Recording Department Breaks New Record

Volume CIX, No. 5May, 2009

Jay Schaffner

As the economy began to slide last year, and as recording work started a downward turn, Local 802’s Recording Department was still able to collect the most money for musicians in union history.

The total number — which includes grievances, new agreements, collections, benefits and late penalty wages — surpasses the previous record, which was also set by the Recording Department.

The data are for calendar year 2008. A total of just over $2.7 million was collected in wages and benefits owned to musicians. (In 2007, the total was $2.5 million.)

When you crunch the numbers, it also appears that the union is collecting more for musicians from a percentage point of view.

  • In calendar year 2007, for every $500 earned by a musician under a union recording contract, there was a “missing” $50 that was owed to them. In other words, total grievance collections were about 10 percent of wages earned by musicians. 
  • In calendar year 2008, this number increased to just over 13.5 percent. That means for every $500 earned by a musician under a union recording contract, there was a missing $67.50 that was recovered by the Recording Department.

These “missing” dollars are either deliberate or inadvertent mistakes that employers make, such as underpayment, treating an overdub as a double, or paying late and then having to pay a late fee. There are dozens of other reasons as well.

As the economy slumps, the role of the union in protecting musicians is more important than ever. Musicians simply cannot afford to lose money owed to them.

There’s another point here, too. When a musician loses money and the gig is nonunion, there is little to no chance of recovering the money. So we need to cover even more recording jobs under union agreements, just as we did with the TV show “WonderPets!” (See last month’s Allegro story.) 

The bottom line is that if employers are not held accountable by a union agreement, chances are we are going to see a continuing decline in total union recording wages and benefits for all musicians.

My current recommendation is that whenever a musician is called for a recording job of any kind, you should call the job in to the Recording Department at (212) 245-4802. We can ascertain whether or not the job is union. We can also help make the job union. All calls are treated in confidence.

As in past years, the high level of collections is the combined work of the entire staff of the Recording Department — business reps, organizers and clerks — working together with the recording musicians of Local 802 and the AFM.


The future of the videogame field is uncertain. But whatever happens, the AFM is working to capture this work, promising musicians the protections of a union contract.

Last June, Allegro reported on the AFM’s videogame agreements. Now, nine months later, the AFM has ratified the latest version.

“The union has proven it is ready, willing and able to cover videogame musicians under a union contract,” videogame composer Tom Salta told Allegro. “The new AFM agreement makes this possible.” Salta’s music for Ubisoft’s game “Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X” was recorded under union sessions.

Last year, the daily newspaper A.M. New York reported that there were more than 1,200 people working in 85 videogame companies in New York City and this could double in the next few years. The same story said that videogames contribute $3.8 billion to the nation’s gross domestic product. Also last year, the New York Times reported that videogames are selling faster than CD’s and movies.

But this year the New York Times wrote that even though the industry brings in billions in sales and revenue, the cost of producing videogames puts such a damper on profits that the industry’s future is uncertain.

Details of the AFM’s videogame agreement can be obtained by e-mailing me at