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Home » Electronic Media Services » Electronic Media Guarantees

Electronic Media Guarantees

  -  Director of Symphonic Electronic Media

Negotiating season is in full force as AFM orchestras are in the process of bargaining successor collective bargaining agreements (CBAs). At the same time, the Integrated Media Agreement (IMA) has come up for renewal. The current 2019-2022 IMA term expires on June 30, 2022. The AFM will be bargaining the successor agreement with the Employers’ Electronic Media Association (EMA). The first few dates are already scheduled.

As we receive reports and requests for review of media language in current CBAs as required by the AFM Bylaws, a disturbing trend has emerged. A number of symphonic employers are coming to the table with problematic proposals for electronic media guarantees (EMG).

Ordinarily, an EMG is a payment made to symphonic musicians in addition to their regular weekly salary, in anticipation of media projects that may take place at some point during the season. They operate as a kind of “layaway” for media projects. If the employer does a media project, it has paid (at least partly) in advance for that privilege; if it ends up not doing a media project, the musicians keep the EMG payment all the same.

Recent proposals have sought to “carve out” new EMGs from existing CBA salary, rather than paying them in addition to that salary. Such a proposal would have the effect of giving the employer free media product simply by maintaining the musicians’ existing wages. It would also have the effect of reducing the musicians’ CBA wages and devaluing the work they do—for both live concerts and electronic media.

These proposals are especially troubling when they come from managers of per-service orchestras, where musicians have no weekly salary and relatively low wages to begin with. In these situations, the proposal has the effect of reducing the per-service rate, sometimes below area standards (local scales) for the live work.

It isn’t just or fair to ask per-service musicians to earn less money than they currently do by subsidizing the cost of media services through their own wages. If the orchestra is doing a media project for which an upfront wage is due, the musicians should receive that media wage payment at the time of the project. This payment is in addition to their rehearsal and performance scale under the local CBA—not part of it. 

The IMA is a transformative agreement in many ways. The control and ownership of product is, for the most part, maintained by the symphonic employer. The rates for product created by and for the employer are much lower than the rates in agreements like the Sound Recording Labor Agreement (SRLA). These lower rates were agreed to as a means to acknowledge the shift in the creation of product from record labels to in-house recording. The IMA also allows for the possibility of licensing to distributors, knowing our employers do not necessarily have the ability to manage distribution on their own.

The fact that these rates are dramatically lower makes this agreement more affordable to our symphony, opera, and ballet employers who, for the most part, no longer have the record labels funding projects. The very idea of carving out a media payment from a per-service scale, when the actual recording scales are already low, is an insult to the work our IMA negotiating team did to make this a more affordable agreement. Per-service musicians do not earn enough income from each regional orchestra to be able to afford this type of carve-out. They have to play in multiple orchestras, juggle teaching responsibilities, and explore many other avenues to simply make a living. They are entitled to receive the media pay they earn when they work under the IMA or any other AFM Agreement. We urge continued resistance to these attempts to further reduce the hard-earned income of these regional orchestra musicians.

Tribute to Pat Varriale

As a point of personal privilege, I would like to close this article with a tribute to my wonderful friend and colleague, Pat Varriale, who died tragically on May 13, 2022. Pat was a tireless advocate for musicians. He worked at the AFM for 48 years, the last seven as director of the Electronic Media Services Division. He strived to improve the lives of working musicians every day for all of his long career. He was a kind spirit, generous to a fault, and gave to me and so many others his time and knowledge on a daily basis. I had the good fortune of working closely with him for over 20 years and I am the better for it. He was a wonderful mentor and friend. His passing leaves a giant hole in all our hearts.