The New York chapter of the Recording Musicians Association recently held its annual meeting at Local 802 with a look at the state of the recording industry in New York and a discussion of what musicians can do to protect and expand union recording standards. As a player conference within the AFM, the RMA’s mission is to advocate for musicians who work in film and TV, on record dates, or on other jobs covered by AFM recording agreements.
In his remarks to the membership, RMA-NY President Roger Blanc noted a welcome rise in the recording of film music in New York City in recent years, while stressing the importance of the city and state tax credits available to film productions, which the RMA has been working hard to promote. Blanc noted that the film recording industry was a major focus of the RMA in 2013. In April, the RMA co-hosted an event with Local 802 and the Manhattan Producers Alliance to discuss the tax credits, and the RMA participated in leafleting efforts around the country to protest companies taking their film recordings offshore.
The meeting also held elections for the RMA-NY board of directors. Eight incumbents were re-elected to the board. One new member was also elected: guitarist and recording artist Marc Ribot. The RMA-NY’s board now consists of Roger Blanc, Gail Kruvand-Moye, Shem Guibbory, Eric Hachikian, Sonny Kompanek, Chris Parker, Marc Ribot, Andrew Schwartz and Dan Willis.
After the members-only business portion of the meeting, the event opened to the public with a panel discussion on current issues in recording, featuring Ron Lawrence, Rob Mounsey, Doug Katsaros, Marc Ribot, Marc Sazer and Michael Starobin. The first part of the conversation was led by Sazer, who is the RMA international president and also an L.A.-based violinist. He focused on data collection and the need for a better understanding of recording trends. This research, he argued, should be used to mount corporate campaigns to encourage production companies to record in the U.S. under union contracts instead of going nonunion or taking the work abroad. Stressing the need for the AFM and the RMA to grow and protect musicians on these issues, Sazer noted that the AFM and the locals have already begun some of this work, and he expressed optimism about the AFM’s shift to focus on more new organizing. Ultimately, many of the panelists agreed that the AFM should take a page from other entertainment unions and, in Sazer’s words, “act like a union” to stand up to companies that are undermining musicians’ standards.
In the second half of the panel, Marc Ribot led a discussion of grassroots organizing, as well as the dangers of streaming and online piracy. Ribot began by saying that he has had success in organizing indie recordings and that grassroots organizing relies on musician power and finding the right leverage against the employer. That leverage may come from legal or legislative remedies, but it often comes down to creating negative publicity for the target company and getting musicians out in the streets. Ribot cited as grassroots success stories the organizing of the Knitting Factory festivals and its record label, as well as the NYC Winter Jazzfest. Turning to the issue of digital distribution of music, Ribot argued that while streaming services like Spotify are a problem for musicians, he sees an even bigger problem: corporate-sponsored pirate sites. He argued that there needs to be an organized response among musicians to the fact that major corporations continue to make advertising money off of sites that host pirated music. Ribot also mentioned the newly-formed Content Creators Coalition, an artists’ organization currently advocating for radio performance royalties for musicians.
The discussion covered several other topics over the course of the evening, including the question of how to deal with major corporations hiring musicians for nonunion work, the prospects for organizing venues for live engagements, and misconceptions about the union among younger musicians, and the AFM’s lobbying efforts to bring the U.S. in line with other countries on the issue of performance royalties. There was also a discussion, led by panelist Michael Starobin, about the difficulties of making Broadway cast albums, The event ended on a positive note, with the panelists reflecting on some of their proudest moments as recording musicians. Marc Sazer also pointed out some recent successes in the field, which he described as “petri dishes of organizing all over the country, most of them backed by the AFM.” One example cited by Sazer was the musician protests at the New Orleans city hall over a noise ordinance facing the City Council. He also mentioned several successes in the TV world including the leafleting of Lions Gate Entertainment over recordings for the soundtrack of “Mad Men,” which resulted in a union contract (and set the stage for another show, “Nashville,” to also come under contract). With the new paradigm of TV programming going directly to online streaming, Sazer remarked on two Netflix shows, “House of Cards” and “Arrested Development,” which are both under AFM agreements.
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