“There is nothing helpful, nothing constructive, nothing of any decency involved in AB5.”
Aaron Gayden brings “the funk, the noize, all that jazz” as the lead singer of his band: The Aaron Gayden Band.
Music runs through Gayden’s veins. He has always been a singer but started playing piano at the age of five and, by the end of high school, was playing bass guitar. He directed a children’s choir as a kid and participated in musical groups throughout his youth. Music was “the only thing that made sense” to him so he majored in music in college.
Now, in addition to leading a band, he is a full-time church worship leader. As he remarked, “Music plus ministry are not big-money career paths. They are careers of the heart and skills.”
As a bandleader and member of other bands, he understands that independent contracting makes it possible to earn a living doing what he loves. He also knows the difficulty that Assembly Bill 5 (AB5) imposed on independent contractors in the music industry.
Most band members are independent, not employees of the band. It would not be sustainable to make them employees. He explained why: “Workers’ compensation, payroll, and everything that comes with that makes it not feasible. It’s also not sustainable to suddenly make every band member an employee. Unless you are a major touring act or have major backing, it’s just not feasible.”
AB5’s stringent definition of independent contractors forced most to become employees of the companies that hire them. For The Aaron Gayden Band, hiring all of the band members was impossible.
The beginning of the year, post-holiday-party season, is usually slow for musicians. Most of their time is used waiting for gigs. This year, Gayden spent that downtime trying to figure out how to comply with AB5. He reasoned that, to become compliant, he could partner with colleagues in his band and make regular band members partners and substitutes limited partners.
“The hardest part of this was trying to figure out how to get compliant,” he explained. As he explored the options, he realized that the professionals willing to give advice didn’t even know how to advise musicians like him. “People could be fined for giving wrong advice—if you could get a hold of any agency. They didn’t know what to do or how to guide people through the process of becoming compliant. I received so much conflicting information.”
COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions stopped the music industry in its tracks. “[The] coronavirus struck and shut down everything. At that point, we didn’t pursue anything.”
Since the spring, the economy has started to reopen as lockdowns have been a little less severe, creating work opportunities for Gayden.
“Things came back online, but it was very sudden. It started out as volunteer opportunities and then more gigs.”
For Gayden’s wife and son who are also musicians/theatrical artists, the impact of AB5 has been even more harsh. They work at a small performing arts studio as acting instructors and production directors. The family works together in various settings and combinations.
Gayden says they are now playing catchup financially and looking ahead to see if the music path is viable. He is also worried about what the tax implications will be for this year. “When taxes come around next year, it could get really ugly.”
More concerning than taxes is the prospect that independent contractors will be unable to escape AB5’s harmful reach nationwide. Both President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, former California senator, are supporters of the federal PRO Act—legislation passed by the House of Representatives that would make AB5’s stringent requirements to be classified as an independent contractor federal law—as well as the U.S. Senate’s Worker Flexibility and Small Business Protection Act, which strengthens one of the most damaging parts of AB5.
AB5’s author Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez is well known for saying that independent contracting work was “never good jobs.” She and her union allies believe that traditional W-2 employment is best for workers, despite whether they want or are able to work in a traditional job for various reasons.
“Unions are extremely powerful and hold the purse of many politicians,” Gayden added, but noted that even union members oppose AB5.
“So many musicians in the unions, even actors, and in multiple unions, are adamantly against AB5. Just because you get union wages doesn’t mean the union is able to create gigs. Union wages don’t matter if there are no gigs.”
Some musicians secured exemptions from AB5 late summer, and California voters approved exemptions for ridesharing and delivery drivers in the gig economy through Proposition 22.
That does not go far enough though.
Gayden supports holding California lawmakers accountable for the harm that their obstinacy caused:
“The governor is liable in that he should have allowed medical personnel, who are independent contractors, to be able to work on the front line against COVID-19. He’s also liable for letting people die alone who were not English speakers or hearing impaired, people who needed translators or interpreters to easily communicate with them as they went through their treatment or lived out their final days.”
Gayden has joined efforts like Freelancers Fight Back. He won’t stop fighting until AB5 is overturned.
Do you have a story about how AB5 or other independent contracting laws have affected your ability to work? Share your story here.