn’t step on union member toes, protects their members, and covers everyone in the industry that needs the carve-out including recording engineers, music video directors, producers, composers, music teachers and so forth. All those who musicians and composers regularly hire to conduct our business on a daily basis.

This needs to happen right now.

What can YOU do, fellow California musician, to help this pass?

Write your representative and ask them to include this language (above).

Find out who your reps are here.

The email can read:

Dear _________, now that AB5 is law, my peers and I in the music industry are losing work every day. This is catastrophic to our business and we need immediate action on this for me to survive. I beg of you to get this into a clean-up bill immediately. Please add this language to section 2(c)(2)(B): “Musician, or music industry professional except where a collective bargaining agreement applies.”
Also tweet Governor Newsom, Assemblywoman Gonzalez and Assembly Leader Ian Calderon:
Hey @GavinNewsom @IanCalderon @LorenaSGonzalez , re #AB5 my peers and I in music are losing work every day. We need a carve-out asap. Please add this language to section 2(c)(2)(B): “Musician, or music industry professional except where a collective bargaining agreement applies.”

Let’s go!

About the Author

Ari Herstand is a Los Angeles based musician, the founder and CEO of Ari’s Take and the author of How to Make It in the New Music Business.

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