Recording Musicians Speak Their Minds

Volume CV, No. 7/8July, 2005

Recording musicians spoke their minds at the May 11 meeting with the International Executive Board, which was the first time 802 members met face-to-face with the AFM’s leadership. As reported in last month’s Allegro, the hottest topic at the meeting had to do with proposed changes in how national recording contracts are ratified.

These changes are especially relevant now that a tentative agreement has been reached between the AFM and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. Musicians will vote on it later this summer. However, the question remains: who will get to vote on the contract?

In the past, recording musicians who earned $2,000 under either the theatrical film or television film agreements over a two-year period were eligible to vote on these contracts. (There are similar thresholds in place for the other recording agreements.)

The AFM is floating the idea of raising this threshold to $5,000 per national agreement.

Why? The federation wants to be more responsive to recording musicians across the country. But the proposed changes would concentrate the power of those recording musicians who work more. And it would diminish the power of many New York musicians who do a variety of professional work – various types of recording, Broadway, single engagements, concert work – but not enough theatrical or television film work to qualify to vote.

802 member John Beal told Allegro, “I’ve been in the recording business for 49 years. If the eligibility changed, I feel like I would be excluded from participating in something I’ve been doing a long time.”

While Local 802 played a key role in achieving consensus on the union side at the recent film negotiations, we do not support any change in the ratification eligibility requirements that would reduce our members’ ability to vote on the contract. Hopefully, 802’s solidarity and deference to musicians who do the majority of work under the film agreement demonstrates our support of the new contract. Our members’ right to vote should not be diminished as a result. Ultimately, the decision is the AFM’s call.

There were other areas of concern brought forward at the May 11 meeting as well. Some of them were:

  • Increasing the front-end work dues on recording work (currently 4 percent) in place of the assessment on Special Payments and Secondary Markets Funds payments.
  • Changing the way the Electronic Media Services Division is run and administered. (The EMSD is the part of the AFM that administers and negotiates all of the recording agreements.)
  • Possibly changing who the main negotiators are for the various AFM national recording agreements.

One of the most important outcomes of the meeting was a renewed sense of community among recording musicians. In fact, the union plans to form a recording musicians’ committee so that recording musicians have a constructive way to communicate with each other and Local 802 in the future.

Musicians should contact Jay Schaffner, 802’s recording supervisor, at (212) 245-4802 ext. 161 if they wish to be a part of the new committee.

A full report on the film negotiations will appear in an upcoming issue of Allegro.


In other recording news, the AFM has agreed to host a national recording database, which will keep track of sound recording and film projects. Currently, each local has to keep track of this information within its jurisdiction.

For instance, let’s say Sarah McLachlan hires studio musicians in New York City, Los Angeles and Vancouver for a new album. Then the recording gets used in a movie. Each local now has to make sure its own members get paid for a new use – Local 802 for musicians in New York, Local 47 for Los Angeles and Local 145 for Vancouver.

Let’s say this movie gets released on DVD. Now the Film Secondary Markets Fund has to compensate each of the Local 802, Local 47, and Local 145 musicians.

Along the way, some musicians might fall through the cracks. But what if all of the AFM locals and the film fund could “talk” to each other and share data? That’s exactly what the new database will accomplish.

The AFM estimates that the database will initially cost $14,000. Local 802 has pledged $3,000 towards this cost. The other major AFM locals, the AFM and the film fund are sharing the cost as well.