Archival Recording Use Should Be Local’s Call
Volume CIII, No. 2February, 2003
On Jan. 13, the AFM convened a meeting in Chicago to address issues that have arisen over symphonic recordings, radio broadcasts, television broadcasts, internet activity and the appropriate payment of recorded archival material that may be released on a commercial basis.
The meeting was called in response to the growing dispute among musicians in several major symphony orchestras over the use of archival material.
As I wrote in my report last October:
Over the past several years a growing division has developed among the musicians in several major U.S. orchestras over the role that recordings should play in their lives and that of the institutions employing them. It may seem strange that this particular issue should generate so much heat at this particular time.
There is nearly unanimous agreement that opportunities to record in the orchestral field have diminished over the past decade and that this decline continues. Every major indicator tells us also that “classical” recording sales make up an ever smaller percentage of CD sales, to the point that no major recording labels are actively engaged in orchestral recording.
Despite this reality, a split has come about. It seems to have been stimulated by terms and conditions I negotiated on behalf of the members of the New York Philharmonic for the release of five multi-CD sets of Philharmonic historical recordings. With the Federation’s approval, I negotiated modifications to the AFM-promulgated Radio to Non-Commercial Recording Agreement, a rarely-used document providing for both upfront payments and revenue sharing on the back end. The two important negotiated changes involved an interpretation of the original language of the agreement that would allow a multi-CD set to be released for the same upfront payment as had been used for a single-CD release and, with four of the five sets, an improved revenue sharing provision (50 percent of gross revenues from dollar one).
As an aside, it becomes increasingly difficult to understand why this particular issue has caused such emotional turmoil when a potentially far more ominous cloud looms on the horizon. The recent December issue of Senza Sordino, the official publication of ICSOM, contains reports from 37 symphony, opera and ballet orchestras. Fourteen of these report some form of financial concern – recently created deficits, long-term deficits and debt, increased health payments, cuts in scheduled weeks of performance, loss of radio sponsorship and, in general, worry about ongoing local corporate support for these institutions.
Other than a resolution passed by ICSOM at this summer’s conference asking that the AFM institute a program to collect and analyze data regarding orchestras’ financial and organizational conditions, each orchestra’s problem seems to be viewed as a local matter instead of the larger, more national issue that it so obviously is.
While a call for a conference on recording, an activity that seems to have disappeared over the last decade, may prove useful, this potentially more basic problem needs to be recognized and addressed.
Local 802’s position on the use of archival recordings has been and continues to be that this should be subject to local union autonomy. National wage scales are necessary when the possibility of competition among various groups of musicians exists; when, for example, a local or an orchestra could obtain employment for recordings or broadcast by underbidding other locals or orchestras. That is not the case with the use of archival material. In each of the past cases the issuing party has been the symphonic institution itself – the Cleveland Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra or the Boston Symphony.
There is no competition for musicians’ services possible in any of these situations; the management of the Cleveland Orchestra could not possibly threaten to use NY Philharmonic material if it deemed the Cleveland Orchestra’s musicians’ price to be too high.
Musicians in each of these orchestras should be allowed to decide for themselves what part these recordings should play in their organizational philosophy and, therefore, how to most effectively use this material.
Different situations may result in different payment structures, not only from orchestra to orchestra but within any single orchestra on a case by case basis. This will not undermine standards in the recording field any more than different weekly scales for live performances of the New York City Opera, Metropolitan Opera, New York Philharmonic and New York City Ballet have undermined standards at Lincoln Center.
I will report on any conclusions of the Jan. 13 meeting in a future report.