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 » Freelancers: Joining the AFM Could Be the Best Move You Ever Made!

Freelancers: Joining the AFM Could Be the Best Move You Ever Made!

  -  AFM International President

NOTE: Local 542 (Flint, MI) President Joe Boettger recently forwarded a radio ad voice-over script he was producing that surprisingly was an excerpt from a freelance recruiting piece I wrote for AFM President Fuentealba in 1985, and I believe it’s still relevant today. Following is a slightly updated version of that article.

So, you’re developing a career as a professional musician. Or, you’ve been in it for a while, and you’re finding out it’s tough. Real tough. You’ve spent a considerable amount of time learning how to make music, and you’ve invested large sums of money in instruments and audiovisual gear. After many hours of preparation, you and your group are looking for a way into the business. Or, you’re doing everything possible to stay in business.

If you’re serious about a career as a professional musician, then talk to people who know about the business of music, who know how musicians are treated by music purchasers, contractors, agents, and managers, and by those who seek to broker the deals and control the musical workplace where you live and work, whether locally, regionally, nationally, internationally, or virtually.

You need fast and accurate information from industry professionals who are on your side, who know the media producers and how they operate, who know how much the producer owes you for content. You need access to invaluable support from professional musicians across the United States and Canada—an association that was around before the record companies, television and film companies, before Disney, HBO, Warner and Universal, before the booking agents and managers (before Spotify, Apple, and Hulu were ever imagined). I’m talking about the American Federation of Musicians. The AFM. We’ve been representing the interests of professional musicians since 1896, and we’ve seen it all come and go. It doesn’t take long to realize that, if you’re not careful, the music business can be one big, gigantic rip-off.

The growth of the global media industry over recent decades has been explosive, attracting musicians like yourself, lured by an intense desire to perform and be heard, knowing that fortunes may be rapidly built. And lost!

Where does the AFM come in? If you’ve got your act together, then it’s time for you and your colleagues to join the AFM. If you follow our advice, you can dramatically reduce the risk of being devastated by problems, which are commonplace in the pursuit of a career in music.

The key to your protection is the proper use of AFM contracts and working under AFM agreements. They’ve been the industry standard since the industry began, designed for live gigs, for all forms of media production—streaming audio, video, television, motion pictures—and for use when employing a booking agent or personal manager. All are prepared with your interests uppermost in mind, for the exclusive use of AFM members. An AFM contract for every performance or recording session, properly executed, with a copy on file at the appropriate AFM local, provides the legal basis for your protection should a problem occur.

And, there are always problems. Here are some situations you might encounter:

  • The purchaser of music tells you that you’ll have to pack up and get out, even though you have three nights left on your contract.
  • You arrive at the gig and find your equipment moved and another band setting up on stage.
  • You have a perfectly good contract, the former manager who signed it has been fired, and the new manager is trying to get out of the contract.
  • You discover that your performance is being captured and live streamed, or streamed on demand for a fee, payable to the venue and producer, without any additional compensation to you.

In these instances, the purchaser of music is: 1) about to default on your deal, or 2) in the streaming example, about to create content from your performance and monetize it without your permission.

The ability of the Federation to intervene and help solve these sticky situations rests entirely on the existence of an appropriate AFM contract, executed by the purchaser. If the purchaser refuses to abide the contract terms, you, your AFM local, and the Federation have standing to enforce it.

Now, about the booking agents. There are numerous occasions where an agent will become directly involved in the process of contracting an engagement. Have you ever heard an agent say, “That’s my room. If you want to play there, you’ll have to deal through me. We book that room exclusively.” Or an agent calls and offers your group a gig and then says the booking agency is the buyer and is “double contracting” the gig, with an effective rate of commission of 50% to 100%.

Or, when trying to deal directly with a place of engagement, you are referred to an agency claiming they can book the job for you, but you’ll have to sign a two-year “exclusive” booking and management agreement. You sign the agreement and your “manager” then tells you the room is booked solid for the next nine months but they have two weeks open starting tomorrow night in Tiera del Fuego.

To protect AFM members against unscrupulous agency practices, the Federation’s Booking Agent Agreement establishes rules governing the relationship between musician and agent. Under that agreement, only approved AFM contract forms are permitted, which must specify payment of at least minimum scale before any agency commission is payable. For musicians and groups who wish to employ only one agent or agency, the AFM’s Exclusive Agent-Musician Agreement obligates the agent to obtain a specific amount of gainful employment for you, or the agreement is terminated.

What about the business of electronic media? The major record labels, the major minor labels, and many independent labels are signatory to the Federation’s Sound Recording Labor Agreement covering the services of musicians as leaders, contractors, copyists, orchestrators, and arrangers, when employed in the making of sound recordings. The agreement specifies minimum pay for a basic session.

There are Federation recording agreements for each medium: jingles, live television, television film, motion pictures, public television, as well as live and archived streaming. Because of the distinct differences found in each medium, separate scale and fringe payments are set for each agreement. Many AFM media agreements provide for additional payment to each musician if the content is replayed, retransmitted, or reused in a different medium. All Federation agreements require the producer to contribute on your behalf to the AFM’s Pension Fund.

Have you ever cut a demo or a master, or provided content on spec (speculation)? The producer, wanting to obtain content for little or nothing at all, hands you a line like, “If it sells, we’ll all make some money.” Or, better yet, “Don’t you just want to get your name out there?” Before the session begins, contact your local or the Federation and find out whether the producer is a signatory to the proper AFM media agreement. If so, you are entitled to appropriate wage and fringe payments for the session and additional payment for exploitation in different mediums.

Lastly, the AFM and SAG-AFTRA together collect and distribute intellectual property rights and royalty payments to session musicians and vocalists in accordance with US copyright law. “Do we have royalties for you?” may be an unexpected question—but it is a question we take great pleasure in asking. Visit for more information.

Protecting yourself and your creative content when pursuing a career in music is extremely difficult, regardless of your level of talent and musical expertise. The problems posed are enormous. Overcoming those problems requires vast amounts of time, energy, and effort that most would rather devote toward improving our musicianship.

Your decision to join the American Federation of Musicians should be the next important step in your musical career. We know the problems of this business. We’ve been part of the solution for over 125 years. Joining the AFM could the best move you ever made.

If you are already an AFM member, this column is a reminder of some of the protections the union provides. However, there are many other musicians who don’t realize what AFM membership may offer. Please share this column with freelancers in your community and invite them to become connected to your local.

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