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Home » Orchestra News » IMA COVID Side Letter – Take 2

IMA COVID Side Letter – Take 2

  -  Director of Symphonic Electronic Media

On March 8, the AFM reached agreement with the Employers’ Electronic Media Association (EMA) on a new Integrated Media Agreement (IMA) COVID Side Letter for the 2021-22 season. This agreement is available to IMA signatories whose musicians are guaranteed compensation for the 2021-22 season.

We had certainly hoped that we would return to some semblance of normalcy over the course of the 2020-21 season. That did not turn out to be the case, although we do have some orchestras performing in front of live audiences. However, it has become evident that we need to continue with the model we had in place for the current season for those orchestras that want to continue utilizing the free streaming rights contained in the 2020-21 IMA COVID Side Letter in exchange for a commitment to once again guarantee to compensate musicians at one of four tiers available in the agreement.

In August 2020, the AFM entered into the first full-year IMA COVID Side Letter with the EMA to help orchestras navigate the expected challenges for the 2020-21 season during the COVID crisis. Many orchestras took advantage of the side letter. In addition to the EMA version, we also offered a version of the side letter to those orchestras signed to the Individual Employer IMA. Eligibility to use the side letter required the employer to commit to a level of guaranteed compensation for the current season. The level selected put an orchestra into one of four tiers. Each tier came with a package of free streaming rights—the higher the tier, the larger the monthly streaming package. Signatory orchestras were able to post programs using existing archival material and those orchestras working at Tiers 3 and 4 of the IMA side letter could create new content in accordance with the terms of the agreement.

The 2021-22 IMA COVID-19 Side Letter

The new agreement is essentially identical to the 2020-21 COVID Side Letter. It retains the same tier structure and compensation requirements, with the same allocation of monthly streaming minutes tied to each tier. The agreement permits archival streaming in all four tiers, educational content in tiers 2, 3, and 4, and in the top two tiers offers the ability to stream newly created content of “performances” and provides some expanded volunteer promotional recording. The number of available minutes of content for both archival and new content varies by tier.

As in the 2020-21 side letter, the “Newly Created Capture” provisions (available at Tiers 3 and 4) address the issue of what constitutes a “performance” for purposes of media capture when there is no audience present in the hall or even a reduced audience. The regular IMA permits capture in performance (and in some cases, rehearsals) for a variety of releases under the agreement but establishes a separate “special call” rate for services called solely for the purposes of recording when no audience is present. The AFM and the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) and the Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA) media committees felt strongly that “performances” without an audience present must not be allowed to morph into multi-take recording sessions, and the agreement reflects that commitment. The IMA signatory orchestras that choose not to work under the side letter with a Tier 3 or 4 compensation commitment, but who want to create new content in the absence of an audience, must pay their musicians the special call rate for the capture plus the applicable release rate under the IMA.

Under the side letter, the media wages for the amounts and types of streaming distribution covered by the agreement are waived, so long as the employer maintains compensation and benefits, including health insurance, at the level required. All other terms of the IMA remain in place.

Term of Agreement

The one change from the 2020-21 IMA COVID Side Letter is the term of agreement. The employer’s right to use the provisions of the side letter will be available until 180 days after such time as the relevant governmental authorities permit resumption of public performance without restriction on audience capacity (no COVID-related restrictions on the number of patrons permitted to be present in the hall) and the employer is actually able to resume public performance without COVID-related restrictions on the number of patrons permitted to be present in the hall or June 15, 2022, whichever comes first.  This will allow for some additional time to transition and to continue using the side letter even after audiences are allowed to return.

The same circumstances we faced at the beginning of the 2020-21 season remain as we head into next season. Some states will open the doors to concert halls sooner than others. Vaccination numbers continue to rise. However, we are not yet at a point where we can safely get the entire orchestra back on stage and full-capacity audiences back in our concert halls. Streaming remains vitally important.

We continue to work closely with the ICSOM and ROPA media committees about how best to help our organizations through this challenging time in ways that will provide streaming content, both old and new, to share with our audiences while at the same time ensuring compensation for our musicians.

It is our fervent hope that our orchestras will soon return to performing in front of their beloved audiences. In the meantime, this agreement will continue to make it possible to maintain that connection as we await our return to the concert hall.

If you are interested in learning more about the agreement or you would like to discuss your IMA orchestra becoming signatory to the new agreement, please contact me at or by phone at 646-269-1823 or 212-869-1330 ext. 225.

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