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


Officers Columns

Here are the latest posts from our officers


Ray Hair – AFM International President

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    Thank You, Brother Ray Chew — You Are Answering Members’ Prayers

    As Easter weekend came amid the global pandemic, with virus infections on an upward curve and the spread accelerating across America, Canada, and the world, prayers of hope, healing, and redemption were part of the rituals of professional musicians and their families, all locked down in their homes, locked away from live interaction with their audiences, and locked out of their jobs. The weeks leading up to Easter were also marked by a flurry of interest in raising funds for entertainment industry workers—including professional musicians—whose jobs were among the first to disappear due to social distancing measures and emergency governmental restrictions, and who will likely be the last to return to gainful employment.

    No sooner had the pandemic Easter celebration concluded than I received a call from Ray Chew, a distinguished member of Local 802, New York City, whom I met early on in my presidency during his benefit performance for Local 802’s Musicians Assistance Program. Later, I ran into Ray Chew again when ABC television attempted to downsize its orchestra and implement licensed pre-recorded tracks on Dancing with the Stars. And yet again, when our campaign for streaming residuals in film and live television kicked into gear last year, Ray Chew did not hesitate to stand up and speak out in support of his colleagues, his union, and musicians everywhere during the process.

    Ray Chew is one hell of a musician. He recently celebrated his 10th season as music director for Dancing with the Stars. Previously, he served as music director for Fox TV’s American Idol, and Showtime at the Apollo. He has helmed award-winning musical events with Carrie Underwood, Rihanna, Aretha Franklin, Justin Bieber, Lenny Kravitz, James Taylor, and Quincy Jones, and has directed such prestigious events as the 2008 Democratic National Convention, the 65th Primetime Emmy Awards, the President’s Neighborhood Inaugural Ball, and Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

    ray chew

    So when Ray Chew called, I answered and listened. Ray wanted to partner with the Federation to develop a four-part virtual series featuring a fundraising portal that would accept donations for relief funds to help AFM freelance musicians whose jobs were lost due to the COVID-19 lockdown.

    “I want to do something to bring people together to raise funds for my musician brothers and sisters who are struggling right now because of the pandemic,” Ray said. “Freelance musicians are in an unprecedented crisis. The overnight loss of work has left thousands of musicians unable to pay their rent or buy food to feed their families. I am inviting my musical friends and fellow musicians to join me in putting together a series of shows that will bring us together to sing, perform, laugh, and share stories that will uplift us, inspire us and raise funds at this critical time.”

    To help accomplish these vital and timely goals, I appointed a team of AFM staff to work with Ray, led by my assistant and former Local 802 president, Tino Gagliardi. Our team included International Executive Board member Dave Pomeroy (also president of Nashville Local 257), Secretary-Treasurer Jay Blumenthal, AFM counsel Jennifer Garner and Russ Naymark, Communications Director Rose Ryan, and Electronic Media Services Division Director Pat Varriale.

    Jay and Jennifer worked with the AFL-CIO’s Union Community Fund to establish a sub-fund to accept tax-deductible donations for the benefit of AFM members. Dave, Pat, and Russ Naymark developed an appropriate media agreement and waiver option for use by the show to cover the performances of AFM and SAG-AFTRA members. Rose Ryan helped promote the series through social media and internal communications. In the space of little more than two weeks, the first of four fundraising “Ray Chew Live Freelancer Fundraiser” episodes aired at 9 p.m. EDT, Thursday, May 7, on Facebook Live. Additional episodes aired on successive Thursdays, May 14, 21, and 28.

    Ray’s musical guests thus far (as of press time) have included performances by legendary jazz pianist Chick Corea, bassist Marcus Miller, P-funkster George Clinton, and interviews with TV newser Soledad O’Brien and New York Times best-selling author Iyanla Vanzant.

    To donate to this special AFM Musicians Relief Fund, go to and enter the amount you wish to contribute. All donations are tax deductible.

    The effort has raised thousands of dollars for freelance musicians. “We’ve raised awareness and lots of support for musicians in the industry who are suffering,” said Ray Chew. “I want to thank the person who gave one dollar, and also the person who gave a thousand dollars. I know they gave from the heart. When musicians have the opportunity to go back to work and perform again, it’s going to be great. I also want to thank my union for working to make this possible,” he said.

    If you are a freelance musician and wish to apply for relief from AFM’s Musicians Relief Fund, go to, download the application and follow the instructions.

    Ray Chew rolled up his sleeves to help our members. On behalf of the entire membership of the American Federation of Musicians of the US and Canada, I want to thank him, his production team, AFM staff and the good folks at the AFL-CIO for their swift and exceptional response at a critical moment in the lives of musicians whose prayers of hope during Easter weekend may now be answered.

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jay blumenthal

Jay Blumenthal – AFM International Secretary-Treasurer

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    Getting Through This Crisis

    We have all been hunkered down for over two months now while confronting the most formidable health emergency in a century. The current pandemic has created serious challenges for members, locals, and the Federation. In what seemed like overnight, the music industry came to a screeching halt, leaving musicians unemployed, sheltered in place, and wondering when the next paying gig will be allowed to take place. Broadway theaters, concert halls, nightclubs, recording studios, venues large and small have been closed.

    Shelter-in-place directives have forced the temporary closure of all our Federation offices, while most AFM employees continue to work remotely. The Federation has been focused on ensuring musicians were eligible for unemployment benefits available from states and the federal supplemental amount added to the state benefit. While small businesses can avail themselves of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) helping small businesses keep their employees on the payroll, this support has not been made available to unions. As AFM revenue streams have been severely compromised, locals and the Federation are feeling the effects. While a short duration can be withstood, it has become increasingly clear that this will not be over anytime soon.

    In fact, the experts are predicting it will be at least 12 to 18 months before an effective vaccine will become available—and that’s just a best guess. While other businesses may be able to engage in a careful, phased-in opening, it’s hard to imagine the public being willing to enter a concert hall or a theater anytime before a proven effective vaccine is widely available. So we must be ready to endure this for the long term.

    Whether a member, a local, or the Federation, preserving resources, reducing expenses, and creating efficiencies are necessary at this time. Before making any purchase, ask yourself if you really need to make this purchase now or can it wait for when times improve? Better yet, ask yourself if you really need to make the purchase at all.

    Before COVID-19 changed all our lives, the prevailing financial advice had been to keep six to nine months of emergency funds available for necessary expenses in a crisis. Now, based on the predicted 12 to 18 months it will take to return to some sort of “new normal,” it has become clear the six to nine months of reserves is insufficient.

    There will be many lessons learned by all of us as individuals and together as a country while we navigate our way through the current crisis. As individuals, we need to be prepared mentally, physically, and financially for various situations that may well have profound consequences. As a country, I’d like to think we have learned that allowing most of our manufacturing jobs to leave our shores creates a national security risk. Being dependent on other countries to supply us with critical supplies during a crisis can be fraught with danger.

    It has been a painful experience for all of us, especially those who have lost loved ones to COVID-19. As I hear about some of our AFM members lost to this pandemic, I think about how they spent their lives bringing the joy of music to so many. What a wonderful legacy they have left us all, although their lives were cut short much too early. We will miss them dearly.

    Finally, I urge everyone to stay safe and healthy. Please don’t give up hope. I am so looking forward to the day we can all return to the concert halls, theaters, night clubs, and all venues where live music can once again enrich all our lives.

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alan willaert

Alan Willaert – AFM Vice President from Canada

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    Well, Now What?

    Pour voir cet article en français, cliquez ici.

    The consensus among the leadership and staff of the entertainment-based unions is that the devastation caused by COVID-19 is total and complete. Moreover, if and when business starts to open up and folks slowly return to work, the performing arts will be the last to get the all-clear sign; and then begins the hard part—recovery. Theatres, symphony halls, concert venues and bars are unlikely to suddenly fill with patrons. Indeed, there will be restrictions on numbers and spacing, which means fewer ticket sales and crushed profit margins.

    This, on top of a music economy that was already severely weakened by 20 years of digital mayhem, cannibalized by the demonetization of recorded product. For decades, record sales were the lifeblood of musicians, and now have all but totally vanished. From Napster, Pirate Bay, and LimeWire, to the advent of Spotify and the streaming craze, young music fans got used to paying little or nothing for their musical entertainment. For musicians to make a living, that meant constant touring, selling merch and, if they were lucky, a few CDs. Now the venues, tours, concerts, and festivals have vanished, and when the viral dust clears, there will be a reckoning.

    An artistic career cannot just be put on hold for months and then just picked up where it left off. The attention span of the modern audience is short, and momentum quickly fades and must be constantly regenerated. While many people will go back to some kind of normal, for musicians there may be nothing to go back to. After all, they are the job, the small business, and it requires hard work, consistency, and luck. The pandemic represents a screwing over of musicians on an epic scale.

    There are those that believe that perhaps this virus is a good thing, since the absence of live audiences will finally force the record labels, Google, YouTube, and Amazon to recognize the annihilation, share their windfall, and compensate musicians properly for the content they produce. After all, letting the artists wither away means no creation of content, the very thing these ruthless, global giants have conspired to cheat the artists out of. And, no content, no profits. The hamster will not endlessly run on the treadmill in the absence of food and water.

    And now, locked away in self-isolation, a surge in creativity is taking place. Songwriters are inspired, home recording studios are active, and home concerts are springing up everywhere. Is a new model about to emerge, with a new delivery system to audiences? And if it does, will musicians be smart enough to correctly monetize their work? Will they diligently fill out the proper paperwork to cover a streamed performance and ensure their work is union-protected? Or will they simply become online buskers, naively grateful to perform before a handful of Facebook friends, and settling for a few coins tossed in their direction through crowdfunding or virtual ticket sales?

    Clearly, the new normal will be nothing like the old, and we may be stuck with it for quite some time. Make sure you have the AFM in your corner. Don’t go out into this new reality alone and unprepared.

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Other Officer Columns:


Stay-At-Home Requirements Promote Even More Creativity

by Terryl Jares, International Executive Board Member and President of Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL)

Musicians are creative creatures. Through this time of uncertainty, it is encouraging to see musicians express their talents in new ways. Through the use of online resources, I’ve enjoyed performances of everything from solo clarinet études and family ensembles performing in their homes to caravans of cars honking and singing happy birthday wishes. One musician with computer skills has taken individual recordings and put them together in a collage of sorts complete with conductor! On a neighborhood block with a collective of professional musicians, each night the families gather on each of their front porches and perform a selected composition ranging from “Old MacDonald” and “Over the Rainbow” to “Twist and Shout.” The only prerequisite is the song must be loud and upbeat.

Many musicians are finding supplemental income by teaching online music lessons to their existing students and introducing many children and adults to a new musical experience of learning to play an instrument. And, I understand, they aren’t having trouble getting their students to practice.

We are still under a stay-at-home order and nearly all employment for musicians, as we know it, has ceased across the United States and Canada. Orchestras have canceled their seasons, theaters are dark, restaurants and bars have closed, schools are shuttered, and even weddings are being postponed. This will eventually end. We will come out on the other side of this pandemic. It will be slow and we all must be patient to ensure the safety and security of everyone.

While we wait, be creative. Do something you never thought possible. Engage with each other in new ways. Find new outlets for your musical expression and experiment with new ideas. Most of all, continue to be as creative as you can be.

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protecting yourself

Protecting Yourself Can Be as Simple as Asking ‘The Question’

dave pomeroy

by Dave Pomeroy, International Executive Board Member and President of Local 257 (Nashville, TN)

For as long as there
have been musicians who love to play, there have been those who will try to
take advantage of them for their own gain. Just because you love what you do,
doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be paid properly as a professional. It may be
true that some musicians have more business experience than others, but the
stereotype that creative people don’t know how to take care of business is one
of the oldest and lamest excuses for ripping musicians off.

Music has lasting
value, but that value is not automatically granted to the creator. Ultimately,
it is up to you to stand up for yourself and your rights as a creator of
intellectual property by working under an AFM contract.

The AFM exists to help
musicians protect themselves in a variety of ways, but if you make the choice
to ignore the resources available to you, then you are ripping yourself off.
When it comes to recording, you have options other than working without a
contract, or worse yet, signing away all your rights in a “work for hire”
document, both of which ensure that what you make that day is all you will ever

Standing up for
yourself can be as simple as asking the question, “Can we put this on a union
contract?” The answer to that question will reveal a lot about who you are
working for. It is true that some people are scared of union contracts because
they don’t really understand what they do and need to be educated. Employers
who intentionally avoid putting work on an AFM contract do so because they are
taking your money and putting it in their own pocket.

Working under an AFM
contract protects the employer as well as the musician. How so? If the
recording you are working on is ever used in any other medium, such as TV,
film, or a commercial anytime in the future, the artist/employer will typically
receive a license fee, which can vary greatly. If there is no contract in
place, the musicians involved have a moral and ethical right to ask for a share
of that revenue, but no legal recourse. However, if the work was done under an
AFM contract, that gives the union the ability to go to that third party for
payment for musicians. Once that concept is explained, it levels the playing
field and allows the employer to feel good about working with AFM contracts.

who license music recorded under an AFM contract know they are supposed to pay
the musicians separately from any license fees. This allows the artist/employer
to keep all of the license money with a clear conscience, knowing that musicians
have been paid properly. It’s a win-win. However, when you are being “bought
out” under a work-for-hire scenario, with no parameters of session length,
minutes of music, or pay scale, you are putting yourself in a very
disadvantaged position.

the past decade, AFM contracts have evolved along with the new technologies
that have changed the way people record. There was a time when your only option
for recording was to go into a “real” studio, but the advent of digital
recording and laptop computers forever changed that, just as the digital market
has changed how music is sold. Home studios have now become the norm rather
than the exception, and the AFM Single Song Overdub Scale is designed to fit
this model.

The per song rate is
agreed upon between you and the artist/employer you are working for, with a
$100/song minimum but no maximum. It is the only AFM scale that pays by the
song rather than by the hour, and it allows you to pay into your own pension,
with benefits built into the round number. If you are overdubbing on a basic
track sent to you over the Internet, or putting together an entire track for
someone one instrument at a time, you can freely negotiate that rate as long as
it is above the minimum of $100/song. If the song sells more than 10,000 units
and/or downloads, you are eligible for an upgrade to a 1.5-hour Master Session,
also known as a Special Session. If it goes into another medium, as explained
above, the same rules apply.

In this age
of indie artists going viral, this is how you protect yourself. The power of an
AFM contract will ensure that your intellectual property has lasting value for
decades to come.

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Illegal worker misclassification

Musicians and Illegal Worker Misclassification

by Ed Malaga, International Executive Board Member and President of Local 161-710 (Washington, DC)

Many musicians in our ranks continue to be treated
as independent contractors by employers, even though it is clear that an
employer-employee relationship exists. There is a name for this practice—it is
called “illegal worker misclassification,” and it is affecting a variety of
industries in our country. It is also the subject of increased scrutiny by courts
and government agencies as the gig economy continues to proliferate.

Illegal worker misclassification is a form of
payroll fraud used by employers to classify workers who should be considered
employees as independent contractors. It is a practice which seriously harms
workers, but we are starting to see action being taken to address this issue.
Recently in California, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law Assembly Bill 5 to
address the misclassification of independent contractors. The practice of
misclassification allows employers to avoid paying withholding taxes and
payments to other programs such as disability, unemployment insurance, and
workers’ compensation.

Payroll taxes are designed to be shared equally by
the employer and employee, but when a worker is misclassified as an independent
contractor, that worker is left footing their employers’ tax bill. That means
when it comes time to file your tax return, you will be responsible for paying
both the employee and employer share of Social Security and Medicare taxes.

What are the criteria that determine employee versus
independent contractor status? Courts and government agencies take into account
many factors, and perhaps none figures more prominently than the issue of
“control.” The guiding principle is that for an employer to classify a worker
as an independent contractor, they must show that the worker is free from the
employers’ control. How does this criteria affect musician hires? Consider the
situation musicians find themselves in, where offers of engagement are
typically accompanied by many specific details, for instance: a pre-determined
schedule of all dates and all times of rehearsals and performances, the
specific repertoire to be performed, what instrument(s) are to be played, and
even what the dress code is for the performance. The extent and degree of
control being exerted by the employer in these instances is clearly evident.

I believe it is important to also note that the
National Labor Relations Board concluded in Lancaster Symphony Orchestra
(357 NLRB No. 152) that musicians performing for the Lancaster Symphony qualify
as employees and not, as their employer argued, independent contractors. This
finding was subsequently upheld in the United States Court of Appeals for the
District of Columbia. The most prominent factors in considering this case dealt
with the amount of control that the employer had over the work being performed,
as well as the fact that the work of the symphony musicians was an integral
part of the employer’s business. If musicians were truly working as independent
contractors, they would have the ability to set their own schedule, choose
their own repertoire, and make their own decisions on instrumentation and

So the next time you are offered a gig as an independent
contractor, know that what this really means is less money in your pocket at
the end of the year. It is important for AFM musicians to understand how they
are being classified by employers for tax purposes in order to ensure fair
treatment, whether as employees or independent contractors. In either case, the
way you are classified will certainly affect your bottom line. If you feel you
are being illegally classified as an independent contractor, the AFM stands
ready to help.

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I Am Proud to Join the International Executive Board

What a surprise getting the word from President Hair that I was being considered to fill a vacancy on the International Executive Board. It is an honor to accept the appointment, and I promise to serve the membership to the best of my ability.
I have been an active AFM member since 1975, when I began my journey from a violinist/violist working as a freelance player in Chicagoland to my current position as president and first woman officer of the Chicago Federation of Musicians (CFM).
I started my career in the labor movement as a board member of the CFM, which lasted for nine years, where I had the distinct honor of working with CFM President Ed Ward and Vice President Tom Beranek. During this time, I represented our city in the grassroots beginning of the Theater Musicians Association where officers and musicians came together to address issues in our theaters. I served as the secretary-treasurer of the organization from 1997-2001.
Moving from the CFM board to vice president in 2004, I participated in negotiating collective bargaining agreements for the local along with our president, Gary Matts. We worked closely with the player’s committees to hear their needs and bargain for positive wage increases and working conditions. I also was successful in organizing many small theaters and ensembles.
In 2016, I was elected by acclamation as the first woman president of the Chicago Federation of Musicians. I now sit behind the original desk of our great labor leader James Petrillo, which gives me inspiration every day.
I believe in creating strong relationships within our political community. As a local officer, I serve as a vice president representing the musicians on the executive board of the Illinois AFL-CIO, a position I have held since 2004. I sit on the finance committee of the Chicago Federation of Labor and have held all offices of the Chicago Entertainment Industry Labor Council. Recently, I was invited to serve on the transition team of our new mayor, Lori Lightfoot, where arts leaders across the city had the opportunity to give input into the future activities of the arts and cultural community in Chicago.
As president of the Chicago Federation of Musicians, I led two of the longest strikes for both the Lyric Opera Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony. The issues of each group were vastly different, however, by collective action, we were able to make significant gains that might not have been reached without a job action.
I believe in working together, listening to every voice, and finding solutions to the issues at hand. Please let me know if I can give you help along the way.

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