Getting Educated on Sound Recordings

Volume 119, No. 3March, 2019

John Painting

There is perhaps no more critical (and misunderstood) set of AFM recording agreements than those that fall under the umbrella of the Sound Recording Labor Agreement (SRLA.) From major label sessions for superstar acts to Off Broadway cast albums, and from self-produced records to demos, there’s an SRLA-related agreement that fits the size and scope of any project. But how do you know which agreement is right for you? And, if you’re called to work on a sound recording session, how do you make sure you get paid?

Some of the terminology may be confusing (“isn’t all recorded music a sound recording?”) but the Sound Recording Labor Agreement (previously the “Phonograph” Agreement) covers all work related to the recording of music tracks for commercial sale or streaming, as well as traditional music videos, and live concert films. The agreement covers all instrumentalists and music preparation personnel, including royalty artists.

The current SRLA entered its third and final year on February 1 and will expire at the end of January 2020. A regular, non-symphonic “minimum call” recording session lasts three hours, during which up to 15 minutes of music may be recorded. The current side musician rate for a full-scale three-hour session is $434.21.

The fringe benefits are pension at 12.81 percent of scale and health benefits at $28 for the first session in a day and $22 for any additional sessions that same day. All sessions require a leader to be paid double scale and a contractor, also at double scale, is required for sessions employing 12 or more musicians.

There must be two 10-minute rest periods allowed during a basic session and there must be a 30-minute break between one session and the next, otherwise the continued work must be paid as overtime.

A session, once called, cannot be canceled or postponed less than seven days prior to the date of the session.

There are other rates available within the scope of SRLA, including “special sessions,” which are 90 minutes in length, allow for the recording of up to 7.5 minutes of material, and pays $286.59. Musicians must be notified in advance if their call is for a special session.

If the full budget of a recording project is under $99,000, the producer may apply for “low budget” status. For a low budget project, while most of the same provisions of the agreement apply, the scale wage for a three-hour session is $243.93. This option does not apply to theatrical cast albums, but those can be filed under our Local Limited Pressing Agreement’s Schedule B (more on that later.)

On the back end, all work filed under SRLA is eligible to receive “special payments” and once your name appears on a contract, you should receive checks from the Sound Recording Special Payments Fund every August for each of the next five years.

Now that you know the rates, the more important question is, how do you get paid? It can be confusing for a solo musician who is called at the last minute to come into the studio to lay down a track for a major artist and it can be intimidating to try to get management to pay them. It’s the responsibility of the leader or contractor to file the correct paperwork with the record label. Remember, all sessions require a leader to be paid double scale. So, if you’re working alone, that makes you the leader and puts the onus of filing a report form on your shoulders.

How do you prepare for that? The Local 802 Electronic Media Services Department is here to help.

SRLA work is filed on a “B-4 report form,” blank copies of which are available on our Contracts page (scroll down and look for “Studio and Recording Contracts”). If you’ve never filled out a report form before, we can help you – and, moreover, we can file the paperwork with the label on your behalf. The record label is obligated to pay musicians within 15 business days of the receipt of a completed B-form (not 15 days from the session itself), regardless of who sends it to them. It could be a contractor, Local 802, another member, or the producer, but you don’t get paid without it.

If you’re trying to budget for your own recording project, these scales and conditions might seem a bit high for you, but Local 802 administers a Limited Pressing Agreement for those projects that sell fewer than 10,000 units, this being the threshold for a record company to have an obligation to pay residuals to Special Payments. Limited Pressing sessions are filed on B-9 report forms. These projects must be approved, in advance, by Local 802.

Schedule A applies to most projects and has a sliding scale of wages depending on the size of the orchestra at a given session. The minimum call under this agreement is two hours instead of three, the leader and contractor premiums are 50 percent instead of 100 percent, and the orchestrator fees are 50 percent of the rates in the full book as well. For a session with one to seven musicians, the rate is $81 per hour and 7.5 minutes of music can be recorded per hour.

Schedule B applies to non-Tony eligible cast albums and pays the same rate as the low budget scales in the full SRLA ($243.93 for three hours.) In these cases, the discount on orchestrations can be massive.

Unlike major label recordings, the obligation to file a B-9 report form with Local 802 for a Limited Pressing falls on the producer and not the musicians.

The AFM’s Single Song Overdub Agreement can also be utilized in conjunction with a Limited Pressing project, allowing for musicians to negotiate their own per-track fee with the employer. For example, if you need someone to add a rhythm track for your project, you can have them record the piece from wherever they are, work out a price, and pay them with minimum difficulty. The local can help facilitate this process, including payroll.

If you’re trying to find financing for a project and want to record a demo, Local 802 administers a Demonstration Recording Agreement as well, with rates that are even lower than Limited Pressing. However, if the tracks recorded as a demo are later used in any other medium or are made available publicly, the full rates of the applicable AFM agreement must be paid. Demos are filed on B-5 report forms.

Last, but not least, if your band is self-recording a project and not hiring any additional musicians to perform for you, then no money needs to exchange hands at all, provided each member of the band has a share in the project. All you must do in this case is file a “Joint Venture” Agreement with the Local, memorializing the names of the musicians and the tracks on the project.

As you can see, there are a wide variety of payment options available to musicians recording tracks for sale and streaming, and knowing which agreement fits best might take a little bit of practice. Remember that the Local 802 Electronic Media Services Department is always available to help you find the right agreement and help you get paid properly for your work.