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Senator Brian Jones. (Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

Musicians and Music Professionals Become Latest Group Seeking AB 5 Exemptions

A new bill and a growing petition threatens to break up AB 5 even more

By Evan Symon, February 17, 2020 7:37 pm

Over the course of a month, independent ‘gig’ musicians have gone from simply another group being affected by AB 5 to becoming one of the major groups about to break away from the law.

Another AB 5 exemption

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez. (Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

Independent musicians are hoping for either an exemption from AB 5, the law authored by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) that redefined more independent contractors as employees, or overturning the law entirely. Truckers have already gained an exemption under AB 5, while freelance journalists and photographers are close to receiving one as well. Rideshare companies, while also seeking an exemption, are currently trying to halt the entire law. A ballot measure to remove the law is also currently gathering signatures for a November referendum.

Senate Bill 811, authored by Senator Brian Jones (R-Santee), has been the major avenue for musician-based AB 5 exemptions. Introduced at the request of San Diego-based musicians earlier this month, SB 881 would go back to the definition of what a ‘gig-worker’ is, rather than AB 5’s new definition. Supporters say that the new definition would greatly limit the number of paid performances for musicians, would limit the amount of acts at live entertainment venues, and would cause hardships for thousands of musicians across the state who depend on doing multiple shows in different locations.

“Jazz musicians in the 1920’s coined the term ‘gig’ for a temporary or occasional show they would do, such as performing a few songs at a music festival, teaching a private music lesson, or producing a couple of songs for a client,” said Senator Jones in a statement.  “Musicians and music industry professionals are clearly freelance occupations, yet under AB 5 for each ‘gig’ a musician or producer books, the hirer must add them to their payroll as an employee and start paying fees such as unemployment insurance.”

A new petition

Meanwhile a petition for musician exemption has been growing exponentially. Since late January, the change.org-based petition has grown from 32,000 signatures to 170,000 signatures. While it cannot bring up a referendum like the rideshare sponsored petition can, the musician petition can have enough sway to change lawmaker minds, especially on a local level.

“I’ve seen a lot of musicians and recording booth people and even members of bands who have been playing around town for years suddenly facing a huge loss,” said Maria Rodriguez, a Los Angeles based singer who does gig work for bands as a side job. “A lot of places won’t hire now. It used to be you just got a flat rate for the night, or they would pay for multiple nights. AB 5 now just has everyone scared.”

“And it’s been a domino effect. A lot of bands and signers can’t get as many gigs, so they’re breaking up or playing less or trying to find something steady. This means less recording time in studios, so those people are affected. The lack of live entertainment, or even having a band for awhile in a community event or something, hurts the host as some band names do bring people out. People claim AB 5 doesn’t work this way, or isn’t supposed to work this way, but people are afraid of violating it and don’t want to pay people as ’employees.”

“Most people I know wish this law never even existed. It’s ruining so many of us.”

SB 881 is expected to move through the Senate Committees in the next couple of months. AB 5 itself continues to see a growing number of independent contractors and gig workers coming out against it, with many other affected groups likely to come out against the law in ways similar to musicians and journalists in the coming months.

Evan Symon
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