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 www.afm.org/join.
January 1, 2024IM -
by Wages Argott, AFM Director of Freelance Services and Membership Development
For many freelance and independent musicians, the thought of organized labor has long been reserved for those in service industries, manufacturing, trades, and public service. Regardless of the discipline, the gains achieved through collective power can’t be ignored. We need only look at the recent progress made by our writer and actor siblings in Hollywood to see parallels with our basic needs: better pay, better working conditions to preserve our dignity, and protections from replacement by technology, including artificial intelligence. The broad formula for this success has been simple: thousands of workers collecting their voices and signaling that the status quo is unacceptable.
In 2023, we saw a strong year for labor, with significant wins across many sectors of employment, from tech development to the auto industry, and of course our fellow creative workers in the film industry. For 2022, data showed union membership at around 11% of the full-time US workforce, representing over 16 million workers employed under a negotiated union contract. Even more encouraging was the increase of nearly 300,000 unionized workers in 2022. I anticipate the data released later this month will show an even higher number for 2023.
While the strikes this year seemed to have deprived consumers of new artistic content for a significant amount of time, history has shown that change can happen relatively quickly with a unified show of strength. In the late 1930s, union membership in the US rose from 13% to 27%, in just two years. We’ve watched union membership catch fire in the modern era, as we see workers draw inspiration from the success of one workplace and duplicate it in their own. Take the example of Starbucks: zero unionized corporate-owned stores in November 2021, two in December 2021, but by the close of 2022, over 250. The number now stands at over 350 and growing, inspiring workers everywhere to action.
AFM membership across North America is over 50,000 strong, but the number of musicians performing musical work is much greater. While we already have a significant voice in our livelihood and the future of our industry, it takes all of us together to effect meaningful and lasting change. While the AFM Bylaws define eligibility for membership as encompassing “individuals who render musical services of any kind,” many musicians, especially in recent history, haven’t considered themselves candidates for Federation membership.
At the 102nd AFM Convention, we took the very important step of publicly affirming and welcoming DJs, hip-hop, and EDM artists as members of the AFM, via the adoption of Resolution 21. Even this small collection of genres represents much of the music we digest daily across all platforms, and a significant portion of our freelance community.
How do we achieve more strength and solidarity? Maybe the answer is to start on a smaller scale than some of these larger labor actions we see so heavily publicized. There are a few places for freelance Federation members to start.
First, take pride in your Federation membership and your professional product. File one of our many form-fillable gig contracts for your live, recording, or streaming work (at or above minimum rates), and know that both parties are protected and the local can help enforce the contract, if anything goes wrong. Take some of the guesswork out and list your act on www.AFMEntertainment.org, our international booking agency, and let us manage the communication and paperwork. Expose predatory employers via unfair listings or via Venuology.org, our online venue review site for all musicians. Also, use this site to let other musicians know about employers who are doing business the right way. Take part in your local’s membership meetings. Add your voice to internal and public elections or the ratification of contracts with employers for which you work. Reach out to the world by strengthening your social media profile and building a professional website. (Learn more about low-cost options with the AFM’s GoProHosting.com).
Most importantly, don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself or fellow musicians. Never accept pay or conditions that are below fair standards. While we are stronger together and our numbers are in the thousands, it takes just one small ensemble crossing the line to signal to an unfair employer that we’ll accept less, which deprives you of your livelihood and sets back our movement. The stakes are high. But, just as small actions can harm, they can also build solidarity, educate, and inspire growth and forward movement. As a freelance musician you are independent, but as a Federation member, you never have to go it alone.
As we begin 2024, I can’t help but feel gratitude, admiration, and renewed hope as we continue to build and grow toward a stronger future for our Federation and musical community. My position as director of freelance services and membership development has been rewarding on so many levels. I’ve shared success, frustration, and many emotions in between with so many of you over the last few years. It is a distinct honor and privilege to help guide this department into a new era and support so many of your innovative ideas for growth and progress. We’ve teamed up to tackle all kinds of challenges, both on the local level and with our general membership, who I’ve had the pleasure of assisting directly. Our vision is increasingly clearer and stronger and I can’t wait to see what we accomplish together next.