by Wade Sutton, Rocket to the Stars Artist Services
This is going to leave a bad taste in the mouths of a lot of musicians.
You know how difficult it can be for bands to create leverage when trying to negotiate better guarantees from venues?
Well, something is happening in Pennsylvania that is going to make that even more difficult … and musicians nationwide should be keeping an eye on this because it is something that could spread to other states.
The issue is Pennsylvania House Bill 561, an amendment to the Pennsylvania Liquor Code that was recently introduced by state Representative Sheryl Delozier. Delozier is a Republican lawmaker representing Pennsylvania’s 88th District, which includes a portion of western Harrisburg.
What does the amendment do?
Here is the part that matters: “… a hotel, restaurant or club licensee may permit a minor of any age to perform music if the minor is not compensated and the minor is under the supervision of a parent or guardian.”
Yes, it allows any establishment with a liquor license to hire minors to perform as long as the venue DOES NOT PAY THE ARTIST.
As it stands now, the Pennsylvania Liquor Code permits minors to perform in a licensed establishment but only if that performance is part of the minor receiving some kind of instruction in a performing art. Delozier’s amendment strikes the instruction requirement from the Code.
Now you might be hoping the bill simply won’t pass the state House.
It already has … and the vote was overwhelming.
The state House approved the amendment by a final vote of 185 – 12. Even more concerning is that the bill was given the “thumbs up” by every state representative from Pittsburgh and all but one representative in Philadelphia, the commonwealth’s two biggest music hubs. The bill now goes to the state Senate for approval before going to the governor for his signature.
There are two things about the passage of this bill that should concern musicians not only in Pennsylvania but around the country.
Firstly, professional performing artists have long been at odds with venues willing to do whatever was possible to bring in free music, particularly when it is done under the guise of “getting exposure.”
As Philadelphia-area entertainment attorney Bryan Tuk said in a recent opinion piece for PittsburghCurrent.com, this bill institutionalizes the idea that young performers should perform for free in exchange for exposure … and not only do I agree with his assessment, I would go a step further and argue that the bill institutionalizes the continuing devaluation of music in live form.
By removing the instructional requirement from the Pennsylvania Liquor Code, venues will be able to pursue any and all musical talent under the age of 18 and offer them stage time at zero cost.
That means professional performing artists will be faced with much more competition for slots at establishments with liquor licenses as this free talent suddenly becomes legal and available.
The second big concern artists should have has to do with why this amendment came about. This wasn’t a situation in which venues banded together and pushed for the change.
The only reason Delozier introduced the bill is that a teenager in her district wanted to be able to perform at local establishments that had liquor licenses.
In a written statement on the Pennsylvania legislative website, Delozier said this change would allow that artist to “continue to grow his talents.”
She introduced this bill completely ignorant to how its implementation would impact professional artists.
So what you have here is what many call “feel good legislation,” which is legislation pushed through more so on the basis of emotions than common sense.
You know what I mean.
They are doing it “for the kids.” And if you vote against it, you aren’t for helping the kids and what lawmaker wants to be labeled in such a manner?
Not many … and that is a big part of the reason why this bill passed the House Appropriations Committee by a vote of 34 – 0 before getting full House approval by a vote of 185 – 12.
Musicians in other states should keep an eye on this. If operators of establishments in other states see not only that this passed in the Pennsylvania House but also why it passed, they could easily go to their own lawmakers and suggest similar changes there because, you know, they want to do it to help the kids.
I’m sure their hearts will be in the right place.
Wade Sutton is the founder of Rocket to the Stars, an artist services record label with clients around the world. He is the creator and host of The Six-Minute Music Business Podcast which was named by CD Baby as one of “five music business podcasts artists can’t live without.” Wade was also a featured speaker at the 2018 Music Entrepreneur Conference at Harvard University. For a free 24-page preview of Wade’s new music business book, Hacking Music, visit www.GiftFromWade.com.