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Home » Officer Columns » 40-Year Perspective on Electronic Media at the AFM

40-Year Perspective on Electronic Media at the AFM


Electronic Media at the AFM

by Patrick M. Varriale, AFM EMSD Assistant Director

In October, I will be celebrating my 40th anniversary at the AFM—all in the Recording Department/Electronic Media Services Division. It’s been a long journey, yet in so many ways, it doesn’t feel nearly that long ago that I answered a simple newspaper ad that said, “clerical assistance needed, knowledge of music helpful.” I met the legendary Bob Crothers, who was the head of what was known as the Recording Department in those days, and Pat Havey, with whom I would form a 30-year working relationship and even longer friendship.

For my first three years, I sorted through many boxes of various session contracts (B-4 phonograph records, B-7 motion pictures and television films, B-8 videotape/live, etc.) categorizing them. This was long before we had a computer system, so it was all done by hand, including processing the huge volume of signatory paperwork we received from the many employers of musicians. I did not realize it then, but it served as the foundation of what was to come.

Eventually, I was assigned other tasks, and after being promoted to recording supervisor, I was assigned to be the administrator of the Television and Radio Commercial Announcements (Jingle) Agreement and the National Public Television (PBS) Agreement. As part of the Public TV Agreement, I worked exclusively with Crothers on the side letter that was developed for the musicians that perform unique services on the Sesame Street series. Those musicians benefited greatly from the side letter agreement, and to this day, receive payment for the continued use of their product in foreign co-productions.

I also began attending AFM Conventions, assisting Crothers who was the convention coordinator and Lew Mancini. It was there that I had the opportunity to meet local officers and player conference representatives face to face, after speaking with them on the phone over the years to solve electronic media problems.

In the early 1980s, Dick Gabriel, who would eventually succeed Crothers as the head of the department, came on board to expand the West Coast Office, which served essentially as a satellite office. Thus began our long and fruitful association. Crothers retired at the end of 1985. Pat Havey and I were in the midst of our “Pat and Pat” team in the New York office, and under Gabriel’s direction we dedicated ourselves to continuing Crothers’ great work. On the convention front, I continued to work with Crothers and Mancini, another treasured friend, as part of the convention team.

In the early 1990s, Gabriel assigned me to be administrator of the Phonograph Record/Sound Recording Labor Agreement (SRLA)—the agreement with the most signatory employers—while still overseeing the jingle, public TV, and National Public Radio agreements. I was extremely privileged to be a part of the Jingle Agreement negotiating team when we finally succeeded in achieving initial use payments for musicians, a long sought-after goal. In the mid ’90s, after a long campaign for musicians recording for companies in the area of contemporary Christian music, we negotiated the Low Budget Side Letter to the Recording Agreement. I was happy to oversee the success of this controversial initiative (ratified by a slim margin) as it expanded employment opportunities for musicians in all areas of music and gained new signatories to the SRLA.

Later on, with changing technologies and the digital movement, I was part of the AFM team when we achieved another long sought-after goal, the Digital Distribution Memorandum of Agreement. It resulted in additional payments into the Sound Recording Special Payments Fund from digital distribution of sound recordings.

I have also enjoyed advising musicians to register with SoundExchange, the performance rights organization that collects royalties for noninteractive digital transmissions including satellite and Internet radio. It distributes the featured artists’ share directly to the artists and distributes to the nonfeatured artists share (including session players) to AFM and SAG-AFTRA’s Intellectual Property Rights Distribution Fund. Over the years, there have been many recording musicians that I have spoken to who were not aware that there may be money for them from this type of use of their product.

In 2008, thanks in large part to Gabriel, I was elevated to assistant director of EMSD. It was among my proudest moments at the AFM to be granted that honor. I felt this achievement was the direct result of having the benefit of working with, and learning from, Crothers, Havey, Carol Sato, and most of all, Gabriel. I have also had the honor of working with my other colleagues in the New York and West Coast offices. They are truly dedicated people, devoted to improving the livelihoods of recording musicians.

The number of people in the New York EMSD office has been reduced to three, Maria Warner-Dowrich, Kim Wysocki, and I—a fraction of what it was in my early days. These colleagues have taken up the slack in the reduction of staff. I am in constant awe of their ability to maintain the viability of this department, even as the workload continues to increase. They are another example of my success: to have such truly talented individuals to work with.

Through all the bargaining sessions (some that went well into the night), ratifications, drafting and implementing agreements, collecting payments for musicians, conference calls, video chats, AFM Conventions, trade show participation, interacting with producers, employers, attorneys, local officers and staff, colleagues, but most of all musicians, it’s been a great ride, filled with too many rewarding experiences and cherished memories to mention. And as I write this, I am proud to say that I look forward to working with Bill Thomas, Gabriel’s successor as director of the EMSD, and continuing my role in the work of an extremely high volume department, committed to assisting the many talented recording musicians of the AFM.

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