Does Organizational Membership Matter?

To the casual observer, musicians probably seem like a disorganized bunch. Unlike doctors or lawyers, there are no qualifying exams or prerequisites that certify a musician’s level of “professionalism.” On a group level, there is no central organization that represents their collective interests.

But that’s not the case. In addition to record labels, booking agents, managers and other teammates, musicians and songwriters can align with a vast array of music-related organizations that serve a number of purposes, everything from performance rights organizations like ASCAP, BMI, SESAC and SoundExchange, to unions like AFM and SAG-AFTRA, to genre- or role-based organizations like Folk Alliance, Chamber Music America, or the Songwriters Guild.

As musicians and advocates, we at FMC know that these organizations serve an important purpose, and we have a sense that membership makes a difference. But in what ways? Do musicians that belong to certain organizations participate in more revenue streams? Do they make more money because of these allegiances? Or is the inverse true; do particular types of work make it possible and/or necessary for musicians to join certain organizations?

Since 2011, we have been collecting qualitative and quantitative data as part of the Artist Revenue Streams project. And today, we’re publishing a memo that uses this data to examine the relationship between membership and earning capacity.

The report is packed with quotes, charts and tables but here are some highlights. Survey respondents who reported being members of PROs or core organizations – the “joiners” – had higher estimated gross music incomes, and allocated a larger share of their income to the revenue categories that were closely related to their primary role. Joiners also reported greater participation in “other” revenue streams, and had slightly different perceptions about their revenue trends. The data suggests that membership does have an impact on the earning capacity of survey respondents, but the value of membership varies greatly by the type of musician and the roles that he or she plays.

While the report’s goal was to use data to examine the relationship between membership and musicians’ earning capacity, we also know that membership has an impact beyond dollars and cents. Sometimes it indicates professionalism or a commitment to the craft, which is important in an industry that otherwise lacks standards or certifications. Sometimes it provides tangible benefits, like health insurance or pensions. Sometimes it offers access to networks and resources. In other cases, it builds a sense of community, or provides musicians with opportunities for collaboration. Even if it’s not reflected in their bottom line, musicians often find an intrinsic value in being part of one of these groups.

There’s one more important point that we make in this memo that goes beyond the individual benefits of membership. Unions, PROs, guilds and associations serve as messengers and advocates, not only representing their own constituencies but also ensuring that a diverse set of musicians have a voice in the ongoing debates, especially about if, how, and how much creators will be paid. Membership gives organizations leverage at the bargaining table. The greater the number of members, the more collective power organizations and unions have, something that can benefit all musicians’ earning capacity in the future.

We encourage you to read the report. Are you a member of any key organizations? How has membership impacted your career?  In what ways do you think musician-focused organizations are valuable?

Stay tuned for more reports based on the Artist Revenue Streams data in fall 2013. Sign up to receive Artist Revenue Streams email updates here.

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