As recording negotiations continue, we’re fighting off regressive proposals from the industry. However, both sides have a common enemy: piracy
With this issue, we welcome readers to the new all-color, glossy format of Allegro. We believe that it will be more attractive to members and advertisers alike. As artists, we deserve a journal with an appearance that reflects our artistry. We hope you enjoy it.
February is Black History Month and we are pleased to feature a cover story by Jimmy Owens that commemorates the late, great Dr. Billy Taylor, one of the most important figures in jazz, education and outreach. We are also proud to feature an interview between our jazz rep Todd Weeks and Local 802 member Billy Kaye.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would have turned 82 on Jan. 15 and I recently came across these truly remarkable words of his, which he wrote for the 1964 Berlin Jazz Festival:
“God has brought many things out of oppression. He has endowed his creatures with the capacity to create – and from this capacity has flowed the sweet songs of sorrow and joy that have allowed man to cope with his environment and many different situations.
“Jazz speaks for life. The blues tell the story of life’s difficulties, and if you think for a moment, you will realize that they take the hardest realities of life and put them into music, only to come out with some new hope or sense of triumph. This is triumphant music.
“Modern jazz has continued in this tradition, singing the songs of a more complicated urban existence. When life itself offers no order and meaning, the musician creates an order and meaning from the sounds of the earth which flow through his instrument.
“It is no wonder that so much of the search for identity among American Negroes was championed by jazz musicians. Long before the modern essayists and scholars wrote of ‘racial identity’ as a problem for a multi-racial world, musicians were returning to their roots to affirm that which was stirring within their souls.
“Much of the power of our freedom movement in the United States has come from this music. It has strengthened us with its sweet rhythms when courage began to fail. It has calmed us with its rich harmonies when spirits were down. And now, jazz is exported to the world. For in the particular struggle of the Negro in America there is something akin to the universal struggle of modern man. Everybody has the blues. Everybody longs for meaning. Everybody needs to love and be loved. Everybody needs to clap hands and be happy. Everybody longs for faith. In music, especially this broad category called jazz, there is a stepping stone towards all of these.”
NEGOTIATING WITH THE RECORDING INDUSTRY
As I write this, the AFM is negotiating with the major record labels over the successor agreement for the Sound Recording Labor Agreement. This is the master union contract that covers work under what used to be called the Phonograph Record Labor Agreement.
The current agreement was reached in 2006 and expired one year ago. The SRLA is one of the most important contracts the Federation has because it protects our members’ recordings from unauthorized exploitation in other media and it provides additional special payments to recording musicians as well as funding for the Music Performance Trust Fund.
The Federation negotiating team includes AFM President Ray Hair, International Vice President Bruce Fife, Vice President from Canada Bill Skolnik, Secretary Treasurer Sam Folio, and International Officers Vince Trombetta representing Local 47 (Los Angeles), Dave Pomeroy representing Local 257 (Nashville), and myself representing Local 802.
Additionally, rank-and-file representatives – including RMA President Marc Sazer, RMA-NY President Roger Blanc with directors Lanny Paykin and Juliet Haffner, rank-and-file representative Neil Steubenhaus, together with attending rank-and-file musicians and representatives from our Toronto and Chicago locals (including Chicago president Gary Matts) – caucused on Jan. 10, one day prior to the commencement of negotiations with the industry. We were joined in the caucus by AFTRA representative Randy Himes, who attended as an observer.
We finalized a progressive but reasonable set of proposals that featured, among other things, improvements to wages and benefits, a tightening of restrictions for low budget recordings, and a look to significantly increase contributions to the Sound Recording Special Payments Fund and the Music Performance Trust Fund.
Unfortunately, industry negotiators responded by proposing changes that were onerous and concessionary both in wages and working conditions.
In making these proposals, industry reps pointed to the changing physical nature of recorded product and a receding customer base that they say has resulted in a decline in total music spending.
What was most disturbing to me was a lack of acknowledgment by the industry of the degree in which music piracy plays into the struggle to increase revenue. According to a recent document released by the Recording Industry Association of America, only 37 percent of the total amount of music “acquired” by consumers in the United States in 2009 was paid for. This is a huge issue for both the entertainment guilds and the industry. It’s a place where we can find commonality going forward if the industry recognizes the problem and cooperates with us to find a solution.
SAFETY ON BROADWAY
Broadway was the topic of a recent summit convened by State Assemblyman Rory Lancman, chair of the subcommittee on workplace safety, in response to concerns voiced by members of Actors Equity after the Times Square car-bomb attempt last year. We attended the meeting along with Equity, some of the other Broadway unions, the League and the NYC Fire and Police Departments.
The problem is that backstage areas on Broadway can be small spaces with inadequate exit doors. At the meeting, we talked about the logistics of exiting an orchestra pit during an emergency and how few exit options exist.
There are no follow-up plans yet, but there was general agreement that the New York City fire code is due for revisions in the next three years and we believe that our input could make a difference. “The fire code amendment is going to be much better informed,” Mr. Lancman told the Wall Street Journal. “It will be a better product for having everyone involved.”
Speaking of Broadway safety, watch out for falling actors. About six weeks ago, actor Christopher Tierney fell more than 20 feet during a rehearsal of “Spider Man: Turn Off the Dark.” He’s OK now, but producers later put into place stricter safety procedures.
Safety on Broadway and everywhere that musicians play is a number-one concern of ours. We will stay on top of this issue, but, as always, if you feel unsafe where you play, please contact us.
It’s 2011, and we’re in year two of the AFM pension fund’s rehabilitation plan. This means that the second of two statutorily required increases in pension fund contributions will go into effect on April 1. These changes will have increased pension contributions (as a percentage of wages) in two annual steps so that, after April 1, they will be 9 percent higher than in March 2009. Last year’s increase raised pension percentage rates by 4 basis points and the April 1 increase will raise them by 5 additional points.
Put simply, if you worked under an agreement with a pension percentage rate of 10 percent in March of 2010, that rate increased to 10.4 percent on April 1, 2010, and will increase to 10.9 percent on April 1, 2011.
Those musicians engaged in LS-1 agreements should take note and implement the required increase.
CORRECTION: NYGASP SETTLEMENT
In last month’s Allegro, we mistakenly reported that a recent settlement at NYGASP was split among 17 musicians. It was actually evenly divided among the 25 musicians on the roster.