LOS ANGELES – Turning to art to express how you feel is normal for independent musician Ari Herstand. When the coronavirus forced music venues to close, he gathered some musician friends -- six-feet apart and wearing masks -- to play "The Space Between" by the Dave Matthews Band in an effort to make sense of this new term "social distance".
"The idea was even though we have to be physically apart from one another, we can come together emotionally for a common good," said Herstand.
Coming together for a common good is something Herstand has become familiar with, well before COVID-19 changed the world as we knew it.
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As a musician, he learned back in November that a piece of legislation that California had passed would actually change the music world.
It was the bill known as AB5.
"This could single-handedly crash the California music economy as we know it, this is just not feasible for how we operate our business," Herstand said.
The way AB5 was written reclassifies musicians from independent contractors to employees. For a singer/songwriter like Herstand, if he were to hire a musician for the day to play a gig or a recording session he'd become their employer.
"I would have to incorporate, I'd have to get worker's comp insurance, unemployment insurance, set up a payroll company," said Herstand. "It's like it would cost thousands of dollars just to comply with AB5 and it just wasn't realistic."
So Herstand sprung into action, first writing an article on his blog "Ari's Take" that went viral.
He created the Independent Music Professionals United -- IMPU -- advocating on behalf of independent musicians.
And he started a petition, gathering 185,000 signatures from the music community saying they are not in support of how AB5 affects them.
"We then got invited to the negotiations where the language was being discussed and worked on for the cleanup bill, AB 1850," said Herstand.
At the negotiating table with him, were Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez the author of AB5, Senate Majority leader Robert Hertzberg, the music union, and various organizations in the music industry.
The assemblywoman was open to an amendment, but all concerned parties had to agree.
After four months of negotiations, they hashed out the final language and struck a compromise.
"As a songwriter and a book author, I never thought one of the most impactful things that I'd have a hand in writing would be a law for the state of California, but I guess that's how it goes sometimes," Herstand said.
The legislature will vote on AB 1850 once they're back in session. Herstand is hoping it will pass as an urgency measure, going into effect the moment it is signed by Governor Gavin Newsom.
As surreal as it is for Herstand to have become the voice for independent artists, he's grateful that he could.
"I feel that at times it's kind of my responsibility and duty that if I'm in a position to help that I should help and that I need to step up and do that," Herstand said.
His efforts could potentially save his industry from detrimental changes, returning things to what they used to be, at a time in our lives when everything else is anything but that.