Ben Lee Calls For Unionisation Of Musicians & Songwriters

4 May 2023 | 9:25 am | Mary Varvaris

“Streaming residuals is truly insane. You shouldn't have to be Taylor Swift to make a living as a musician.”

(Pic by Byron Spencer)

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Ben Lee has shared a new tweet with an idea that other artists are surely thinking about: musician’s unionising and striking for better pay, like the television writer’s strike happening right now.

The Aussie singer wrote, “How different would the music industry be if musicians and songwriters were able to unionize and strike as effectively as screenwriters when our incomes came under threat?”

While there is a union for members of the Australian music industry – Musicians Australia, a union that’s part of the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA), which is the largest union and industry advocate for Australia’s creative professionals, including media workers, performers, screen crew, theatre and venue workers and symphony orchestra musicians, clearly, more needs to be done in the age of streaming services and AI.

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In early 2021, Musicians Australia negotiated with the Federal and State governments to establish a minimum payment for playing live music. 

Musicians Australia came up with a $250 minimum fee from the South Australian, Queensland, Western Australian, Victorian and Australian Capital Territory state/territory governments for gigs three hours or less.

Responses to Lee’s post have already flowed since yesterday, with one user posting, “Streaming residuals is truly insane. You shouldn't have to be Taylor Swift to make a living as a musician.” 

Musicians Coalition responded, “If musicians & songwriters removed their music from streaming platforms it would effectively be a strike. It’s not the lack of ability to do it, it’s the inability to understand how effective it would be.”

A Facebook user seemed distrustful of a union and wrote, “All it would take is a handful of musicians to take action and start their own company(s) that treats musicians as they would like to be treated. Everything from a salary to health insurance and retirement benefits. The union would just be filled with corrupt bullies who protect perpetrators like Harvey Weinstein.”

Meanwhile, Musicians Australia currently has the following slogan on its Facebook page: “Demand to be paid. Don’t under cut.” The page’s most recent post asks, “Are you getting ripped off? Too many musicians tell similar stories,” with an image that discusses an artist’s bad experience at a live show. Can Musicians Australia lead a strike for its members and what would it entail?