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MFM Public Musicians Forum #5: Addressing Tough Questions

Review by Dawoud Kringle

On Thursday, April 19th, MFM presented its fifth Musicians Forum.

The meeting was a little late in starting. As we waited, the subject of strategies for the MFM agenda, the politics of the music business, and various pension plans were casually discussed. There was also discussion about union vs. nonunion contracts.

The question of how hard it is to work around the stark difference between the professional experiences of the younger and older generations was raised. One of the problems the younger generation created for themselves is the constant undercutting of their own market value. The idea of professionalism – more to the point, earning an acceptable wage for their work – is often so far outside their experience as to be incomprehensible. This creates a toxic environment wherein musicians not only accept the devaluation of their work, they find the situation acceptable.

MFM Public Musicians Forum #5
Michael Moss and Ken Hatfield (photo by Dawoud Kringle)

With the arrival of Billy Harper, the meeting got underway in earnest. MFM founder Sohrab Saadat Ladjevardi brought up the idea of redefining the MFM mission statement in a way that would attract the people we need to communicate and work with. AC member Ken Hatfield suggested inexpensive business cards. People could hand them out, and say “check out the MFM website.” This is a practical outreach method that could introduce MFM to those who have difficulty seeing what MFM is working to accomplish, and assist MFM members who lack high end sales skills.

The revised mission statement needs to get an important idea in the mindset of musicians: the music industry is in a state where the actual music itself has been devalued. This is the idea that must be communicated, and the state of affairs which must be opposed and ultimately transcended.

MFM Public Musicians Forum #5
David Belmont & Billy Harper (photo by Dawoud Krungle)

After Sohrab Saadat Ladjavardi and Board member David Belmont announced Billy Harper’s approval to the MFM Board, the dialogue returned to the problems of communicating what MFM is doing.

Ultimately the thing that unites us across the board is music, and that we are musicians. Articulating the MFM mission across the boundaries of style, genre, and generations must use this idea to prove that MFM is a necessary organization that 1. Supports all that’s good for music and Musicians and 2. Seeks to provide services, based on advocacy, that other organizations (ASCAP, BMI, Local 802, etc) do not.

The idea of different levels of membership was floated. For example, the main qualification for MFM membership is that one is a professional musician. Others who are not professional musicians (e.g. music students, DJs, music producers, etc.) will arguably require a different classification of membership.

It was agreed that the new mission statement needs to be simple, to the point, and won’t alienate anyone. The question of what marketing methods can communicate this was debated.

The devaluation of music is a constant obstacle. Music is being given away for free. It’s the ingrained habit of most young musicians that they willingly give their music away for free. To complicate matters, audiences have come to expect music to be free: it’s impossible to beat a free giveaway. The idea of music being a thing of value that they spend their hard earned money on is outside the experience of the younger generations. In live performances, the economic models the venues use make it difficult or impossible to earn a decent wage. The traditional established outlets are tied up by the older guard – and they are not willing to surrender a lucrative position. The ecosystem of the music business is not healthy for musicians; and while changing it is, to say the very least, a tall order, it’s a necessity of musicians and the quality music they make are to survive.

MFM Public Musicians Forum #5
Billy Harper and Sohrab (photo by Dawoud Kringle)

Regrettably, there was no time to address the other items on the agenda (a Musicians March for 2020 in Washington DC, and Jimmy Owens’ query about “What should be done ASAP?”). MFM member Melanie Frey managed to contribute brief discourse about female musicians’ rights and issues. The meeting ended with some discussion about the Music Modernization Act (MMA). As of this writing, it is perhaps too late to lobby for a massive overhaul of the MMA; but it’s possible we can work with it.

It’s a potentially disheartening thought that we are going toe to toe with not only a number of powerful adversaries, but that our potential allies are so inured to this intolerable state of affairs that we are forced to actually reeducate them (this is part of the primal foundation of MFM: the promotion of the idea that musicians are professionals). With each of the Musician’s Forum, the detailed nature of MFM’s agenda and the universal problems facing musicians – becomes clearer. And this brings us closer to the method and means of achieving our objectives.