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The PA Bill that should worry professional musicians everywhere

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New “feel-good” legislation passed in the PA House allows venues to hire minors as long as they don’t pay them. The implications for professional musicians seems to have been overlooked in the process.

The following is a transcript of the latest episode of The Six-Minute Music Business Podcast. It is being reprinted here with permission.

You know how difficult it can be for bands to create leverage when trying to negotiate better guarantees from venues? Well, something is happening in Pennsylvania that is going to make that even more difficult and musicians nationwide should be keeping an eye on this because it is something that could spread to other states.

Pennsylvania House Bill 561, an amendment to the Pennsylvania Liquor Code, was recently introduced by state Representative Sheryl Delozier. Delozier is a Republican lawmaker representing Pennsylvania’s 88th District, which includes a portion of western Harrisburg.

Here is the part of the amendment that matters:

“… a hotel, restaurant or club licensee may permit a minor of any age to perform music if the minor is not compensated and the minor is under the supervision of a parent or guardian.”

Yes, it allows any establishment with a liquor license to hire minors to perform as long as the venue DOES NOT PAY THE ARTIST.

As it stands now, the Pennsylvania Liquor Code permits minors to perform in a licensed establishment, but only if that performance is part of the minor receiving some kind of instruction in a performing art. Delozier’s amendment strikes the instruction requirement from the code.

The bill passed the state House by a final vote of 185-12. Even more concerning is that the bill was given the thumbs-up by every state representative from Pittsburgh and all but one representative in Philadelphia, the commonwealth’s two biggest music hubs. The bill now goes to the state Senate for approval before going to the governor for his signature.

There are two things about the passage of this bill that should concern musicians, not only in Pennsylvania, but around the country.

First, professional performing artists have long been at odds with venues willing to do whatever possible to bring in free music, particularly when it is done under the guise of “getting exposure.” As Philadelphia-area entertainment attorney Bryan Tuk said in a recent opinion piece for PittsburghCurrent.com, this bill institutionalizes the idea that young performers should perform for free in exchange for exposure. Not only do I agree with his assessment, I would go a step further and argue that the bill institutionalizes the continuing devaluation of music in live form.

By removing the instructional requirement from the Pennsylvania Liquor Code, venues will be able to pursue any and all musical talent under the age of 18 and offer them stage time at zero cost. That means professional musicians will be faced with more competition for slots at establishments with liquor licenses as this free talent suddenly becomes legal and available.

The second big concern artists should have has to do with why this amendment came about. This wasn’t a situation in which venues banded together and pushed for the change. The only reason Delozier introduced the bill is because a teenager in her district wanted to be able to perform at local establishments that had liquor licenses. In a written statement on the Pennsylvania legislative website, Delozier said this change would allow that artist to “continue to grow his talents.” She introduced this bill completely ignorant about how its implementation would impact professional artists.

So what you have here is what many call “feel good” legislation: legislation pushed through more on the basis of emotion than common sense. They are doing it “for the kids.” And if you vote against it, you aren’t for helping the kids, and what lawmaker wants to be labeled in such a manner?

That is a big part of the reason why this bill passed the House Appropriations Committee by a vote of 34-0 before getting full House approval by a vote of 185-12.

Musicians in other states should keep an eye on this. If operators of establishments in other states see that this passed in the Pennsylvania House — and why it passed — they could easily go to their own lawmakers and suggest similar changes because, you know, they want to do it to help the kids.


Wade Sutton is the founder of Rocket to the Stars, an artist services record label with clients around the world. He is the creator and host of The Six-Minute Music Business Podcast, which was named by CD Baby as one of “five music-business podcasts artists can’t live without.” Wade was also a featured speaker at the 2018 Music Entrepreneur Conference at Harvard University. For a free 24-page preview of Wade’s new music business book, Hacking Music, visit www.GiftFromWade.com.

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7 thoughts on “The PA Bill that should worry professional musicians everywhere

  1. I just called the Representative’s office, and this Bill is still tied up in Senate committees and has not yet been approved. I am the parent of a NY State child prodigy who performs an average of 50 music shows a year at bars, wineries, private events, and breweries all over NY State with proper permitting and licenses being relatively simple to obtain. He will file income taxes this year at age 11 which include income from a Broadway tour and on a 1099- MISC as a self-employed musician.

    We just applied to PA for a permit to have him perform with his band (which also includes his father) at an autism gala annual fundraiser at a Country Club, and our request was denied because the event would have alcohol sold/dispensed in the same room as where the band would be performing and during the performance. We were told that in order to get the permit, the band or bar would have to be moved to a different building altogether or the sale of alcohol would have to be suspended during the 2-hour music performance. So, it doesn’t appear to be out of concern for the child’s well-being or proximity to actual alcohol but just the sale or dispensing of it. It’s totally fine with PA to have the alcohol sitting at people’s place settings right near the band, I guess. So it seems like a morality issue. Antiquated is right– this child has been performing before crowds in bars and such since age 6 with BOTH parents present at all times and was employed on a Broadway tour for 5 months last year. The PA organization that wanted to book this band for their autism gala sought us out in NY because this child also happens to be on the autism spectrum. His presence at the event could actually help the organization to raise funds that will directly benefit PA individuals on the autism spectrum! The rules need to be updated for novel situations.

  2. What is the current status of this Bill? I would love to know. I am the parent of a NY State child prodigy who performs an average of 50 music shows a year at bars, wineries, private events, and breweries all over NY State with proper permitting and licenses being relatively simple to obtain. He will file income taxes this year at age 11 which include income from a Broadway tour and on a 1099- MISC as a self-employed musician.

    We just applied to PA for a permit to have him perform with his band (which also includes his father) at an autism gala annual fundraiser at a Country Club, and our request was denied because the event would have alcohol sold/dispensed in the same room as where the band would be performing and during the performance. We were told that in order to get the permit, the band or bar would have to be moved to a different building altogether or the sale of alcohol would have to be suspended during the 2-hour music performance. So, it doesn’t appear to be out of concern for the child’s well-being or proximity to actual alcohol but just the sale or dispensing of it. It’s totally fine with PA to have the alcohol sitting at people’s place settings right near the band, I guess. So it seems like a morality issue. Antiquated is right– this child has been performing before crowds in bars and such since age 6 with BOTH parents present at all times and was employed on a Broadway tour for 5 months last year. The PA organization that wanted to book this band for their autism gala sought us out in NY because this child also happens to be on the autism spectrum. His presence at the event could actually help the organization to raise funds that will directly benefit PA individuals on the autism spectrum! The rules need to be updated for novel situations.

  3. Wade,

    As a native of PA , and still a very frequent visitor there, may I try to provide another perspective.

    I fail to see the siren call here. You have overlooked the fact that adults have been permitted to play for “free” in a PA liquor establishment at will, and they do, all the time, like everywhere else.

    The only issue I have here is the *requirement* that they play for free. That is sad.

    This only levels the playing field for youth, who are being discriminated against here because of antiquated PA liquor laws, which are pervasive in the state. Most of the viable venues for any musician serve liquor (including the upper crust concert halls) and excluding kids from performing at them is just plain wrong.

    The original law was there protect kids from unsavory environments, which is ridiculous old-school nanny state stuff leftover from prohibition days. Again, antiquated state law is finally finally stricken.

    If a major concert venue wants to present a prodigy youth, but can’t due to state liquor law, then that is not acceptable.

    Wade, your real argument here is against musicians playing for free, and yes, I will agree that this adds a new class of performers to that pool of prospective tip jar musicians.

    But to think that a handful of skilled kids is going to challenge the status quo of paid live performance in PA, then that is a stretch that kind of defies logic. Bars will continue to hire their “$500 per night” bands, and other paid-ticket music venues will continue to operate as usual, with the exception that now they have one less onerous PA liquor law to deal with, if the opportunity arises.

    I seriously doubt that any serious PA venue owner is now going to seek out kids to play for free.

    If you lived in PA, you’d better understand. They just recently overturned the law against beer and wine sales in grocery stores, and their “state stores” for liquor sales charge more and offer less choice and convenience than states with private liquor stores.

    Sorry, but this is merely a PA thing, and it’s good to see the state legislature finally clean up their antiquated liquor laws.

  4. Holy Unintended Consequences, Batman!

    I can totally see how this happened, there are restrictions in most places on the ages of employees where liquor is served, and in some cases, this can affect performers as well as servers.

    So, how long do you think it will be before some operators will decide that not having to pay for musicians isn’t enough, and start trying to get paid *by* the musicians?

  5. If the lawmakers really wanted to “help the kids” they would allow them to be HIRED by venues. If they really wanted to PROTECT the kids that get hired by such venues they could ass the stipulations
    1: As long a they have signed written parental consent.
    2: A legal adult who agrees to supervise the minor while at the venue.
    3: The minor is a member of the American Federation of Musicians performing under a union contract.

    1. I agree with you in part. However, the AFM is not going to allow a minor member to perform without pay under this proposed Bill since not being paid is a stipulation of that. Also, even under the current rules in PA, I doubt any venue is going to enter into an AFM-approved contract to pay a kid musician what the union would require. In our experience as a performing music family AND parents of an AFM minor musician, PA bars do not want to pay adult musicians a fair wage– they are certainly not going to want to get involved in union contracts with child performers when they can avoid all that red tape and scrutiny from various PA state oversight agencies and just hire a regular adult band.

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