Gig Worker Bill Could Hurt California Musicians

Doug Sovern
September 12, 2019 - 9:42 am
Music industry executives oppose gig worker bill AB5

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(KCBS Radio) — The passage of Assembly Bill 5 is attracting national headlines for the impact it could have on companies like Uber and Lyft. But the bill is striking the wrong chord with California’s musicians, who say it could wipe out the state’s independent music scene.

The bill, which was passed by state lawmakers Wednesday, would create a new set of standards to determine whether workers qualify as employees or freelancers, with exceptions for several professions including doctors, graphic designers and visual artists.

But a coalition of music industry executives and trade groups says the bill is not in tune with the way their business works. The Music Artists Coalition lobbied extensively for musicians to be exempt from the bill as well, but was unsuccessful.

“If you’re recording a record in your basement on GarageBand and you ask your friend to come over and play guitar, you’re automatically their employer,” said attorney Jordan Bromley, who is on the board of the Music Artists Coalition.

Related: Uber Intends To Fight Bill That Gives Employee Status To Drivers

That could crush independent artists like the teenage sensation Billie Eilish of Los Angeles. Bromley said if AB5 were law when she began recording music, Eilish would have had to provide workers compensation insurance and benefits to her songwriter brother and fellow musicians.

“Independent recording artists would be treated as employers of individuals that they bring in on a session,” said Bromley. “You have to provide all the obligations of an employer to an employee now. And that will have a huge chilling effect on recording in the state of California.”

Music executives say this could force established musicians to move their production to New York or Nashville, and lesser-known artists will go underground.

“It’s not fair and it’s going to hurt independent artists who are also small businesses,” said Bromley.

His group is still hoping to persuade Governor Gavin Newsom to send the bill back to the state legislature for an amendment, but Bromley says earlier negotiations fell apart after the union that represents session musicians withdrew its support without explanation.