Now is the right time to become an American Federation of Musicians member. From ragtime to rap, from the early phonograph to today's digital recordings, the AFM has been there for its members. And now there are more benefits available to AFM members than ever before, including a multi-million dollar pension fund, excellent contract protection, instrument and travelers insurance, work referral programs and access to licensed booking agents to keep you working.

As an AFM member, you are part of a membership of more than 80,000 musicians. Experience has proven that collective activity on behalf of individuals with similar interests is the most effective way to achieve a goal. The AFM can negotiate agreements and administer contracts, procure valuable benefits and achieve legislative goals. A single musician has no such power.

The AFM has a proud history of managing change rather than being victimized by it. We find strength in adversity, and when the going gets tough, we get creative - all on your behalf.

Like the industry, the AFM is also changing and evolving, and its policies and programs will move in new directions dictated by its members. As a member, you will determine these directions through your interest and involvement. Your membership card will be your key to participation in governing your union, keeping it responsive to your needs and enabling it to serve you better. To become a member now, visit


Home » Officer Columns » President's Message » FIM: Action Speaks Louder than Words

FIM: Action Speaks Louder than Words

  -  AFM International President

Following is the text of the keynote speech I delivered February 25, 2014 in Oslo, Norway on the occasion of the 3rd International Orchestra Conference hosted by the International Federation of Musicians (FIM).

On behalf of the entire membership of the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada, the largest labor union in the world representing professional musicians, I am pleased to be with you this week, along with AFM Symphonic Services Director Jay Blumenthal, and our player conference representatives, Bruce Ridge of ICSOM, Carla Lehmeier of ROPA, and Elizabeth Johnston of OCSM.

Today, I will talk with you a bit about the symphonic media issues we face in America, but I want to do so in the context of a greater issue that affects the relationship between the AFM and FIM, and the lives of professional musicians everywhere.

Those of you who are familiar with the AFM know that we are a proud organization, a labor union of many constituencies performing every genre of music in every conceivable venue—and it’s the music the world wants to hear. AFM members create the most popular music in the world, consumed worldwide more than product from any other country. And as we all know, many of the collective rights management societies around the world assess and collect rights revenue earned by AFM members without distributing it to us.

We are pleased that at the FIM Congress last year, delegates adopted an AFM resolution endorsing the principle of “No Collection Without Distribution,” affirming a widely-accepted understanding that no collecting society in any state should collect remuneration on the performances of musicians from any other state without distributing it to them.

The AFM is a network of over 200 local organizations throughout the US and Canada. We were born in 1896, when local officers broke away from another, older organization known as the National League of Musicians. That organization failed because the respective local organizations were weak. Delegates would travel great distances—by ship and train in those days—to come together at their regular meetings to discuss issues of mutual concern, but nothing ever got done. No plans of action were ever developed or implemented. They were nothing more than a travel club.

The National League of Musicians failed because it was merely a forum of discussion. It did not seek agreements with employers and it did not promote action plans among its affiliates to resolve disputes between them. The League was dominated by a small group of locals controlled by elitists who promoted only their own limited self-serving agendas. The League resisted any attempt to encourage organizing or concerted activity toward employers to improve musicians’ lives. Too much talk, and not enough action. Or as we say in Texas—they were all hat and no cattle.

Activist officers from League locals finally broke away in 1896 and formed the AFM to facilitate organizing—to establish alliances with other influential trade unions of the day, to build and project union power, to give rise to real unionism—to find the good in each other and to work together to take care of each other, not to take from each other to feed the few, at the expense of the many.

The new AFM and its leadership wanted to organize and bargain hard with the employers—not to just travel around to sit and talk like the League did, only to return home and be left to bargain with themselves.

The AFM became an international union in 1897 with the charter of our Quebec local in Canada. Mylene Cyr is here today representing our Quebec Local 406.

Today the AFM negotiates constructive agreements that are applied across North America and throughout the world, and they are progressive, because we organize to bargain and we bargain to organize. There are only two reasons for a union to exist: to organize and to bargain. And if you’re not doing that, you’re not a union—you’re either a conference or a club.

The ability of a union to bargain progressive agreements is directly proportional to the degree to which you are organized in the workplace. Organizing and its byproduct, real unionism, happen when musicians identify, articulate, and prioritize their needs and then together, with their union, develop plans of action to address those needs. We do this in America. We do this in Canada. We do this, because as musicians, we are special, because we bring joy to the world.

In America, right now, Jay, Bruce, Carla, and I, together with player reps from dozens of US orchestras, are negotiating with over 70 symphonic institutions for a successor agreement covering all electronic media services other than live local radio and TV.

The employers’ proposal aims to blur the line between capture for legitimate institutional recording projects and capture for news and promotional purposes. They want to capture essentially all rehearsal and performance services—which could number into the hundreds—and they want the right to release content with little or no upfront payment and without third party licensing restrictions. Each orchestra institution seeks to be a worldwide media content provider, without adequate payment obligations for our musicians. Such an arrangement would jeopardize the integrity of other Federation media agreements. It would undermine media agreements in every other part of the world and would affect your organizations as well. You see, an injury to one is an injury to all.

In one instance, these employers demanded that a musician’s upfront payment of $53.05 for a national radio broadcast be reduced to $2.47. They hope to destroy the employment standards we established back in the 1940s, when the AFM succeeded in organizing all major North American orchestras. We will fight this and we will win, because we are united, and because we are stronger together.

Worldwide, AFM commercial media agreements for film and sound recordings and jingles are under attack, as US state and federal tax incentives, combined with those in many foreign countries have accelerated the outsourcing of US soundtrack production. Producers who used to spend a dollar on musicians in Hollywood, now, with tax credits, spend a half dollar in the UK, or a quarter of a dollar in Prague, or 10 cents on the dollar in Bratislava, and even less than that in Russia.

And don’t forget the collectives—they collect, but they don’t pay, and the people who run them get rich. The collectives are the poster children of unfairness. They get the money but they don’t pay us, and they don’t pay you, either. The employers win. We musicians, we lose. We make all the music, and everybody else makes all the money. It’s a global marketplace with no border. And it’s got to change.

That’s why we need a worldwide union for professional musicians. That’s my message for you today. It’s time to establish a global musician’s union—a true union of musicians’ unions with real commitment, not to just sit and talk, but to do something. Today, I’m issuing a call to action—to develop plans of action to protect and defend the interests of professional musicians against exploitation worldwide, to stop the race to the bottom. Global media companies are collaborating with our governments to lower our wages and our standard of living. But because we are stronger together, we can stop that. We can make a difference.

I ask you today—will you join me in a commitment to organize and bargain for our future—to get for professional musicians what we rightly deserve? Will you urge your unions to become more than just a conference, to be a real union—not just to talk about problems, but to develop action plans to correct them? I know we can do this. We can change the world. By acting together, we can build real unionism. Then and only then we can truly be an International Federation of Musicians.

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