The Musicians’ Voice

Volume CVI, No. 7/8July, 2006

The Musicians’ Voice is an open forum for discussion about the state of union affairs. The views expressed here do not express the views of Local 802. Letters must be 300 words or less. Send them to Allegro, c/o Local 802, 322 West 48th Street, New York, NY 10036, or e-mail Mikael Esila, the editor, at


To the Editor:

Are you a musician or recording artist who works with indie labels or who gigs in the related network of clubs and touring circuits? If so, we want to hear from you. We suspect there are many of us scattered throughout Local 802, and we’re starting a discussion group to talk about our problems, articulate issues, and move towards action that can actually address them. E-mail me at

–Marc Ribot


To the Editor:

I just got back from viewing the new movie “An Inconvenient Truth,” narrated by Al Gore, and was sufficiently alarmed by its contents to want other union friends and members to know about it.

The movie is not particularly political. It’s just a scientific, moral study of what rapid global warming is doing to the planet. It will probably be of great interest to our New Orleans Philharmonic union members — or any musician living near a coastline, including the eastern and western coasts (like San Francisco or NYC). The movie makes me wonder if it is possible to include flood insurance on bassoons or oboes in the New York area!

The movie explains quite clearly what caused the incredible buildup of the hurricane that hit New Orleans (which was only a stage one hurricane), what happened when it passed Florida, and how this scenario will probably continue to occur quite often in the near future.

Again, this film is not slanted one way or the other politically, but is an important and timely documentary of what may well face us all in the not-so-distant future.

I highly recommend this movie to my union colleagues, regardless of one’s political, environmental or musical slant.

–Jim Jeter


To the Editor:

Jay Schaffner’s March Allegro article, “Musicians of the World Unite” contains numerous inaccuracies. 

He states, “A decade ago, it was not unusual for six to 12 different films to be scored simultaneously in Los Angeles, employing upwards of 1,200 musicians. Today, it is lucky if three films are scored simultaneously, and no more than 300 to 400 musicians are typically working at any one time.”

This is absurd. Los Angeles never had enough scoring stages to support that much work. The entire industry does two to four general film releases per week. And Local 47 data going back to 1992 shows that most major signatory companies don’t even do a single weekly release. About 900 L.A. musicians qualified for the film health plan during the same period.

He states further that music for the film “King Kong” “was initially being recorded in Australia and New Zealand” and that “the work was not going fast enough to meet the release deadline. So, two weeks before release the score was shifted to Los Angeles.”

In fact, scoring moved to L.A. about seven weeks before release. Schaffner should know that a major film cannot be scored two weeks before release. At that juncture, the actual prints for the film are being made and distributed. 

Schaffner goes on: “The cost of recording music in other countries is vastly lower than in the United States. For example, recording budgets in Canada do not include the cost of health coverage, since Canada has a national health plan.” 

As Schaffner should know, payments for Canadian AFM film work add health premiums to musician’s paychecks, the same as is done in a U.S. city with no local health plan.

Perhaps 802’s recording supervisor should spend more time amassing accurate data and less time as a “Concerned Perhaps 802’s recording supervisor should spend more time amassing accurate data and less time as a “Concerned Musician.”

–Michael Comins
The writer is the founding international secretary of the Recording Musicians Association.

Jay Schaffner responds:

I would like to thank Mike Comins for his corrections to the article that I wrote for Allegro.

Mike is right that the scoring for the film “King Kong” did not take place in two weeks. It took place in three weeks, not the seven which he states, according to the story by Jon Burlingame in Variety of Nov. 29, 2005. (Recording started Oct. 29, ended three weeks before the Dec. 14 release, and was done mainly on weekends.)

(To see Burlingame’s article, visit

Burlingame surely knows about the film industry, recording musicians and the RMA, as he is the author of the book, “For the Record: The Struggle and Ultimate Political Rise of American Recording Musicians Within Their Labor Movement,” the highly regarded history of recording musicians in the AFM and the RMA.

My Allegro article did not say there are no health contributions made by Canadian film employers. In writing that most budgets “do not include the cost of health coverage,” I was making the point that national health plans in most “civilized, industrial countries” other than the United States relieve employers of much of the financial burden of providing coverage. Here in the U.S., the totality of those costs is factored in and budgeted by producers and musicians.

I am disheartened to see that Mike’s nitpicking is the upshot of our finding ourselves on opposite sides of an unrelated disagreement about the conduct of our local’s leadership. Mike sides with the local’s president, whom I have criticized for financial malfeasance and what I feel amounts to stealing 802’s members’ money. Perhaps because these actions are indefensible, Mike is left with no choice but to strike out at the messenger, rather than the culprit.


To the Editor:

I support our local’s administration and urge David Lennon not to resign. As a member of the NYC Ballet Orchestra Committee, I’ve had many close dealings with both David and Jay Blumenthal through the course of negotiations. Six months before we began bargaining, David asked if we could include our orchestra in Local 802’s live music campaign, in preparation for what we thought would be a long and hard negotiation. David wanted to increase our orchestra’s visibility, ensuring that we would have a better bargaining position than we did in 1999 — the year of our last, disastrous strike. It was David who arranged a photo shoot, placed the photo in Stagebill ads, and pushed us to do radio spots on WINS and Air America. Once negotiations began, David and Jay supported and fought hard for our committee’s positions. At no time did we feel that the local’s priorities were different from our bargaining unit’s, nor did we ever worry that deals were being made about which we knew nothing. It was a true collaboration that resulted in what we believe was the best contract possible in our current climate.

While I do not condone the financial improprieties attached to David’s office which have recently come to light, it is my understanding that the Executive Board has already taken steps to address the situation, and implement new policies — and even bylaws — to prevent future abuses. We have an election coming soon enough in December. If the membership is not satisfied with all the measures taken by that time, we will be able to vote David out of office. For now, I urge the membership to let him, our other officers, and our Executive Board get on with the job of running the local and promoting live music.

–Sara Cutler

To the Editor:

I am saddened and dismayed at the mob mentality that is currently attempting to hijack our union and use decidedly distasteful tactics to discredit our president, David Lennon, on a personal as well as professional level.

I am equally saddened that David has made himself vulnerable to these kinds of attacks. Nonetheless, I respect David and his position.

We need to make what we currently have in place work. Angry people who are not trying to heal things but insist on taking over as a quick fix should not be allowed to run roughshod over the more even-tempered and thoughtful majority of the rank and file who sadly too often choose not to get involved with union matters.

I urge David Lennon to stay the course, continue to be as transparent as possible regarding past mistakes and lead us out of this political chaos.

David, I believe, has the power to address union reform and not only put in order some important issues that have troubled a great many people but to “rehabilitate” himself in a public way that would restore some of the confidence in him that has been lost.

David, simply put, is a good man. Both he and our union deserve better.

–Steve Mack
The writer is a member of the orchestra for the Broadway show “Rent.”