California Senate Passes Gig Economy Bill That Could 'Gut the Music Industry'

California State Assembly
Getty Images

California State Assembly

The California Senate has passed a bill that would give new wage and benefit protections to workers at so-called gig economy companies like Uber and Lyft. It also raised alarms within the music industry, which warned it would bring adverse consequences on musicians in the state.

The 29-11 vote late Tuesday sends the bill back to the state Assembly for final approval over strident Republican opposition. Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has said he supports it.

The proposal has drawn staunch opposition from on-demand delivery and ridesharing companies while winning support from many of the Democratic presidential contenders. It puts into law a California Supreme Court decision making it harder for companies to classify workers as independent contractors. The bill would make those companies classify their workers as employees instead.

While its impact on gig economy companies has drawn most of the attention, it would affect a wide array of business sectors, including the recording industry. Music executives said the bill in its current state would crush the creation of independent music in California by defining any artist who hires a person to assist them -- including producers, engineers, publicists, managers, dancers, background vocalists and others -- as an employee and subject to stringent employment regulations. 

Before the bill passed the Senate, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-80), who authored AB5, told Billboard she had been meeting and discussing all year with artist unions and the recording industry on how this bill would impact the work of musicians, but that in the end the recording industry could not come to a consensus on language. Instead, the groups preferred no amendment related to their industry in AB5 at all.

Speaking with Billboard last week, A2IM president and CEO Richard Burgess said the bill was too broad as written by allowing independent artists and musicians to be considered employers. "Unless there is an exemption for the music industry, it will make every studio engineer, employees for whoever is hiring them," said Burgess. "On a practical level, I don't see how it can work."

Burgess said recording industry groups had been "running into a brick wall" trying to get music-related exemptions included. The current system has been working fine, he said, but that if the law passes and is signed by the governor it will "gut the music industry."