The Summer Hangout event for the Denton Music and Arts Collaborative, a nonprofit organization aimed at subsidizing healthcare for musicians, had multiple bands play over the weekend to raise funds for its cause. It was also held in memory of DMAC’s co-founder Andy Knapik, who died in January.
The nonprofit is part of a growing list of organizations across the state that want to increase healthcare coverage for career fields that do not have access to traditional healthcare coverage. While flexibility and creativity are listed as some of the benefits of having a gig, a recurring disadvantage is the lack of healthcare benefits that usually come with a full-time job. Nearly 36 percent of U.S. workers are a part of what is known as the “gig economy,” according to 2018 Gallup poll data.
Aubrey Mortensen, a DMAC member, said healthcare that fills those gaps for musicians is a societal and local imperative.
“The whole idea is to basically assist musicians and artists to stay here in Denton instead of having to go some place else to work another job that offers health insurance or offers better benefits,” Mortensen said.
Mortensen said offering healthcare to more musicians allows them to pursue their passion.
“We want to keep them here in town,” Mortensen said. “We want to help them be healthy and we want to help them out with their insurance, so they don’t have to work full-time jobs that push off all their music and artistic stuff to the side.”
Navigating the complex system that is health insurance can be daunting for many.
“There’s too many questions, it’s a lot of personal stuff, so a lot of the times when people go to sign up, everybody has a hard time signing up for health insurance because they don’t understand it,” Mortensen said. “The second challenge is sometimes getting them to pick the right options too, because sometimes they’ll pick the cheapest option with the giant deductible so they really don’t know what their coverage is covering.”
Chris Young, a 37-year-old Denton resident formerly from Long Beach, California, with Canadian and South African heritage, said the event represented a welcome change to the challenges that musicians in all cultures face.
“Healthcare is being healthy. It’s being happy, musicians make you happy,” Young said. “So they should be covered [with insurance] because without music, there would be no diversity. Music brought so many people together, so many eclectic cliques that would never be together.”
Mental healthcare plays a particularly critical role since the life of a musician can be a stressful one, said Fort Worth-based musician Simon Flory, who played at East Side Denton on Saturday alongside multiple Denton artists.
Having personally experienced life on the road, Flory said it does not take long for one to realize why the lifestyle of constant traveling can be mentally and physically exhausting due to the unpredictability of a tour schedule.
“You’re talking over 500 miles a day, you’re getting in to the hotel two or three in the morning and you’ve got to leave by six or seven,” Flory said. “Then driving for eight or nine hours and then being on, on, on … that is a breeding ground for some problems that have taken some of the most treasured artists of our time.”
Flory said that arts and music is what drive humans forward, but the current healthcare system has too many troubling flaws.
“Big Pharma, big healthcare, that’s just the absolute racket of our generation,” Flory said. “It’s bankrupting us in multiple ways, especially morally, because of the way that we are denying people care.”
While the term “gig economy” currently refers to a variety of part-time jobs, the original meaning comes from the musical career field itself, where it is used as slang for a live musical performance. Keeping that in mind, Flory said more and more workers are starting to feel the challenges that musicians have historically faced since they started playing.
“Us musicians, we are 100 percent ‘gig economy,’ so the other folks know it now,” Flory said. “It’s more and more common.”
DMAC member Brad Steiger said helping cover healthcare gaps for artists is fulfilling and is creating a dialogue in the community.
“Having grown up in the music scene here in Denton in the 2000s, nobody had the full-time job, you just did whatever you could to have the flexibility to go out on the road,” Steiger said. “This is a beautiful thing. This didn’t exist when I was out on the road, but it exists now to the point where we can help musicians and artists to explore their craft.”
Featured Image:The Red Death perform during Summer Hangout at Dan’s Silverleaf in Denton, Texas on June 23, 2019. The three-day festival hosted by Last Chance Records raised funds for the Denton Music and Arts Collaborative (DMAC), a non-profit organization which aims to subsidize healthcare for musicians. Photo by Kara Dry