Is this an emblematic confrontation or what?
- Broadway’s pit musicians fear that producers are prepared to pull the plug on them and plug in electronic replacements if the musicians’ union refuses to swallow cuts in the size of orchestras.
The sides are preparing to negotiate a new contract, and producers want to drop longstanding minimum staffing levels that require anywhere from three to 26 players for book musicals, depending on theater size. Broadway musicians currently earn $1,350 a week plus pension and health benefits under a five-year deal that expires March 2.
Advances in digital sound reproduction make it possible for a single operator to run an orchestra-in-a-box — and for shows to go on should in-the-flesh musicians strike. “This is the first time we have faced this serious a technological threat,” Bill Moriarity, president of Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians, said Tuesday. “Our members’ jobs are at stake.” [from LA Times]
This argument has been ongoing since the invention of recorded sound: labor tries to protect musician’s jobs as technology pushes live music further and further into a corner. Not that I am unsympathetic toward musicians being one myself, but rigid union rules provide no real utility and simply drive up costs that the customer must ultimately bear.
Although it may sound overly Republican, I fear the marketplace must resolve this issue, as it ultimately always does. If theaters replace live musicians with recorded music, so be it. The reason live concerts still exist and people still spend vast amounts of money to see live musicians is that the live musical performance is irreducible: the multi-sensory experience of seeing, hearing, smelling, sharing the same air with musicians performing live is unique. People will be willing to pay extra for this aspect of the theater experience.
It is time for musicians to trust their own worth.