Rock Star Blames Unions for Music's Downfall, But Venue Workers Aren't the Problem

I love music. I mean I really love it. I play guitar (poorly, but I get an A for effort), I go see live bands whenever I can—especially local talent. There really isn’t a genre of music that I don’t like, but if there is one style I like above the rest it is heavy metal. I cut my teeth on metal music when I was a teen dealing with an alcoholic parent and staring down the barrel of a future that I really did not want. I found solace in the lyrics and screaming power chords of songs written by Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Accept, Metallica, Motley Crue, Black Sabbath, and Ozzy Osbourne just to name a few. Today, that same music takes me back to my youth, makes me feel young again.

Even today, some 30 years later, I still keep up on my heavy metal heroes. While I am no longer a 16-year-old kid reading Circus magazine over my lunch hour, I do follow several bands on Facebook so that I can keep up with the comings and goings of my favorites. So it was no surprise when Robb Flynn’s (singer/guitarist for Machine Head) blog popped up in my feed. What I was not prepared for was an anti-union rant about the music industry.

The post starts out innocently enough and even had me reminiscing about paying 10 bucks to see Judas Priest on their Defenders of the Faith tour:

He was telling me about a show Journey (the opener!), killed it, and they got 4 encores, the support band got 4 encores! Then the headliner, Montrose, got 5 ENCORES! Montrose didn't stop playing until 2:30 in the morning, everyone stayed, no one would even dare consider leaving and people experienced some of the best music of their lives.

An opener getting encores, crazy...

And the venue allowed things like this to happen. The venue just kept the bands rolling.

Not only that, but all of the shows at Winterland were $4.50.

4 dollars and 50 cents…..18 freakin’ quarters!

Wow, sounds like a great show! Wish I could have seen it back in the day. Unfortunately, this is the high point of this blog post. It goes downhill from here.

I tell you right now though, there isn't a band out there who would play til 2:30 AM nowadays, let alone find a major venue that would even ALLOW such a thing.
While he is right about major venues, I know a lot of little bars in Wisconsin that bring in a band and they will play through to bar time. But we are not talking about the Harmony or the High Noon Saloon. We are talking big venues.
Venues these days are mostly run with Union workers. In most major cities, you have to take breaks during the day, where a band can't even sound check for an hour because the union workers need a "break." Nowadays if you play 1 minute past 11PM at any of the large Union venues, it costs the band $1,000 dollars a minute. When we were out with Metallica playing arenas they regularly play 20 minutes past 11:00PM, and they regularly paid $20,000 to do so.

Only the Metallica's and Pearl Jam's can pull things like this. Bands that have sold millions of records, and they can afford it.

Now this is where he lost me. The reason those unions are in place is not to screw the bands, but to protect the worker. If I work at a concert venue and the show runs 20 minutes over who is going to pay me overtime? The venue has contracted for a certain amount of time, in that time is labor costs. If you go over that time the labor has to stay there, and someone has to pay for that labor. I would also like to point out that these union workers at these venues also have homes and families. I assume that they would like to be able to go home and spend time with them.

Let’s go back to the Journey/Montrose show that Mr. Flynn was discussing in the first part of his blog post. The one where there were so many encores that the show went on until 2:30 AM. Did he ever think that the reason the unions came in and negotiated breaks and end times was because of shows that went on to the wee morning hours? These union workers do not work for free. I would not expect Machine Head to sign a contract to play for two hours and I come in and demand that they play for four hours while only receiving two hours worth of pay, and Mr. Flynn should not expect the union workers at the venues he plays at to work 12 hours for eight hours pay.

Now his rant is about how screwed up the music industry is today—he will get no argument from me on that; however, to blame unions for the problem is like saying teachers and other public servants caused the Great Recession.

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