Given the ever-changing landscape of music creation, distribution and music technology, is the Musicians' Union still a relevant body for today's electronic artists and producers?
We spoke to Matt Wanstall, the MU regional officer for the North of England. We grilled him on the benefits of joining the MU for electronic artist and asked him how the Union is coping with ever-changing definitions of music creation and performance.
Hello Matt. First off, tell us why electronic music producers and DJ/producers should know about the Musicians' Union?
"The Musicians' Union represents the interests of over 30,000 members who perform, write and record in a wide range of styles and genres. Some people think of the MU as mainly representing "traditional" musicians, but our members include many big name dance acts, too. And as each faces similar issues in music, the MU is for you as much as it is for a classical violinist or an indie drummer."
How can I benefit from being part of the Union? Are DJs and electronic artists classed as musicians in the traditional sense?
"Well, if you produce music you are probably creating the content that would be considered the performance element of the track. Whether that's by triggering bass sounds in Massive, programming a groove in Logic, or warping a field recording in Ableton, you're creating the artistic content of the recording in the same way that say an acoustic guitarist might.
"The industry at large is still trying to adjust to the financial and practical realities of internet-led technological change, and work how to balance consumer demands"
"You're probably also writing some or all of the material so you'd be entitled to publishing in the same way that a singer-songwriter would. You might sign to a label as an artist, licence a track to a compilation, get the track synced to an advert or game in the same way that a band might. You may well perform live, but whether it's a club or traditional venue, you'll still have bookings, fees and expenses to consider in the same way a classical artist might.
"Whilst it's different, a lot of the issues and experiences are very similar. If you are following music as a profession you can be in the MU!"
What is classed as a performance on record today? We've heard stories of people in the past registering a drum machine as performer under A. Linn and earning 40k year from its chart success. Could this still happen today?
"I think that story comes from a very well-known producer using that as his pseudonym for PPL - the issue is actually whether that a part was created or performed by that person. If you've programmed the drums you can claim PPL for that part - PPL exists in all recordings regardless of whether they are made up of electronic or acoustic sounds, and there is also a distinct producer element now as well.
"It is a different issue if you try and claim PPL royalties for something you didn't do, or for a part that doesn't actually exist."
How can somebody protect their copyright and how can the MU help? Has sampling and the internet changed the MU and how it operates?
"The MU can advise on what the legal situation with copyright is for you and the music you're making, and we regularly campaign in relation to copyright issues. We have a simple copyright service so that you know that your own work is covered, but if you're making music using samples lifted from other music there are certainly issues that you'd need to be aware of, and may need help with: you might need help getting clearance for samples, or we might advise you to "recreate" samples so that you only have to get publishing clearance, for instance.
"The industry at large is still trying to adjust to the financial and practical realities of internet-led technological change, and work out how to balance consumer demands. We always put across the musicians'/creators' position of needing to get paid and ensure that the industry has the chance to grow rather than diminish."
Tell us one example of a Musicians' Union success story in electronic music…
"Well I can tell you that MU members already include a who's who of dance and as I write this there are several new acts playing today on the Radio 1 playlist who are members. We don't generally shout about who we work with as some issues can be sensitive and have publicity restrictions. However, if you go to our website there is industry and member news being updated regularly and in our testimonials section you can read about how members, including the big names, view the MU.There are stacks of benefits which you can view on the Musicians' Union website."
Below are a few examples of how it might help you to be in the MU:
- Your music laptop, plug-ins and controller have been stolen: No problem, you have £2k free music equipment insurance as part of membership.
- You get offered a record deal / licensing deal / publishing deal for one of your tracks but you don't understand the contract and legal advice is hundreds of pounds: No problem, our contract advisory service is free and gives you access to a music lawyer.
- You don't get paid for a gig that you've done: Well this is clearly a problem, but we'll provide legal advice and assistance free of charge – we regularly help members reclaim unpaid fees..
- You want advice on any aspect of your career: No problem, there's always someone at your regional office to help you, offering advice by phone, email or one to one meeting. You'll also get up-to date advice on the members' area of the website, the MU handbook and regular events that you can go to for free.
- You are booked for a gig, but they say they need to see your public liability insurance certificate: No problem, you are covered for PLI up to £10 million as part of your membership, and we provide this for you each year at the start of your membership. This alone could cost you the price of membership in many instances.
How do I join? How much is it?
"Most members pay monthly by direct debit and it costs £15.25 per month. If you're a student in full-time education, however, you get full membership for £20 per year."