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Take Care of Your Backup Singers Josh Grobin

AFM is urging Grobin push his promoter to sign a union contract with his backup talent

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Dec 04, 2018

This post was written for Labor Press

Pop singer and Broadway star Josh Groban titled his just-completed U.S. tour “Bridges”—but his backup musicians were left stranded, three American Federation of Musicians locals charged.

The LiveNation company, which presented the 18-city tour, hired local orchestra musicians for different stops and refused to give them union contracts. Despite playing venues the size of the Capital One Arena in Washington Nov. 14 and Madison Square Garden Nov. 18, they had to pay their own transportation to the gig and were not allowed to eat food laid out for the band backstage, AFM locals in Boston, Washington, and New York stated.

“We have no reason to believe that you know about these unfortunate practices, but we hope you can prevent them from occurring as your tour continues,” the Boston Musicians Association said in an ad in the Boston Herald.

The union said it had had “no luck” reaching Groban’s management team. His record label, Warner Brothers, did not respond to a request for comment from LaborPress.

“Musicians who are hired to perform can be put under a single-engagement contract that ensures fair wages and treatment, makes benefit contributions, and protects the musicians’ recording rights,” AFM Local 802 President Tino Gagliardi told LaborPress by email. “Not having one’s recording rights protected is also exploitative of the musicians’ intellectual property. In this day and age, every live show is basically a recording opportunity, and that should be compensated accordingly.” 

In this day and age, every live show is basically a recording opportunity, and that should be compensated accordingly.–  AFM Local 802 President Tino Gagliardi

“It’s really about both work rules and conditions,” he added. Groban’s musicians, he said, are paid below-industry-standard wages with no pension or health-benefit contributions, and are being misclassified as independent contractors. 

Performers who have insisted on their backup musicians getting union contracts, Gagliardi said, include Rosanne Cash, Australian actor-singer Hugh Jackman, and Barbra Streisand. “When she comes to New York, her team puts any musicians added to her arrangements under contract,” he told LaborPress. “Mr. Groban himself has worked under union agreements and is no stranger to the protections a union contract guarantees.”

Acts that don’t, according to the Boston Musicians Association, include the rock band Evanescence and the pop-rock trio Hanson, whose symphonically accompanied String Theory tour played Boston the same weekend as Groban.

Groban, who sold close to 20 million albums between 2001 and 2010, previously confronted the AFM in 2013, when he hired 14 orchestral musicians, members of Local 802 in New York and Local 47 in Los Angeles, to do a live-streamed show promoting his All That Echoes album without offering them a union contract. The union eventually secured a recording agreement that covered them, Gagliardi says, but “we had hoped that going forward, Groban would have been more sensitive to the needs of his musicians. That’s why we spoke out about his shows at Madison Square Garden.” 

Live Nation is the largest talent-booking company in the world, is not union-friendly, according to Local 802. “They have a steamrolling, union-busting mentality, and if they can take union labor out of the equation, they will try to do so,” Gagliardi says.

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