How to protect yourself and your fellow musicians

Volume 120, No. 6June, 2020

Andy Schwartz



How to protect yourself and your fellow musicians

By Andy Schwartz

Video performances created from home are the fastest-growing response from musicians to the COVID-19 pandemic, offering everything from emotional support to our colleagues and a sharing of our talents, to benefit performances for charities serving our members or the community at large. We at Local 802 applaud all our members who seek to use their talents to provide uplifting music online during this terrible moment in our lives.

Let’s take a look at some of the scenarios in which you may participate in a live or pre-recorded video of your music.

A large majority of these videos, often created with various editing software (or performed live on Zoom or other videoconferencing applications) are by solo performers. As you may know, all electronic media is overseen by the AFM and we as local officers rely on our parent union to set the standards for recording work.

Per the AFM, solo performances posted on social media do not require the filing of an electronic media agreement as there is no “employer” hiring you for your services. If you do  want the protections of an AFM agreement as a solo performer, it’s easy to file an AFM Joint Venture agreement that does not initially require any payments of wages or benefits until the work receives commercial distribution of some kind. Click here to download a PDF of the Joint Venture Agreement. These agreements are filed with your local; to submit it to Local 802, send me an e-mail.

It becomes more a little more complicated when you approach someone, or someone else approaches you, to work on an online project. The nature of the project is a key factor in assessing how to best get the work covered under a union agreement. Will this be a brand-new video of your performance in synch with other musicians — or is it a previously recorded group performance that is now being released online? Is the purpose to raise money for a charitable organization that directly benefits our members like the Local 802 Emergency Relief Fund (for example, see our own videos here), Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids or Actors Fund of America? Perhaps the performance is by an orchestra or an ensemble that is already covered under a collective bargaining agreement and is hoping to remain connected with its audience during the pandemic. Or, is this a commercial distribution, intended to be profit-making? For example, if the video is posted on YouTube with advertising enabled, then this would likely fall into the realm of a for-profit enterprise and cannot be thought of as purely charitable in nature. Knowing the facts on a performance offer and what the intended usages will be is the first step in protecting yourself.

Some classical orchestras are covered under an AFM Integrated Media Agreement that covers many of the needs of the organization in the electronic media milieu. That IMA does not necessarily cover all the potential usages and so that becomes a matter of contract interpretation and is handled by AFM’s Symphonic Services Division. Other ensembles’ employers may have no other language in their AFM agreements other than the requirement that any recording will be covered under the appropriate AFM recording contract. If you are producing a video on behalf of a classical ensemble, please e-mail Local 802 Financial Vice President Karen Fisher before proceeding. She may refer you to the AFM.

So how do we proceed when a call comes in to work on a streamed project? If we are being asked to work without a professional level of compensation, or without scale wages with health and pension benefits, the clarifying questions need to be put to the person calling you. At this time, all requests for videos of ensemble performances are handled on a case-by-case basis at the AFM. While some may think that making such a request will slow down the process of releasing a video or streaming live, the AFM has been able to quickly respond to these inquiries with both helpful information and with agreements that are custom-fit to enable the show to go on. You can start with me, and I’ll be able to refer you to the appropriate person at the AFM if necessary.

Regardless of the scenario, it pays to contact your local to find out how the specific streaming performance should be covered and if your work will be fully protected. It’s often tempting to look at these videos as something to do to maintain our creative connections or contractor relationships. Without an agreement, however, the result may be losing your control of the final product and then hearing or seeing your work online or elsewhere, monetized by others without recourse. Let’s come together and face this pandemic with all our musical resources — but let’s also be smart about maintaining our right to professional working terms and conditions when those are due us.

 If you’re a Local 802 member who has questions about creating a video project, you can start with the Local 802 Electronic Media Department. Contact Andy Schwartz at

Andy Schwartz is the recording vice president of Local 802 and the supervisor of Local 802’s Electronic Media Project. See the fundraising campaign of the Emergency Relief Fund at

See also “Working at Home — While Collecting Union Benefits,” by Andy Schwartz and Pete Donovan, from the May 2020 issue of Allegro.