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Home » Organizing » Electronic Media Guarantees

Electronic Media Guarantees


by Deborah Newmark, AFM Symphonic Services Division Director of Symphonic Electronic Media

Electronic media guarantees (EMGs) have existed for decades but are not always well understood. What are they? How did they come into existence? How are they meant to be used? This article will explore the often confusing world of EMGs.

What is an electronic media guarantee?

An EMG is an agreed upon a sum of money, over and above the weekly wages, that the employer prorates and pays to the musicians on a weekly basis as an advance against future media work to be performed during the concert season. Once the EMG figure is agreed upon by the union and the employer, it is paid to the musicians, regardless of the amount of media work actually performed during the season. It is a “use it or lose it” proposition. The EMG is credited against any media payments due a musician for the recording work done during that concert season under the appropriate AFM Agreement.

The employer must keep an accurate accounting of all media work credited against the guarantee, including the contractual media rate(s) at which they are credited, and present it to each musician at the conclusion of the season. Media earnings in excess of the guaranteed amount are paid to the musicians at the appropriate rate under the applicable AFM media agreement in effect at that time.

A number of orchestras in the US have EMGs, therefore they are making media guarantee payments throughout the season. The other orchestras pay for media projects as they occur.

How did EMGs come into existence?

In researching this article, I had an opportunity to speak with Brad Buckley, former International Conference of Symphony Musicians (ICSOM) chair, as well as the former chair of the ICSOM Media Committee. Buckley recalled that the earliest instance of what was then called a “recording guarantee” came into existence decades ago with the Philadelphia Orchestra, during the tenure of Music Director Eugene Ormandy.

The maestro oftentimes played favorites by inviting selected members of the orchestra to record, rather than using the full orchestra who performed these works in concert. At that time, under the terms of the national recording agreements, only those that played got paid. Members of the orchestra felt that the entire orchestra should record, not just the maestro’s favorites, and as a result, the entire orchestra would then be paid. This continued practice led to a successful campaign within the Philadelphia Orchestra to establish a recording guarantee in addition to the musicians’ existing salary. The thinking behind the guarantee was that having to pay every member of the orchestra the same amount would inspire the music director to use the entire orchestra for recordings. All members of the orchestra would share in the work and all would share in the fruits of the orchestra’s labor.

Ultimately, recording guarantees morphed into electronic media guarantees and many orchestras embraced the concept of amortizing the cost of media over an entire season rather than follow the pay-as-you-go model.

Around the same time, an effort was made at the national level to modify the existing payment structure in the symphonic section of the then-named, AFM Phonograph Recording Labor Agreement (PRLA) (now the Sound Recording Labor Agreement, or SRLA), the primary AFM recording agreement then and now.

A new structure was put in place under the terms of the PRLA that required that all members of an orchestra be paid regardless of whether they play on the recording or not. Those that are not required to play receive two-thirds the pay of those that do play. This is called the “permanent member” clause and it exists to this day under the SRLA. This concept recognizes the fact that the orchestra’s name is on the recorded product and that all members of the orchestra should share in the fruits of that labor and be recognized as the orchestra so labeled.

How are EMGs meant to be used?

EMGs are used to cover the costs of symphony, opera, or ballet media projects under the terms of the applicable symphony, opera, or ballet AFM media agreement. They can also be used to cover the wages of local radio and local TV broadcasts whose payments are stipulated in the orchestra’s collective bargaining agreement. The basic construct is to utilize the guarantee for work of a symphonic, operatic, or ballet nature, and not to offer up an EMG to an outside commercial third-party producer to subsidize their costs. This issue has come up recently as orchestras begin to record with pop stars. Many pop stars are signed to major record labels that are signed to our commercial recording agreement(s), obligating the label to pay in accordance with the terms and conditions of that agreement.

In a hypothetical example, an orchestra is approached to back up a big-named pop star in a live concert, as well for some type of media release (e.g., CDs, Internet streaming and downloads, or DVDs). This commercial recording artist typically works for a record label, which assumes the cost of recordings released by this artist. Along comes the employer of orchestra “x” who offers to credit the banked EMG, which in turn results in subsidy to the commercial producer who now doesn’t have to come up with the costs of paying the musicians for the recording. The end result is that the record label walks away without having to pay the musicians’ recording wages when creating a recording with a commercial recording artist. This is not what EMGs were designed to do. They were never meant to provide third-party producers with free or discounted recordings. They exist to support the media work created from performances of traditional repertoire of symphony, opera, and ballet orchestras.

This has been and continues to be a contentious issue with some orchestra employers and we all need to be mindful within our own orchestras that such subsidy must not occur. In addition to the damage caused within the symphonic world we also cause harm to our recording brothers and sisters who make their livelihood from recording work. A union works hard to maintain a level playing field for all members. Continued monitoring and attention to this issue within the symphony, opera, and ballet community will ensure that this practice stops and that we can all be treated fairly and equally.

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