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Letters for the Week of August 10

Readers sound off on Solano Stroll, Bawdy Storytelling, and California's tax policies.

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I believe that musicians provide a vital service to the community during the Stroll, making the event more merry, more fun. Musicians, like other service providers, deserve to be compensated for the work that they do. To imply that because they enjoy it, they shouldn't insist on getting paid undervalues the real contribution that the bands of the Bay Area give to the communities of Albany and Berkeley. I believe in paying people what they deserve when they provide you with valuable services and improve your quality of life. I hope that the Solano Avenue Association will find it in its budget to reconsider, and pay the musicians. All of them.

Elena Como, New York City

Let the Public Pay

Thank you for the excellent coverage of the Solano Avenue Association's decision not to pay musicians this year.

My suggestion is that the cities of Berkeley and Albany have a Solano Stroll musicians' fund without any middle man, so that both merchants and community members can contribute to a fund evenly split between participating musicians.

Not only would the musicians' pay no longer be at the bewildering whim of the Solano Avenue Association Board, but we would also know who among the merchants honestly cares about the state of live music, and could shop accordingly.

Carol Denney

Member, Failure to Disperse

It's About Passion

I have been a professional in music events management for many years. And I am a musician as well, so music people are my people. This discussion is not to demonize or politically attack any organization or individual, but to give everyone a better understanding and more information with which to make an informed decision.

Recently, I have been discussing an issue with musicians in the East Bay. A few have spoken out that they were selected through the jury process to perform at the Solano Stroll. They had made the booking and been contracted to perform, and then were told that they would not be compensated. The contract provided by the managing organization has some questionable interpretation in regard to the language — it asks how much the musicians want to be paid, with a cap on the total amount they can receive for their services. The managing organization of the event interprets that language as meaning that if they do not have the funds to pay musicians, then they, under the terms of their contract, can retract payment. In my experience in dealing with entertainment contracts, I would interpret this as a variance in a formal contract endorsed by the parties. Further, it then could appear to be a "breach of contract" by the managing organization's refusal to pay. However, in my experience, to have damages, I would have to perform at the event under the terms of the contract, and then not be paid.

I cannot and will not advise any musician not to perform. It is up to that musician to see the ultimate personal benefit they will derive from their performance either volunteering or working and earning a living performing music. However, the actions that we as musicians take will always affect the whole. Performing for free can be just as rewarding as getting paid. The only precise result for the action of performing for free is "the economics of diminishing returns."

Most importantly, when I choose to perform for free at the request of an organization that is managing a community event, many times that organization will be a nonprofit group. When I perform for free for such a group, I am actually a volunteer, volunteering for a nonprofit event, and I will bill as such or contract as such. I request a 1099 nonprofit receipt for my services. And I always compute my costs at the standard rate of $65 per musician per hour, and factor in all costs associated with the performance. That is a good tax break for working musicians. I know Carol Denney and I know that she is a solid individual and a professional artist of her chosen trade. And no individual should be criticized or attacked for their objection to events that gather our individual attention. And Allen Cain should not be attacked as well. But all should remember that for many musicians, it is a business and a profession. The money we earn from performing is, for many of us, a primary or a secondary source of income. Words of wisdom for the Solano Avenue Association: Many times, a free musical act is an inexperienced act that will lead to more complicated problems than just showing up, performing, entertaining the crowd, collecting the check, and going home. Lastly, tips and CD sales are consumer-based sources of income, and people now have less disposable income to spend.

Every musician I know, including myself, will and can commit to help the community, the impoverished, the needy, those in ill health, the children, political causes, and needs for recent hurricanes/disasters. They are always there first with guitar in hand, but it can be most difficult when the bills come at the beginning of the month. For some of us, music and our passion for performance is not a holiday occurrence or a weekend hobby — it's a way of life. But most importantly, it's a passion for the art of performance. What baffles me is there is this "elbowing" these days that musicians should perform for free. When I am approached by a group that asks me to perform at an event to help the disabled in our community, and they come with respect and integrity — not assuming I need a break or exposure as a musician, not convinced that I am available to play anything available to me, but that I am interested in what they are doing, and am concerned to help another human being — I am there and will play my heart out. Because it is my passion.

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