A Tale of Two Sessions

Shine A Light On Dark Dates

Volume CII, No. 4April, 2002

Jay Schaffner

The downturn in the recording industry has alarmed many musicians, and has led some to decide to take any work that comes along. I can understand why someone might come to this conclusion – but I disagree with their logic. Now, more than ever, recording work needs to be done under the relevant AFM or 802 contract.

If musicians operate on their own, taking whatever jobs are offered with no regard to union scales, the cash date will soon become the dominant form of employment. And in every case that I’m aware of, the cash dates that are being offered pay less than scale wages. The only possible result of accepting these jobs will be that standards for all work – whether in concerts, club dates, television, theatrical films, phonograph recordings or jingles – will be undermined, along with the strength of the AFM and Local 802.

Two recent examples illustrate this point:

The first involves a recording for a theatrical film, which recently took place on a Sunday, with a string section of approximately 30 musicians recording three sessions in one day. Unfortunately, 802 didn’t learn about the job until Saturday, one day earlier. We have a solid track record of negotiating improved conditions, but that’s only possible if we can reach the person who controls the purse strings. It’s simple on a business day, but almost impossible on a weekend.

Normal film recording scale would have been the equivalent of $840 ($280 per session times three), plus pension, health, special payments, etc. If the project had been done under the low budget agreement, it would have paid $540 ($180 times three) plus all benefits. But the 30 musicians who took part in this date accepted $500 in cash, with no benefits.

This brings me to another issue: concerns many members have raised about low budget scales, and the possibility they may cheapen our work. This date paid $500 with no benefits, no protection for new use, and no special payments. What’s more, accepting this cash date sent a clear message to producers that there are musicians out there who are willing to ignore our agreements. What could do more to cheapen our work?

My second example is a success story. It involves a number of dates that were called for a Japanese film production over a period of six weeks, beginning in early December. In the middle of the second week, the union began to receive calls from musicians. They notified us that a date had taken place and more sessions were scheduled, and asked how it could be turned into a union job.

Even though a number of sessions had already occurred, because the union was able to discuss it with the people who were dealing with the production’s budgets, all ten sessions became union sessions. The musicians were paid low-budget scale, benefits, and gained future use protection. In fact, they were immediately paid for future use, because a sound track was being made from the film. The musicians received a phonograph new-use payment with additional pension paid on that wage.

(Along the same lines, advance notification from musicians enabled 802 to turn a March 10 cash date involving almost 60 musicians, the Chabad Centennial, into a union job.)

The point is clear. If you get called for a date, call Local 802 – and do it immediately. The sooner we learn about the date, the better the chance we can turn it around. The union will protect your confidentiality, and the results will benefit both you and other musicians.

Certainly musicians are being hurt in this economic downturn. But we need to keep in mind that everything we do in this period will set a pattern – for the rest of the downturn, and for the upturn that follows. The union has a variety of agreements that can address differing budget levels, and a history of success in negotiating and turning around dates that were originally nonunion.

Call Local 802. Leave a message on the hotline, or ask for any of the business reps in the Recording Department: David Sheldon (ext. 194), or Jay Schaffner (ext. 161).

Jay Schaffner is assistant supervisor of the Recording Department.