Published Aug 22, 2011In any aspect of the music industry, either as a musician or behind the scenes, employment can be inconsistent. Gigs come and go, careers shift focus, and dry spells are inevitable for all but the very lucky few. As the industry changes significantly, more and more music professionals are turning to self-employment as a way to keep food on the table. Add this to the thousands of musicians who have always been (primarily) self-employed, and you now have an industry mostly made up of people who work for themselves.
This isn't entirely a bad thing. Self-employment allows for more creative flexibility and less red tape. But as most freelancers or entrepreneurs would agree, a major downside to working for yourself is the financial impact felt when an emergency hits.
Creating a safety net is the idea at the core of the newly formed Unison Benevolent Fund, a Canadian charity co-founded by Jodie Ferneyhough and Catharine Saxberg. As experienced music industry professionals, Ferneyhough and Saxberg identified that times of hardship often lead to unforeseen expenses that few are prepared for. While fundraisers and charity events can help recoup after the fact, there is a need for ongoing and up front assistance for when a crisis happens.
Regular employees working for corporations typically have things like employee assistance programs (EAPs), paid medical or grievance leave, and medical insurance. For freelancers or the self-employed, however, the situation is much different. The Unison fund was created to address these holes and more as it relates to professionals in the music industry.
Once launched, Unison will "provide discreet relief to music industry personnel in times of personal hardship and crisis" to those who work, or have worked, in the music industry for the majority of their professional life. Initially, the fund will launch its main emergency financial assistance program, with other programs to follow. But what sort of emergencies qualify for assistance?
Well, let's say you're on a European tour with your band when tragedy strikes: you're in a car accident, and your drummer passes away. Along with the obvious emotional grief comes the enormous and unexpected financial burden of arranging for his/her body to be transported home. This is where the Unison Benevolent Fund steps in to help, working with you to get the details sorted and the expenses covered.
But Unison hopes to help with more than just tragedies. An Employee Assistance Program ― which is offered by many larger corporations ― is included in their future plans as a benefit to members. EAPs offer counselling and referral services in areas such as drug addiction, suicide prevention, grief, depression, health care concerns, major life events, relationship issues, and more. Under the program, users have 24/7 telephone access to professional counsellors to get assistance and/or referral information in any of these areas. Most importantly, complete discretion and privacy are maintained at all times.
In order to access these services, you'll need to have worked in the music industry for at least two years and 55 percent of your career. This includes as a musician, a manager, at a label, sound techs, and more. If you meet the above eligibility, Unison is asking that you register to access the services.
There are no user fees, and registration isn't required, but it will, as the website states, help "speed up the process." Registering also helps Unison further its mission, using power of numbers to negotiate things like group health insurance rates and membership discounts.
Support for the idea has been widespread across the industry. Recently, Unison secured two generous donations of $250,000 from both Music Canada (formerly CRIA) and Slaight Music. Additionally, Shauna deCartier of Six Shooter Records donated an undisclosed amount on behalf of the company, stating that it was donated "in lieu of Christmas gifts to [their] artists."
In Winnipeg, Manitoba Music and Manitoba Film & Music, two separate organizations that offer support for the local music industry, came together to hold a charity curling bonspiel earlier this year in support of the fund. Teams made up of local industry professionals each paid an entry fee, and proceeds were donated to the UBF.
Executive Director of Manitoba Music, Sara Stasiuk, sits on the Board of Directors at Unison, along with representatives from EMI Music, Jazz FM, SOCAN, Paquin Entertainment Group, and others. Ferneyhough and Saxberg act in the President and Vice President roles, respectively, and are natural partners to spearhead the fund, having worked closely together for many years.
As a veteran music publisher, Ferneyhough is the former Managing Director for Universal Publishing Group, where he worked with such artists as Sam Roberts, K-OS, and Alex Cuba. He now owns his own rights management company, CCS Rights Management, and is the current President of the Canadian Music Publishers Association, where Saxberg has held the position of Executive Director since 2005. Prior to the CMPA, Saxberg was the Executive Director of the Radio Starmaker Fund, and acted as a consultant for the Canadian Country Music Association.
Ferneyhough's dedication to the fund has extended into his personal life. To raise money for the fund, Jodie is running his first ever Ironman in Louisville, Kentucky, and to date, has raised close to $4,000. The race is scheduled for August 28.
Unison is aiming to officially launch in the fall of 2011. Until then, the fund is looking for industry professionals and others who can help spread the word. Additionally, Unison is encouraging others to hold fundraising events to help the fund reach its operational goal of $1 million.
In times where the industry isn't quite sure where it's going, and opinions on the future vary, it's nice to see the industry can still rally together for an initiative that provides benefits to everyone involved, right when they need it most.
Next three steps:
Visit www.unisonfund.ca and sign up to their newsletter to keep up to date on their launch plans.
Check their eligibility section and register your information.
Spread the word and help Unison reach their fundraising goal of $1 million.