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Three Capitol Hill-area venues among first to sign Seattle Fair Trade Music pledge


Projections on A Wall plays Chop Suey’s re-opening in March (Image: CHS)

This decal coming to a venue near you soon.

This decal coming to a venue near you soon.

Talk to any working musician, and they’re bound to have at least one story about a nightmare gig caused by an unscrupulously run venue.

Paul Bigman has heard plenty of them as an organizer with the American Federation of Musicians Local 76-493. There was the bouncer who walked away with band’s share of the door and the metal venue that insisted local openers had to let touring acts use their instruments.

To help bring some uniformity and transparency to the way venues treat performers, musicians and organizers have brought the Portland-originated Fair Trade Music campaign to Seattle. Two Capitol Hill venues and one First Hill venue have signed the Fair Trade Music pledge since the effort launched in April: Chop Suey, Capitol Cider, and Vios Vito’s .

“Having everything on the table to see where everything is going is really important,” said Chop Suey owner and musician Brianna Rettig. “It’s good to know that if you’re supporting a music venue, it’s a place that’s being fair to the musicians.”

Bigman said the 21 venues that have signed on represent businesses musicians identified as the most exemplary. Neumos and most other Capitol Hill venues have yet to be approached about the pledge, Bigman said, but organizers are preparing to sign up more venues in the coming months along with a public awareness campaign.

As its name would suggest, the FTM pledge is akin to fair trade labeling in foods. Participating venues will get decals to put in their windows to show they’ve signed the pledge, which includes four major tenants:

  • Provide musicians with a written agreement that lays out the terms of payment
  • Provide musicians with a record of how many tickets were sold and how much money was made
  • Have a decent sound system and capable sound tech
  • If there are disagreements, venue owners agree to work with Fair Trade Music Seattle to resolve disputes

The pledge makes no stipulations about minimum pay as musicians and venues often agree on a wide range of “fair pay” agreements, Bigman said. However, its something that could be added down the road.

“A lot of clubs are owned by musicians, and they don’t want to mistreat musicians, they’re just not business people,” Bigman said.

CF-OcotVIAEpuup-1And to help venues meet the sound system requirements, the musicians union has put together a fund to provide one time free diagnostic tune up of sound equipment.

The Seattle City Council declared May 20th Fair Trade Music Day. Nate Omdal, a Fair Trade Music leader and upright bass player in local jazz and hiphop bands, praised the council’s actions.

“Knowing that we’re being taken seriously by the City leaders has helped to open doors to engage musicians, some of whom have been worried about possible retaliation if we standup for ourselves,” he said in a statement.


(Image: City of Seattle)

The Fair Trade Music Seattle campaign was first launched in 2012 as an effort by the musician’s union raise the standard of living for musicians. One of the first issues musicians identified was poor loading zone access at venues. Earlier this year, the campaign announced four “priority loading zones” for musicians in conjunction with the city. The venues include The Crocodile, The Showbox, The Triple Door, and The High Dive.

A 2008 study found that Seattle’s music scene constituted a $2.8 billion industry. The musicians union is pairing up with researchers to conduct another similar study with the expectation that the industry has grown even larger. “People don’t recognize music … really is a pretty significant contributor to the economy,” Bigman said.

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