Oppose the Performing Musicians Licensing Act!

This is going to be a little off topic since most of my visitors are not from the Chicagoland area, but I will write this anyway, as this local issue is turning into a collapsing house of cards that may yet threaten us all.

Last year, the Chicago City Council’s Music Commission, chaired by Ald. Eugene Schulter (47th), drafted the so-called “event promoters ordinance” last spring with almost no input from the music community, rapidly moving it toward a vote before the full council in May. But aldermen tabled the controversial law at that time after an unprecedented outcry from the local music world.

Last year, council members vowed to work with the music community to “fine-tune” the law before a final vote.

Sources close to the procedure say that a retooled version of the law has now been ready since mid-February, and that the license committee is gearing up for a vote on Mar. 11 prior to sending the legislation back to the full council for what the committee hopes will be quick passage. Once again, however, the law is not being made available for public scrutiny, and no public hearings are scheduled to seek input from musicians, music lovers and indie concert promoters.

The good news is that public opposition to the proposed ordinance has grown more vocal and organized since the last vote, and could present a formidable player in killing the bill. The bad news is that the Commission already has an end-run around Chicago citizens in the works– a proposal to create a Performing Musicians Licensing Act. If you think about it, you’ll begin to see the ruthless logic at work:

The original bill, created in reaction to the terrible E2 Nightclub incident, in which 21 people were trampled to death, contained the following language:

“No person shall engage in the business of event promoter without first having obtained an event promoter license under this chapter.” AND “Each applicant for a license under this chapter shall furnish a certificate of insurance, evidencing commercial general liability insurance, with limits of not less than $300,000.00 per occurrence for bodily injury and property damage arising in any way from the issuance of the license.”

In short, promoting music would get a whole hell of a lot more expensive, prohibitively so for underground venues and organizers. Want to have a house show? Forget it! But lawmakers forgot that promoters are also the ones who usually have the money– deep pocket promoters might be able to keep this one off the books. But where to turn next?

Musicians.

That’s right, they’re going after the musicians now. If they couldn’t get promoters in line, they’re just going to take away their product, or at least make it difficult for anyone but the biggest bands and artists to play. Given the political shakeup post-Blagojevich, there have been a lot of Illinois politicians taking new offices lately– one of which helped draft the original Commission ordinance, but now finds himself out of his State-level seat and nearer to the ear of another well-known Chicago politician– President Obama.

Under the PMLA, all “performing” musicians (and are there any other kind?!) will be required to apply for a performing license which requests the following information, in addition to an EXAM and a jurored performance:

“(1) the applicant’s full name, residence address, business address, business
e-mail address, business telephone number and cell phone number;

(2) the name, residence address and residence telephone number of allcontrolling persons other than the applicant, if any;
(3) proof that the applicant and all controlling persons are at least 21 years of age;
(4)A statement as to whether, within the last 5 years, the applicant and each
controlling person has had a performer’s license or any other equivalent
license or permit, regardless of nomenclature or characterization, revoked or
suspended in any jurisdiction and if so, the details surrounding each such
suspension or revocation;
(5) A statement as to whether, within the last five years, the applicant and each
controlling person has been either convicted, in custody, under parole or under
any other non-custodial supervision resulting from a conviction in a court of any
jurisdiction for the commission of a felony of any kind, or of a criminal offense of
whatever degree involving theft, fraud, perjury or dishonesty and if so, the details
surrounding each such conviction;
(6) A statement as to whether, within the last five years, the applicant and each
controlling person has been convicted or found liable of knowingly making a false
statement of material fact or a knowing and material misrepresentation or
omission on or in connection with any license application submitted under this
chapter and if so, the details surrounding each such conviction or finding of
liability;
(7) The date of birth and social security number of each natural person named in the
license application;
(8) The license fee, as required by section 4-157-060;
(9) Fingerprints, as required by section 4-157-090;
(10) Proof of insurance, as required by section 4-157-100;
(11) An indemnification agreement, as required by section 4-157-110; and
(12) Any other information that the director may require.

Gotta love that last one– what else could they want? A fucking semen sample? But seriously, this is some bullshit. No more musicians under the age of 21? As much as I’d love to see Miley Cyrus out of a job, what about all the kids coming up in garage bands, or playing in their first couple years of college? Obviously, music students aren’t exactly touring musicians, but this still seems way out of line with reality.

A law like this opens way more issues than I’m prepared to deal with in this post– who gets the licensing fees, and where do they go? What about hobbyist musicians? Who appoints the jurored panels, and what will be considered “music”? I don’t want to get ahead of things, but I’m thinking of a sort of USA vs. Dunifer approach myself– claim that I don’t make music, only noise. Thus, the board will not have a licensing category for me– and I should be able to press on. What do you think?

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