Demo Recording and VH-1 Storytellers Episode Brought Under Contract

Shining A Light On Dark Dates

Volume CI, No. 7/8July, 2001

Local 802’s campaign to bring dark recording dates under contract picked up momentum in June. The union succeeded in having contracts filed for a recording made by former members of the Electric Light Orchestra, who are forming a new band, and for a VH-1 Storytellers show featuring the musical artists Fuel and Train. 802’s intervention also resulted in the posting of a $90,000 bond to cover wages and benefits for the cast recording of Bells Are Ringing, a Broadway show that has since closed.

In each case, the fact that the union was aware of the date in advance made it possible to get the producers to sign agreements that provided musicians with union wage scales, benefit contributions, and protection for any future use of the recordings.


The union learned through the grapevine about plans for a June 20 recording date involving former members of the Electric Light Orchestra (ELO). Musicians had been told they would be paid $50 per hour in cash, with no benefits, to record a demo. After Recording Department Rep Pedro Rodriguez and Organizer Mikael Elsila came to the studio and spoke with the employer, contractor and musicians, the players decided to support 802’s effort to convince the employer to sign a union contract. “The musicians’ solidarity was the key to getting the contract signed,” said Director of Organizing Joe Eisman.

The employers signed a Demonstration Recording Agreement, which calls for $47 per hour in wages, plus health and pension contributions, and contains a full grievance and arbitration procedure. Most importantly, it protects the musicians by mandating full Phono Agreement rates if the recording is ever released commercially.

“This situation highlighted the fact that the AFM provides a wide range of agreements targeted to specific circumstances,” said Jay Schaffner, assistant supervisor of the Recording Department. “Our regular commercial agreements are negotiated with major commercial entities, no matter what the field. There are low-budget rates in all of the agreements, with the exception of jingles, designed for producers who are working within limited budgets. The limited pressing agreement recognizes that, if you’re going to press less than 10,000 copies, you should not have to pay what a major label pays to press millions of copies.

“And the demonstration recording agreement is designed for a musician/writer/composer, or a developing act, that needs a CD to promote its music. That was the very situation we encountered on June 20.”


Local 802 secured basic cable TV rates for musicians appearing on an episode of VH-1’s Storytellers with the musical artists Fuel and Train. The funds are provided by the Epic label (which represents Fuel) and Columbia Records (which represents Train). These artists were backed up by a significant orchestral string section.

Neither the VH-1 nor the MTV network is signatory to an AFM contract, but with advance notice Local 802 has been able to reach agreements with signatory labels to have specific shows done under contract, Schaffner told Allegro. “But the only way we can protect musicians is by knowing about the date in advance. That’s why it is so important for members to call the union to make sure that sessions they have been called for have been filed. And our collective bargaining agreements require contractors to call their dates in.”

Publicity about Local 802’s recording campaign has made members more aware of the union’s efforts to bring dark dates under contract, and more musicians are now contacting the union to confirm that upcoming sessions have been filed. Pre-notification of recording dates is expected to be an important issue in the next negotiations for new recording contracts.