President’s Report

Preparations for Phono Negotiations Highight Industry Problems

Volume CI, No. 12December, 2001

Bill Moriarity

In my October report I introduced and published significant excerpts from a study of independent record labels by Stanley Aronowitz and Michael Roberts.

Their study clarifies the relationships that exist between and among the various “independent” record labels and the five major signatories to the Phonograph Record Labor Agreement (negotiations for a new agreement began on Oct. 31), and it demonstrates the important position the indies hold as a supplier of musical product, most often on a nonunion basis.

It is an important study because it succinctly outlines the structure of the present-day recording business in a way that has not been done before. I would urge all members to order a copy of the study through my office – or, at the very least, to read the synopsis published as part of the President’s Report in the October Allegro. Copies may be obtained upon request at the union.

The study sets out a problem that is being confronted by many unions – outsourcing of product development by large multinational corporations and the resultant blurring of the employer-employee relationship. There is no obvious solution to the problem, and none is provided by Aronowitz and Roberts. The answers must come from us.

To that end, we have held a series of staff meetings here to see if we can arrive at some of these answers, at least preliminarily. What has emerged most forcefully, however, has been the scope and complexity of the problem and the difficulty in finding a solution. Over the course of these internal discussions, we have become aware of certain recurring situations that need to be addressed or, at least, acknowledged. First and foremost, given the time frame of the Phonograph negotiations, is the administration and enforcement of that agreement.

As part of its preparation for the Phono negotiations, the AFM requested information from its locals as to contract administration and suggestions for contract proposals. It is startling to read in the report of local after local that, in an increasing number of cases from across the Federation, musicians who were formerly paid scale wages are being identified as “royalty artists” or “producers” – and, as a result, are receiving payment only as part of the production’s advance payment from the company.

In the words of the report from Vice-President Ginger L. Shults of Local 433 (Austin, Texas): “I know from talking with numerous royalty artists that the current practice of allowing industry to include the session payment as part of the artist advance means that the artist is, in reality, not getting a session payment. Since the advances are recoupable, the artist in the long run ends up reimbursing the company his/her session payment.”

Further in her report, she describes the apparently common practice of blatantly not paying royalty artists benefits on even the contractually minimal “one session per song” basis. She states, “While we attempt to collect the correct benefit payments, there are a number of factors that work against us in doing so. First, many royalty artists are intimidated by managers and/or their record labels and request that we not pursue this on their behalf. They are afraid that the label will drop them if the AFM intervenes. Secondly, industry simply refuses to pay the correct benefits.” All of this, it seems to me, makes it even more important that the AFM enforce the agreement across the board for all royalty artists.

AFM proposals to the industry include numerous provisions that seek to resolve these problems, and the Assistant Supervisor of our Recording Department has worked with the staff to prepare voluminous documentation of these situations. It is vital that we do this. We must be able to administer the contracts we now have and protect the musicians we now represent if we are to widen our representation in the future.

And representation must be widened. What was written in these pages over five years ago remains true today: “We cannot continue to tolerate a 40 to 50 percent rate of nonunion recordings on the charts. We can’t be satisfied with only representing “session” players. We have to develop relationships with the groups that are actually providing profits to the companies…

“[F]or decades we have ignored jazz record dates, blues recordings and Hispanic music. More recently, we have turned our backs on hip-hop and rap rhythm sections. In many parts of the Federation, we are still questioning whether rock and roll is here to stay. This cannot continue if we are to survive.”

Here at Local 802 we have not yet developed a comprehensive answer, although the programs put in place as part of our campaign to “Shine a Light on Dark Dates” continue to be pursued and have proven effective. Two things are immediately obvious, however.

  1. This requires a Federation-wide initiative. Recording is not location-specific and to pursue workplace organizing efforts effectively in only one local would merely cause the recording to be done in another local. And…
  2. It can’t be pursued at all without the complete cooperation and active participation of musicians. This involves not merely members reporting dates but also positively presenting the goals and philosophies of the trade union movement to their fellow musicians.