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.
February 17, 2014IM -
“Somewhere near Tallahassee, the bus started making a really crazy noise, then the noise stopped, and it was otherwise running fine,” recalls Meligrove Band’s bassist Mike Small of Local 145 (Toronto, ON). They continued on, deciding to take the bus to the mechanic when they reached Orlando, where they had a day off from touring.
“One day turned into five or six,” says Small. “It turned out that our speed sensor broke apart, and just by the worst luck imaginable, all the pieces somehow went into the transmission. The funny noises we had been hearing were all of the metal pieces of this speed sensor being ground up into metal silt inside of our transmission, and the gears were getting ground up themselves.” Five thousand dollars in the hole and half of their tour thrown away, Small, guitarist Brian O’Reilly, drummer Darcy Rego, and pianist Jason Nunes, drove from Orlando to Ontario in two days.
That happened in December, and the group is still trying to get out of the red. On the plus side, this catastrophe has opened their eyes to pursuing other revenue streams. “Our manager has been helpful in trying to find us income sources that we normally haven’t been too keen to look at in the past, because we’ve been so busy with other things,” Small says. “On top of working on new material, we have a writing gig going on.” He adds mysteriously, “I can’t really say too much about it.” Fair enough.
Despite the setback, the band remains optimistic. After all, they’ve survived far worse disappointments. Like many artists, Meligrove was hit hard when the industry fell out from under them on the brink of their big break. In 2005, things were looking up for the group, who had been chipping away at international success since they officially started the band in 1997.
As the first Canadian band to be signed to major label V2, hometown fans and peers were ready to break the champagne against the hull of their bus and bid them fair voyage into a bright future. But, just as their new record, Planets Conspire, was slated for an international release, V2 declared bankruptcy. The label folded, was swallowed up by giant record conglomerate Universal, and with it, a great opportunity for Meligrove Band disappeared.
For Meligrove Band, and many young talented bands, it seems that traditional models of international success are becoming less and less attainable. The three original members, Rego, Nunes, and Small, considered breaking up, and for almost four years, they were inactive, barely even rehearsing, much less gigging or recording.
Eventually, the need to make music with each other became too strong to resist, and thanks to some shrewd negotiating, they still owned all of their creative material. “We own everything we’ve ever recorded. We’re pretty lucky that way,” says Small. “You know the story where a label doesn’t do anything with your record, but you can’t do anything with it either, even if you want to. Thankfully, we’ve never been in that situation.” With full control of their work, they had a strong foundation to rebuild their careers and give it another shot.
As a very hands-on group, both at the creative and business ends of their careers, the AFM factors greatly into the band’s day-to-day success. “We joined the union primarily because it gave us access to the US,” says Small, who has been a union member since 2004. “We have used the union for insurance, for our instruments, and there are other benefits we keep meaning to look into, like health and dental plans.”
Fans were elated to see the band back on its feet with 2010’s release, Racing Toward Shimmering Lights. This record shows the band in a much healthier place, a distillation of what really matters to the group—making great music together. At present, the band is hard at work writing new material for a future release. They also have an extensively shot documentary, a revealing look into the band’s journey through the music industry, slated for an upcoming release.
Since the musicians first met and began playing together in high school, they’ve taken a do-it-yourself approach to everything from learning their instruments to recording and producing their own records.
“We’re all self-taught,” Small says. “Things that one person learned ahead of everyone else, they taught to the rest of the band. I can still remember that Jason was the first one to learn where C is on the neck of my bass.” They continued this approach with their first recording session, a self-released and recorded cassette. “We had no idea what to do,” says Small. “We rented this digital 8-track mixer, and we set up microphones based on what we saw in the CD sleeve of the first Super Friendz album.” Aside from some minor phase issues, the record came out better than expected.
Since then, almost all of their records have been self-recorded and self-produced, with the help of their good friend and mix wizard José Contreras of the Canadian rock group By Divine Right. Though they’ve learned a lot about recording since their first attempt, the process still retains the same experimental spirit.
“We set up drums where they cause the least disturbance, and record them as quickly as we can,” Small explains. “For our Planets Conspire record, we had a house all to ourselves for a week, so we just set up in the living room, and we actually played almost everything live, with the piano and the drums in the same room.” For the hell of it, the band placed mikes at the ends of hallways to see what kinds of odd natural reverb they would pick up. When Nunes recorded on guitar, they taped down the keys of his piano that were in the key of the song, and left the mikes on. “I don’t know how much of that we ended up using, probably most of it,” says Small. “Generally in mixing, whatever sounds the craziest is what we leave in”
The band is also well-known for their exceptionally creative music videos, harkening back to the days when MTV aired colorful, inventive videos that didn’t totally suck. Again, the band keeps it close, using friends and colleagues to produce the videos, and keeping firmly involved in the process. It has a knack for teaming up with great videographers, and the group is also a two-time recipient of the highly coveted MuchFACT video grants funded by Canadian music television network MuchMusic.
Thanks to a fortunate friendship, the band was able to make great use of the grants. “Our drummer, Darcy, worked in a shop for obscure artsy films for a long time, and without even knowing it, befriended a music video director who had done a lot of major label stuff,” Small says. The partnership that ensued resulted in two great videos, “Everyone’s a Winner” and “Before We Arrive.”
Meligrove is a bit of a rarity in contemporary rock. The fact that the three original members have maintained the same band since high school is remarkable in itself. And that they have stuck out it this long, even in the face of severe career disappointments, is quite amazing as well. What it really boils down to is that these guys just love to make music with each other, and it keeps drawing them together again and again.
“As long as we have enough coming in to keep our practice space, and we don’t have to put any of our own money into it, then we’re glad,” says Small. “All you can really do is make the best music you can make. A lot of what goes on with getting big is luck of the draw. You hope that it works in your favor, but if you start trying to count on it, you can drive yourself crazy. It’s not up to you, it’s up to the world.”