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The Annual MFM Membership Meeting 2017 Report

MFM Rocks the Vote…

Report by Dawoud Kringle (Photos by Dawoud and Sohrab)

Wednesday, December 13th, 2017, MFM held it’s Annual Membership Meeting 2017. The meeting was held at the Brooklyn Music School (NY). 

This was an important event, because it serves as a platform for MFM members to make their voices heard. The main item on the agenda was voting on the Board of Directors (BoD) consisting of: Arturo O’Farrill (musician, band leader, composer, educator, activist and 5-times Latin Jazz Grammy Award winner), Paul Testagrossa (musician and MFM web developer), and Stefan Andemicael (DJ and Blue Note program director). Some MFM members emailed their votes in-absentia. Some of the attendees had limited time to stay: the sections of the meeting were arranged to accommodate this. 

The results of the election will be announced here on the MFM’s website, and on DooBeeDooBeeDoo NY.

A large part of the agenda was also devoted to of the meeting consisted of the 2017 Business Report. 

The meeting began with MFM founder and president Sohrab Saadat Ladjavardi opening and describing how the meeting will proceed. 

Annual MFM Membership Meeting 2017In keeping with the MFM traditions of beginning with a musical performance, Kaveh Haghtalab offered a beautiful improvisation in a Persian Radif on the kamancheh. On a spontaneous urge, the attendees moved the chairs into a circle to better accommodate the performance. Afterward, Haghtalab explained what he’d played and answered questions. The conversation turned to his attraction to MFM. Saadat asked how he thought MFM would be received in Iran. This opened a labyrinthine discussion of the dynamics of the music business in Iran. According to him, a great many Iranian musicians are returning to Iran because they get paid better in Tehran than in the US, Evidently, the US’ claim to being progressive and entrepreneurial compared to other nations is not completely true.

Before long, Saadat steered the meeting to the main purpose of the meeting. After some discussion about the MFM mission, talk turned to the corruption within the music business. For example, MOMA books music performances and pays musicians little or nothing – with the usual platitude of “it will be good exposure.” The recent revelations about Spotify were also instructive. Spotify is consistently losing money, and the artists see nothing. But recent tax returns show CEOs and top executives of Spotify are pocketing seven figure salaries. This clearly explains why Apple Music is planning on copying Spotify’s debt ridden business model.

Annual MFM Membership Meeting 2017Annual MFM Membership Meeting 2017

Ultimately, the point was that musicians need to acquire positions of power. The way most musicians have been doing business has produced the exact opposite result. In fact, the whole mindset of playing for the vague and fruitless possibility of “exposure” or breaking our backs playing for nothing is a pathetic state of affairs. If MFM succeeds in dispelling this mindset, and inspiring musicians to take a stand for their professional due, it will have made a supreme accomplishment.

At Saadat’s introduction, Sylvain Leroux spoke of how he opened a music school in Guinea, and how his non-profit organization operates.

Saadat introduced Executive Director of the school and MFM member, Piruz Partow the head of the Brooklyn Music School. He spoke about how the school operates, it’s financial structure, and its commitment to music education. 

Annual MFM Membership Meeting 2017Pam Jennett, a.k.a. BAASSIK, offered a solo bass guitar performance. After a masterful display of funk infused bass discourse, she spoke briefly on her concept of music and how she approaches music as an art and s business.

Some more discussion on the MFM mission, history, and its considerable accomplishments, followed.

Another subject that was broached upon was female musician rights. It is no secret – yet rarely discussed – that women are paid less than men for the same hours and quality of work (this is not confined to the music business. Women make 15% to 25% of a male’s salary or fee. They also have less work opportunities than males; especially in the jazz world). Saadat has been urging female musician to join MFM. He’d also suggested to MFM member Lindsey Wilson to consider to found a female musician caucus in MFM.

After the discussions, debates, and controversies were concluded, there was the inevitable jam session at the end. This was the most fun part (let’s face it; put a bunch of musicians in a room with instruments, and sooner or later, music will be made). After some free improv, a tonal center of D was agreed on. A lively and nuanced musical conversation between the roomful of musicians ensued. Some of the highlights included Marco Lienhard on shakuhachi, guitarist On Ka’a Davis on piano, Lindsey Wilson on electric guitar, and yours truly on upright bass. 

Annual MFM Membership Meeting 2017One thing that was noticeable about the meeting was that there was somewhat of a lack of young people in attendance. This is a liability for MFM. The presence and energy of the younger generations of musicians, and the fresh perspective, unprecedented ideas, and fearless challenge to the status quo would be an asset for everyone.

That aside, the meeting was a success, and an important step in the development of MFM’s mission. As we face challenges and obstacles, we are moving into 2018 with determination and hope. 

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MFM New Member Orientation August 2017 Report

MFM Facing New Challenges

Text by Dawoud Kringle

In keeping with its forward thinking and progress oriented approach, MFM presented its second monthly orientation meeting. The meeting was held at WeWork on Wall street, NYC, on August 28th, 2017. It was well attended; and had the added honor of legendary musician Jimmy Owens in attendance. 

The meeting got started a bit late. MFM president and founder Sohrab Saadat Ladjevardi began informally with a description of the MFM mission. 

MFM Orientation August 2017

Saadat’s discourse was expanded upon when MFM member Kaveh Haghtalab asked about the possibility of a pension. Jimmy Owens answered that the Union and the American Federation of Musicians both have pension funds. They have, of course, specific requirements. The only other way is to set up your own pension fund. The AFM are experiencing problems with their pension fund; they’ve not been making enough money in their investments. They’re looking at possible solutions to this. The AFM gets no help from the government (not that the present US presidential administration is of any use to anyone), and is entirely dependent upon what musicians pay into its fund. MFM is in a similar situation; its financial resources are from its membership. An MFM pension fund, insurance, etc. is an excellent idea as a long term goal; but will require a great deal of planning – and finances.

Some discussion was devoted to taxes and efficient ways of dealing with the IRS. 

Saadat emphasized that the most important component of MFM is membership. Without numbers, without members, MFM is a theory without substance. It requires a bit of strategy and psychology to properly introduce MFM to people of artistic / musical temperament, because some people of this temperament are resistant to the concept of professionalism / acknowledging and navigating the business dimensions of music (and, sad to say, with some people this will never change). With the power of membership, of solidarity, MFM has the leverage to affect change. This is why Saadat set up MFM as business league under a 501c(6). This way, MFM is legally entitled to lobby in favor of musician’s rights. 

At this point, Saadat asked Jimmy Owens to become an Advisory Committee member of MFM. Owens replied that MFM needs to define its mission in more detail. He went on to describe how he set up his own business and financial model. He asked what benefits members get from MFMSaadat answered that, among other things, MFM provides access to the member portal (with networking services it provides), its online magazine DooBeeDooBeeDoo NY, finding work, etc. It may have been expedient to simply open the MFM website, and read its objectives and campaigns. This, however, didn’t happen until later in the meeting.

Owens went on to describe how each musician has his / her own individual list of problems. Saadat and Owens indulged in considerable disagreement about how to define, and most importantly, address these problems. It was suggested that members be asked what these problems are, and brainstorm how to solve them. Owens elaborated on this; emphasizing that the services MFM provides, and how MFM defines and faces musician’s problems are still ambiguous. Other questions that were brought up were how MFM plans to manifest the necessary power to advocate musician’s rights, and how individual musicians assess their own artistic and market value. 

MFM Orientation August 2017

Saadat’s line of thinking that acquisition of a larger membership and propagating the concept of #MakingMusicIsAProfession is an important beginning. But a beginning nonetheless. This inevitably leads back again and again to the difficult question of exactly what MFM is  attempting to accomplish. MFM’s Campaigns are an excellent start. These include, but are not limited to; 

  1. Fair Play Fair Pay Act (which would force FM/AM radio to pay royalties to artists and labels).
  2. Support of the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA),
  3. Equal pay for female musicians,
  4. Reforming the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA),
  5. Reforming obsolete copyright laws

There are other services MFM had begun to put into place; including, but not limited to, the objectives outlined in the MFM website:

  1. Work out a general contract for performing musicians,
  2. Contact NYC’s “musicians friendly” venues and discuss a guaranteed performance agreement,
  3. Help members become familiar with the inner workings of the music business, including the digital / Internet world,
  4. Continue our successful workshop series,
  5. Organize an MFM Music Festival for the end of next year (with performances by our members),
  6. Improve the member portal,
  7. Invite the VIP (1%) musicians to our organization to advocate #MakingMusicIsAProfession.
  8. Form alliances with the AFM and other musician support organizations and support them in their endeavors,
  9. Reach out to politicians who care for musicians rights,
  10. Expand MFM’s on-line magazine to promote our members.

Saadat’s line of thinking that acquisition of a larger membership and propagating the concept of #MakingMusicIsAProfession is an important beginning; but a beginning nonetheless. This inevitably leads back again and again to the difficult question of exactly what MFM is attempting to accomplish. Perhaps the biggest weakness MFM is faced with is in moving beyond the foundational emphasis on #MakingMusicIsAProfessionThis is vitally important, and nothing can contradict the idea. For a lot of otherwise talented musicians, this is an idea that desperately needs to be brought to the forefront. It especially needs to be hammered into the minds of people in the music business who would exploit musicians who lack the inflexible resolve to stand their ground as professionals. 

But the concept behind #MakingMusicIsAProfession is a means to an end; not an end in itself. The propensity of MFM to return, again and again, to this idea when presented with the inevitable question of “OK; we’re professionals. We get it. Now what?” is its greatest handicap. This, especially where dealing with people who have been successful professionals for decades. It is an act of ultimate futility to sell something to someone who’d already bought it years ago. MFM is still wrestling with the inherent ambiguity this tunnel vision creates; and this is its greatest obstacle in building up membership. MFM faces a tremendous challenge in finding a way out of this cul-de-sac of being unable to attract the membership it needs to realize, and define, the objectives it can only realize with a larger membership. 

MFM Orientation August 2017

MFM differs from the Local 802 Musician’s Union in that the 802 follows a model that is either too specialized to encompass all music professionals, or is simply obsolete and inflexible. On the other hand, MFM attempts to solve this problem by setting up an unprecedented model of advocacy to establish a power base. This, in a business that traditionally (and to its own detriment) exploited and drove to ruin the very people that create the product it sells. It is an unsustainable business model that its falling apart at the seams.

To complicate matters, it is presently in a state of constant change while struggling to prevent its own obsolescence and extinction. In many ways, MFM is still a work in progress. It is making good progress in empowering musicians to realize the true value of their work; but it is not yet in a position to, as its stated goal, raise the standard of living and provide adequate working conditions for musicians. It needs to evolve beyond the anthemic constrictions of #MakingMusicIsAProfession, without sacrificing this basic concept, if it wishes to evolve, and remain relevant.