City will guarantee fair wage for musicians, says community events should follow its lead

The City of Hamilton is directing staff to create a policy to pay musicians a fair wage for their work during city-hosted and city-funded events.

Councillors worry that rules would extend and hurt budgets of smaller events

The idea of making sure musicians are paid a fair wage for events stems from the mayor's task force on economic recovery.  (iStock)

Musicians will be guaranteed a fair wage for playing city events once council hammers out the details of a new policy, and it's encouraging other event organizers to follow suit. 

Hamilton city council's general issues committee voted Wednesday to create some guidelines around what musicians are paid for city-hosted and city-funded events.

"We really need to make sure that we're establishing a fair and equitable rate for them, and we can't expect and anticipate that these musicians do this out of the goodness of their heart," said Mayor Fred Eisenberger, who moved the motion.

"They're in an industry. They need to be compensated and paid."

The motion, which passed 11-2, said payment would be based on current fees recommended by the Canadian Federation for Musicians, which is represented locally by the Hamilton Musicians Guild Local 293.

That rate ranges from $150 to $590 for hour-long performances, the city says, and varies depending on the number of musicians performing.

Carrie Brooks-Joiner, director of tourism and culture, said the pay scale is already in place for city hirings, but this would simply formalize it. 

Councillors worry rules would apply to smaller events

Brooks-Joiner said it's a principle staff want to "promote through the Hamilton community" to encourage other organizations to see music as a talent "worthy of payment." 

But Coun. Brenda Johnson (Ward 11, Glanbrook) voted against it, said she felt "angst" about the potential for the rules to apply to those who receive money through the city enrichment fund, neighbourhood events that receive grants, or BIA street events, which are taxpayer funded.

Coun. Brenda Johnson and Coun. Judi Patrdige were opposed, saying it might hurt smaller events with already tight budgets. (Binbrook Fair)

This includes the Winona Peach Festival, Binbrook Fair, and the Dundas Cactus Festival. For certain smaller festivals, she said, "nine times out of 10" performers approached the festival to perform. 

If the rules applied to small events, Johnson said, they might only hire a single musician instead of hiring five or six.

'Their budget is their decision'

"This is going to severely effect some of these events."

Coun. Judi Patridge (Ward 15) echoed concerns about budgets being "stretched thin."

But that scope, according to Brooks-Joiner, is at council's discretion. She said there were no firm decisions being made on Wednesday about how it would affect grant recipients' budgets. 

"Their budget is their decision," she said of the smaller events. "Our recommendation to these groups is that they recognize the talent they are acquiring and pay accordingly."

Staff will come back to the committee in four to six months with the policy.

Paying for art

The move for a "'minimum wage" for musicians "hired by the city and at city related/sanctioned events" was recommended by the mayor's task force on economic recovery. 

Despite the motion's wording of "city-funded," Eisenberger said the city wouldn't mandate that a peach festival or local farmers' market follow these practices. He said musicians in those cases don't have to be paid more, but very well could be. 

"It is about leading by example and making the principle a policy across the board for the municipality," he said. 

Coun. Brad Clark (Ward 9, upper Stoney Creek), who previously worked as executive director for the Songwriters Association of Canada, said "many organizations want to exploit" artists for their time, and see their art as a charitable gift. 

"The challenge really is that we have an awful lot of musicians who are struggling every day to make ends meet," he said.

Larry Feudo, president of Hamilton Musicians Guild, said they will be reaching out to the two dissenting councillors to talk about co-funding opportunities through the Musicians Performance Trust Fund. He said that would "mitigate any perceived hardships in paying professional musicians a fair wage."

The guild, which has a membership of around 700 professional musicians, presented to council last August.

"With this epic shutdown of every facet of musical performance from concert halls, stage productions, studio recording to bars and restaurants as well as cross border gigs, musicians face an unprecedented loss of income the likes of which happen once in a lifetime," it said. 

"Our presentation convinced them that the economic impact music has on the local economy is too important to ignore — especially if you're calling yourself "Music City"," Feudo said.

Paid in food and beverages

This would educate the public on paying for art and the costs, he said. Artists aren't making a lot of money, he said, especially when wages need to be split across all the people involved in bringing a performance to light. 

Debbie Spence, the city's business development consultant for creative industries, said it's important for the city to be a leader in terms of paying musicians fair wages.

The team has heard about musicians being paid with food or beverages in the private sector for their talents. 

"We just want that increased awareness and education for our colleagues...that they understand and know that performers should be compensated, and what the fair compensations for that work is," she said. 

Brooks-Joiner also said the policy would be a "resource" for event holders, who look to staff for guidance on where to find and how to pay musicians. 


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