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.

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Officers Columns

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Ray Hair – AFM International President

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    Federation Agreements Provide Stability in a World of Pandemic Unpredictability

    As I compose this month’s column, I’ve received notice from the American Arbitration Association (AAA) that musicians employed under the Federation’s Motion Picture Film and Television Film Agreements have ratified a one-year extension to those agreements, extending all provisions of the existing agreements together with a 3% increase in wages.

    That extension preserves and protects the significant progress in key areas made two years ago in our negotiations with the producers. This occurred immediately prior to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and the havoc it wreaked upon the livelihood of professional musicians.

    The film agreement extensions with its economic improvements and the Pamphlet B and Short Engagement Tours extension, with its newly-bargained Health and Safety Handbook covering musicians performing in touring theatrical musicals, are positive outcomes in a largely negative environment endured over the better part of two years by musicians, whose lives and employment relationships were (and continue to be) disrupted by the pandemic.

    These extension agreements, together with those implemented with the sound recording and commercial announcements industries (while negotiations for successor agreements are in process), temporarily postpone conflicts, which may naturally arise between industry representatives, employees, and the Federation in preparation for and during the bargaining process. The agreements also bind the employers to their existing relationships with the Federation and prevent any unilateral change in terms and conditions of employment.

    With the Omicron variant surge putting the world on edge, there is a certain degree of safety amid the uncertainly at the start of 2022 with new Federation agreements and written extensions of existing agreements on hand, as we once again face the unknown effects of the pandemic and its unpredictable behavior, including the severity of the new variants and how vaccines perform against them.

    When the pandemic shook the symphonic, electronic media, and live entertainment sectors in March 2020, the Federation sought to engage with its bargaining partners to develop work rule flexibility and help maintain relationships between employers, musician-employees (even with temporary work reductions), and consumers. Together with our bargaining best practice workplace safety protocols, we helped minimize short-term employment loss.

    By the end of 2021, symphonic sector employment levels had recovered to 80% of prepandemic levels and they are projected to rise to 100% by the end of 2022. Employment in the electronic media sector had similarly recovered during 2021 and are also expected to return to full prepandemic levels by the close of 2022.

    The touring theatrical musical sector had 22 covered shows on the road in March 2020, when the pandemic halted all live entertainment. Touring employment has risen to practically 100% of prepandemic levels as of January 2022, with 21 touring musical productions. The tours are expected to sustain that level of employment, absent another coronavirus surge that could sicken company employees and disrupt attendance, ticket sales, and routing.

    It needs to be said here, pointedly, that the rise in return-to-work musical employment cannot mitigate the permanent damage inflicted by the pandemic by way of the deep and devastating job losses, interruption to the evolution of our musicality, and all the other adverse economic circumstances suffered by professional musicians over the past two years.

    No one knows how long it will be before we can clearly see the total extent of damage the virus has wrought upon our artistic connections with other musicians and with our audiences. All of this has affected our personal musical trajectory and our ability to perform at the highest level, which surely affects how and whether we reach our potential as musicians.

    Even where musicians continued working amid the shutdown—particularly in the film industry—the nature of our jobs certainly changed. In the early going during the crisis, the Federation temporarily allowed film and TV film sessions to be paid at the single session rate, when musicians were hired to record tracks singly, at home (to be combined with other tracks for a soundtrack). This was done in consideration of pandemic-driven, governmental restrictions on in-person group recordings.

    New technology and confusing work rules were thrust upon recording musicians who had to adapt to the performance of their craft virtually, a distinct difference from what they were accustomed to do in-person. Suddenly, they had to be recording engineers and musicians rolled into one. The Federation’s flexibility allowed the content to be produced. But when governmental restrictions were relaxed and studios reopened for business, some producers continued to instruct musicians to record at home, alone, without proper payment, despite the Federation’s notice to producers that conditional remote recording flexibility had ended.

    Undoubtedly, the producer’s use of technology to record single musicians remotely to track string, brass, and wind sections, which was normally and regularly done in-person, changed the nature of the work. Moreover, some efficiency- and profit-driven producers continued that change, failing to return to the prepandemic status quo as required. As a result, the Federation is now collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in delinquent payments owed musicians who recorded alone and were paid improperly by producers.

    The remote recording situation in the film industry is an obvious example of a group of employers that attempted to turn a temporary workplace solution into a permanent one. The situation was favorable to producers but adverse for musicians because it would have resulted in permanent post-pandemic job loss.

    Looking ahead to the first quarter of 2022 and beyond, if successive pandemic waves disrupt production in the live entertainment sector, and if tour producers request to meet and discuss pandemic-related work rule relief, care must be taken that the temporary measures considered do not become precedent for permanent regressive change in how our valuable work is performed.

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Jay Blumenthal – AFM International Secretary-Treasurer

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    Returning to Work: Freedom to Vote Act

    As the ball has dropped in Times Square ushering in the 2022 New Year, the hope is that this year will bring improved work situations for all AFM members. Last year brought the reopening of some theaters and music venues, but the return to full employment has been elusive. While we all want to get past the pandemic, we are beginning to realize that this may not happen soon.

    The percentage of the US that is fully vaccinated remains stubbornly low at approximately 60%, which is not nearly high enough to approach herd immunity. Exacerbating the situation is the low worldwide vaccination rate with many populations in less developed countries having yet to receive even a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. As I’ve mentioned previously, until we achieve a high level of vaccination worldwide, we remain vulnerable to new variants that have the potential of being vaccine resistant.

    So what are the ramifications of an under-vaccinated world? Simply put, we may never be able to put COVID-19 to bed for good, at least not until the world population is vaccinated. This will likely take a long time. We may end up experiencing a continuing cycle of evolving variants and a race by laboratories to create adjustments to vaccines to remain protective. Who would have thought when the pandemic started nearly two years ago that we would still be battling this worldwide scourge?

    As of this writing, the latest variant, Omicron, has gained a foothold in the US, Canada, and several other countries around the world. By the time you read this column, we should have more information about its transmissibility and severity. The virus will continue to evolve in its attempt to outsmart our defenses. This is why worldwide vaccination is so important.

    If you have not been vaccinated, I urge you to do so, unless you require a medical or religious accommodation. It’s my opinion that this is a public health emergency, not an assault on personal freedom. How unfortunate that vaccination is being used by some to further divide us.

    Freedom to Vote Act

    It is indeed unfortunate that voter registration and voter access have come under attack. To my mind, these attacks represent the single greatest internal threat to our democracy. On September 14, 2021, the Freedom to Vote Act (S. 2747) sponsored by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), was introduced. This bill seeks to encourage voter registration and access, bolster election security, and reform gerrymandering and campaign finance.

    As each day passes, we move closer and closer to the mid-term elections and the important 2024 presidential election. If voter suppression is allowed by way of restricted voter registration, restricted voter access, mind-bending gerrymandering, and campaigns awash in money from corporations and the very wealthy, democracy as we know it will be but a fond memory.

    A December 6, 2021 article by Barton Gellman, appearing in The Atlantic, paints a very disturbing picture. Gellman writes, in some states “they are rewriting statutes to seize partisan control of decisions about which ballots to count and which to discard, which results to certify and which to reject. They are driving out or stripping power from election officials who refused to go along with the plot last November, aiming to replace them with exponents of the big lie. They are fine-tuning a legal argument that purports to allow state legislators to override the choice of the voters.”

    If we are to successfully preserve our democracy for our children and grandchildren and if we want to ensure our votes are counted in future elections, we cannot stand by and be silent. Call or write your elected officials and let them know your thoughts on these issues.

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Alan Willaert – AFM Vice President from Canada

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    Building Upon Youth

    A recent three-day web meeting of the International Labour Organization (ILO) was especially interesting. It not only confirmed many of the assumptions we had about the impact of COVID internationally, but it revealed alarming similarities between countries that could not be more different socially or economically. Further, there was affirmation of the necessity for change in many aspects of how organized labour operates.

    Here are some take-away observations from the 160-country event:

    •Health and frontline workers are the categories of workers most affected by the COVID-19 crisis worldwide.

    •Self-employed and casual workers have been disproportionally hit due to the lack of protection and income replacement or savings, the precariousness of their employment relationship, and their exclusion from support measures.

    •Women, young people, migrant workers, refugees, and people with disabilities are the workers in the most vulnerable situations due primarily to the informal and precarious nature of the work performed, poor working conditions, exposure to violence and marginalization, and the lack of protection or support by public services.

    •Tourism, road and maritime transportation, aviation, construction, commerce, hospitality, manufacturing, and the entertainment sectors were the hardest hit by the COVID-19 outbreak, resulting in temporary suspension or stoppage of operations, restrictions in movement, border closures, serious risk of bankruptcy, and severe downturns with negative consequences on employment, the provision of services, and the availability of raw materials.

    Sound familiar?

    Meanwhile, bilateral interactions between governments and trade unions took place in 46 out of 133 countries/territories (34%). The topics negotiated included amendments to existing legislation in light of the COVID-19 crisis, retrenchment and unemployment benefits for workers who lost their jobs, income support for the self-employed and persons in need, additional benefits for health care workers, and necessary safety and health measures. Canada was one of the countries where our union was successful in obtaining benefits for those in the live music sector.

    The ILO reaffirmed that young workers are very important for the organization’s future. Unions must play a key role in shaping the global economy. However, the ability to reach young people through traditional methods is limited. The age gap, relative to taking up the issues, and negative rhetoric aimed at trade unions contribute to the reluctance of young people to join. Many perceive unions as only for seniors.

    In fact, millions of young women and men work in vulnerable conditions. In the public sector, there is a growing trend for gig work or contracting out of services. Many youth have little knowledge of their rights and even less ability to defend themselves. They know very little about unions or labour laws when they enter the workforce.

    Some identifiable challenges in organizing young workers:

    1)         Privatization: This issue threatens the existence of the public sector, particularly because of deteriorating working conditions. As a result, there is a depletion of the workforce. This factor must be addressed by public sector unions.

    2)         The Age Gap: Two-thirds of the world population is below 35 years old. One in five people is between 15 and 24 years old. However, in most countries, the younger generation is regarded as if it were a minority and the concept of seniority is highly valued. Young members are sometimes excluded from trade union activities and decision-making bodies, especially in international activities.

    3)         A Voice for Young Members in the Union: Policies and programmes are often incoherent regarding their commitment to youth. Forming youth committees so that young members feel engaged and part of the decision-making process is an important tool in building the capacity of youth so that they play an effective and meaningful role.

    4)         Commitment of Young Workers to the Union Movement: Many young members are unable to give their full commitment to union activities due to time constraints (with work and young families). There is an alarming trend among young people to avoid union activities. Interest and understanding in the union movement and its principles is declining. This generation has no investment in labour’s historical events.

    5)         Restriction on Organizing: Some national laws are not labour-friendly and discourage workers from joining unions.

    6)         Young Women: Young women are even more likely to be regarded as a minority and face the double whammy of being both female and young. Society traditionally differentiates the roles expected between genders, and especially those who are young and female. Worse, this extends to the workplace, where young people may feel like second-class members and be overlooked for important roles.

    From these challenges we can discern some key factors for organizing young workers. Many unions allocate a significant portion of their budget to organizing, since renewal is key to survival, and young workers represent renewal. There must be a commitment to engaging young workers and including them in all aspects of union policy and work, with emphasis on youth-to-youth strategies and campaigns.

    Setting annual quotas on initiating young members is an affirmative incentive. These new members should be provided with committees to give them both voice and participation in all aspects of governance. This integration will refresh the union to ultimately make it more attractive to the next generation as well as ensure strength and solidarity for the future.


    Place aux jeunes

    par Alan Willaert, vice-président de la FAM pour le Canada

    L’Organisation internationale du Travail (OIT) a récemment tenu une rencontre Web de trois jours qui a été particulièrement intéressante. Elle a non seulement permis de confirmer ce que nous croyions déjà au sujet des effets de la COVID à l’échelle internationale, mais aussi de révéler des similitudes alarmantes entre des pays très différents socialement ou économiquement. De plus, on y a reconnu formellement l’importance la nécessité de revoir plusieurs aspects du fonctionnement de nos syndicats.

    Voici quelques observations à retenir de cet événement qui a réuni 160 pays :

    • Les travailleurs de la santé et de première ligne ont été les plus affectés par la crise de la COVID-19 à l’échelle mondiale.

    •Les travailleurs autonomes et les travailleurs temporaires ont souffert de façon disproportionnée en raison de l’absence de protection, de remplacement du revenu ou d’épargne, de la précarité de leur relation d’emploi et de leur exclusion des mesures de soutien.

    •Les femmes, les jeunes, les travailleurs migrants, les réfugiés et les personnes handicapées se retrouvent dans les situations les plus vulnérables en raison de la nature informelle et précaire du travail qu’ils effectuent, de leur exposition à la violence et à la marginalisation, et au manque de protection ou de soutien par les services publics.

    •Le tourisme, le transport routier et maritime, l’aviation, la construction, le commerce, l’hébergement, la fabrication et le divertissement sont les secteurs qui ont été les plus durement touchés par l’éclosion de COVID-19, entraînant suspensions ou arrêts temporaires des opérations, restrictions sur les déplacements, fermetures des frontières, risques sérieux de faillite et ralentissement sévère de l’économie avec des conséquences négatives sur l’emploi, la prestation de services et l’approvisionnement en matières premières.

    Cela vous semble familier?

    Entre-temps, il y a eu des discussions bilatérales entre les gouvernements et les syndicats de travailleurs dans 46 sur 133 pays ou territoires (34 %). Les négociations ont notamment porté sur des amendements législatifs se rapportant à la crise de la COVID-19, les compressions et les prestations de chômage pour les travailleurs qui ont perdu leur emploi, le soutien au revenu pour les travailleurs autonomes et les personnes dans le besoin, les bénéfices supplémentaires pour les travailleurs de la santé, et la nécessité de mesures additionnelles en matière de sécurité et de santé. Le Canada compte parmi les pays dont le syndicat a réussi à obtenir des prestations pour ses travailleurs de la musique vivante.

    L’OIT a réaffirmé l’importance des jeunes travailleurs pour l’avenir de notre organisation. Les syndicats doivent jouer un rôle clé dans le façonnement de l’économie mondialisée. Toutefois, les moyens traditionnels pour établir le contact ne suffisent pas avec les jeunes. L’écart des générations lorsqu’il s’agit de se saisir des préoccupations et la rhétorique négative visant les syndicats de travailleurs contribuent à la réticence des jeunes à joindre nos rangs. Ils sont nombreux à penser que les syndicats, c’est seulement pour les vieux.

    En réalité, des millions de jeunes, femmes et hommes, travaillent dans des conditions précaires. Dans le secteur public, la tendance est au travail à contrat ou à la sous-traitance des services. De nombreux jeunes sont peu informés de leurs droits et ne savent pas comment se défendre. Au moment où ils entrent sur le marché du travail, ils sont peu familiers avec les lois qui le régissent ou avec les syndicats de travailleurs.

    Voici certains défis que nous aurons à relever pour réussir à syndiquer les jeunes :

    1)         La privatisation : Elle menace l’existence du secteur public, surtout à cause de la détérioration des conditions de travail. Il s’ensuit une déperdition de main-d’œuvre. Cet enjeu relève des syndicats du secteur public.

    2)         La différence d’âge : À l’échelle mondiale, les deux tiers de la population est âgée de moins de 35 ans, et une personne sur cinq, a de 15 à 24 ans. Pourtant, dans la plupart des pays, les jeunes sont considérés comme une minorité, et l’ancienneté est fortement valorisée. Les jeunes membres sont parfois exclus des activités syndicales et des instances décisionnelles, surtout lorsque ces activités sont d’ordre international.

    3)         Une voix pour les jeunes dans les syndicats : Les politiques et les programmes des syndicats manquent souvent de cohérence en ce qui a trait aux jeunes. Former des comités de jeunes afin qu’ils se sentent investis et partie prenante du processus décisionnel permet de renforcer leurs compétences afin qu’ils puissent jouer un rôle significatif et effectif au sein de leur syndicat.

    4)         L’engagement des jeunes travailleurs envers le mouvement syndical : De nombreux jeunes membres ne peuvent pas s’engager pleinement dans les activités syndicales par manque de temps (travail, jeunes familles). D’ailleurs, on constate une tendance alarmante parmi eux à éviter les activités syndicales. L’intérêt envers le mouvement syndical et la connaissance de ses principes est en déclin, et la génération actuelle ne se sent pas concernée par les événements historiques du mouvement syndical.

    5)         Les restrictions en matière de syndicalisation : Certaines lois nationales ne sont pas favorables aux travailleurs et les découragent de se joindre aux syndicats.

    6)         Les jeunes femmes : Les jeunes femmes risquent encore plus d’être considérées comme une minorité et sont donc confrontées au double désavantage d’être à la fois femmes et jeunes. Traditionnellement, la société a des attentes différentes selon le genre, particulièrement en ce qui concerne les personnes jeunes et de sexe féminin. Pire encore, cela se transpose dans le milieu du travail où la jeune personne se sent comme une citoyenne de seconde zone et n’est jamais considérée pour les rôles importants.

    De ces défis, nous pouvons dégager certaines clés pour la syndicalisation des jeunes travailleurs. En effet, de nombreux syndicats allouent une part importante de leur budget au recrutement, car il est essentiel pour la survie, et les jeunes travailleurs représentent le renouvellement. Il faut travailler à intéresser les jeunes travailleurs et à les inclure dans tous les aspects des activités et des politiques des syndicats, en mettant l’accent sur des stratégies et des campagnes par et pour les jeunes.

    Établir des quotas annuels en regard de l’initiation de jeunes membres est un bon incitatif. Il faudrait offrir des comités à ces jeunes pour leur donner une voix et leur permettre de participer à tous les aspects de la gouvernance. Cette intégration permettra de rajeunir les syndicats afin ultimement de les rendre plus attrayants pour la prochaine génération et d’en assurer la vigueur et la solidarité pour le futur.

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Starting the New Year Clean and Fresh

Looking back at the past couple of years makes me think of a laundry cycle. Throw everything into the machine, it fills with water. Then, the soaking begins, followed by a lot of agitation, rinse, and spin. Then it’s either thrown into the dryer or hung out to dry. At the end of the cycle, it’s folded and put away. Sure, there will be a few stains that didn’t come out, some wear and tear, and mending to do, but it’s still better than it was. That’s where I want to start in January 2022, clean and fresh.

Our union, members of the American Federation of Musicians, continue our collective work to further our interests in the United States and Canada.

What is our collective work? That depends on you and your community of musicians. When you think about your community of musicians, are your friends and colleagues united to identify and work on issues to improve opportunities, wages, and work conditions? Is your community of musicians satisfied with the opportunities for music making? Is there a general feeling that you’re being appropriately compensated and that you have a meaningful voice in decisions that impact you? If the answer to any of these questions is no, what can be done? Make a call and have a conversation. Ask the person you spoke with to call someone else and have a conversation. Start the process.

When I was new to the labor movement, I had the wrong idea about how a union should operate. The assumption was that we pay dues and tell the union to fix things. I could go into a long explanation of how that idea came into being, why it was perpetuated for so many years, and how it goes against our collective best interests. Instead, I’ll just say that idea is being almost universally rejected by the labor movement. Workers are lifting their voices and winning in ways I haven’t seen before.

Part of the reason we’ve seen so much labor activity is out of necessity for frontline workers who are literally fighting for their health and safety in the workplace. In the US, it’s also due to political changes that have removed some of the restraints on workers, allowing them to stand up to exploitive employers. Changes on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) have greatly impacted our ability to push back, moving the balance of power back toward workers. Political change can tilt it away again, so there’s a general feeling of urgency.

Primary components necessary to bring about meaningful change are a collective voice and a treasury, which is a reason for having a local union. Members provide the voice, the treasury, and make decisions together on how to use both. It’s not only a matter of making signs and hitting the streets—although sometimes that’s a great way to get your message across. We also need to create committees and community coalitions to identify the most effective forum to bring issues forward and the best way to do so.

Here’s part of my laundry list for 2022:

  • Build up our committees—freelance, political & legislative, community action;
  • Make one-on-one phone calls to speak with every musician in the local;
  • Identify resources in the AFM, labor, and community organizations to help us navigate various systems that impact our work;
  • Identify individuals willing to help lead the work and figure out how to make it fun!

It’s time to step off the stages, away from the microphones, and start building relationships outside of our comfort zones. Collective action requires a lot of conversations and patience. Start the cycle: throw ideas into the machine and let them soak.

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Why the AFM Player Conferences Are Important

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

This issue of the International Musician features reports from the AFM player conferences that took place during July and August. These are extremely important organizations within our AFM. From 1962 through 1995, the five player conferences were established and obtained recognition of the AFM. Originally established to work for improvements in their specific workplaces, they now offer the locals and the AFM assistance in numerous important ways.

As a local officer, I negotiate collective bargaining agreements for each organization performing within our local. These include symphony and opera orchestras, theaters, recording projects, and many other small job opportunities. The work can be complicated and time consuming. Therefore, I rely on committees elected by members of each organization who help the union in providing statistics and trends across the Federation. Collecting this information can be complicated, if not impossible. This is where the player conferences are very valuable.

Each conference brings a wealth of information to the local. They collect data such as salaries, budgets, benefits, and work-related rules in their specific industry in the symphonic, theatrical, and recording fields. Documents are available to compare contracts and see what proposals might be put forward in negotiations. In the orchestra world, International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM), Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA), and Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (OCSM/OMOSC) members are surveyed concerning conductors and the results are available when musicians are involved in music director searches. The conferences are also participants in AFM negotiated documents such as the Integrated Media Agreement, Pamphlet B Touring Agreement, and numerous AFM recording agreements.

The annual meetings of the player conferences offer an exchange of ideas between the delegates and guest speakers. Sessions are presented and later shared with the local members they represent. Through the years I have seen topics ranging from negotiating workshops and understanding financial documents to sessions on the best methods of hearing protection and the innovative programming being presented. The meetings are educational and pertinent to each conference’s activity.

AFM officers attend these conferences to inform the participants of the activities of the AFM and current issues that we face. Their reports to the player conferences give information on issues they face as well as topics of mutual concern, successes they have had, and the struggles they incur. The unity of the delegates in the player conferences is extraordinary and beneficial in negotiating contracts with positive gains and hopefully, few concessions.

Things have been difficult since the pandemic began in 2020. The world we once knew has been turned upside down. We have faced and endured shutdowns, unemployment, and isolation—a roller coaster of ups and downs.

As we celebrate the AFM’s 125th anniversary, we can look back on the everchanging workplace and business model we have endured. We will continue to face demands for cuts and concessions during negotiations. With the help of the player conferences, unity among the membership, and a strong desire to improve our work environments, we will get through this extraordinary experience and be stronger for the future.

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dave pomeroy

Time to Ask “The Question”

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

Over the past few decades, even before the pandemic, almost everything about the way we make records has been transformed. Hit recordings are being made in bedrooms and basements as well as big commercial studios. Music consumers have more choices than ever, so the old rules no longer apply in many cases. However, one thing that has not changed is the lasting power of an AFM contract.

An AFM B-Form is a digital paper trail that verifies and protects the work you have done, not just in the short term, but for the long run. We have a wide variety of recording agreements that cover almost every scenario, including co-op bands, single song overdubs, and limited pressings as well as master scale. We have your back, but in many cases, someone needs to step up on the front end to start the process. I’ve done it many times, and so can you.

Employers need to understand that an AFM agreement protects them as well. When a legitimate licensing company wants to use a song recorded under an AFM sound recording contract in another medium, such as a commercial, TV show, or film, they know they have an obligation to not only pay a license fee to the artist and/or label for the use of the recording itself, but also to pay the musicians the prevailing AFM wage. These licensing companies know that the AFM is authorized to collect these payments, which saves the employer money.

If a recording is used in another medium and you worked for cash or signed a work-for-hire agreement, you might have a moral and ethical right to ask your employer to give the musicians a share of their money, but you have lost your leverage by working nonunion. By the way, never sign work for hire documents—they are asking you to give away all your intellectual property rights, something they don’t even have the right to do. So, how do you get around this problem?

We understand that sometimes producers are handed a chunk of money by a signatory label who is supposed to be filing contracts on every release. However, sometimes the labels do not keep up with their legal obligation to file contracts on everything that they release. Many producer/engineers also play on the records they are working on, and I have found that many of them are not aware of the “musician money” they are leaving on the table.

If the song is used elsewhere, even if they are only getting producer fees and royalty payments on the front end, their musical contributions create revenue on the back end—but only if they are listed on an AFM contract. Many independent labels and artists have bought into the stereotype that only big artists and major labels deal with the AFM. That is simply not true. Here’s the bottom line: someone (maybe it’s you) has to ask what we sometimes call “the question.”

“Hey, I was just wondering … do you think there is any way we could put this session on an AFM contract this time?” said the bandleader/arranger/side musician to the artist and/or producer. “Things are going good, but doing it ‘on the card’ (aka on an AFM contract) would really take it up a notch and create a bunch of potential revenue streams. I’ve been talking to the players, and they would really like to do that. What do you think?” It’s not that hard, and once you have done it a time or two, it gets easier. Simply put, it’s the right thing to do.

In most cases, I have seen employers, producers, and artists refuse to discuss working under AFM contracts because they are trying to take advantage of musicians. However, sometimes, they just need someone to explain the logic to them and help them take care of the details. This is why session leaders make double scale. To be clear, this does not have to be a confrontational discussion in either scenario. You are simply standing up for what is right. No one wants to, or should be, fired for speaking up. You may give up money in the short term by saying you won’t work without a contract, but you are also saying “no” to being exploited. If what you bring to the equation is something they need, it can become a whole new conversation.

This is not old school intimidation. You are a professional asking a fair question, in an era where any recording could blow up beyond all comprehension. From Local 257 (Nashville, TN) member Taylor Swift to Billie Eilish, all bets are off as to what will catch the public’s imagination and become the next big thing. You can go along for the ride, or you can give your future revenue away—the choice is yours. The power of an AFM contract ensures you can be paid years from now for your intellectual property. We can help with the details, but it all starts with someone being willing to ask “the question.”

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Build Back with a Strong Union

As the US and Canada begin to re-emerge from the COVID-19 crisis, the road to an economic recovery will be long and arduous. Recessions hurt low-income and middle-income families the most, dragging down wages and decimating the savings of the working class. Without targeted solutions by governments, the effects of this pandemic will be long lasting, hurting those workers at the lower end of the spectrum the most.

In the US, the Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act) would authorize financial penalties for employers that violate workers’ rights, improve the possibility of workers joining boycotts and strikes, and enhance the ability to collectively bargain, along with other reforms. The PRO Act would do much to modernize federal labor laws in the US.

Senate Republicans seem to resist taking up this legislation, with claims that it is stacked against employers. But, after the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis, lawmakers have an obligation to do right by the working class. Without government intervention, the recovery will be fleeting and, at best, unbalanced.

As our sector begins to rebound, we must build a stronger union. A strong union will be critical to the recovery, equalizing the economic effects while ensuring that wages, benefits, and working conditions reflect what is truly fair compensation. As the union bargains back stronger, those effects will reverberate across the industry with improvements in conditions for all workers, union and nonunion alike.

Our union has been blessed by the amazing work we see in both small and large locals alike, from the Western Conference to the Southern, from the Eastern to the Mid-States, and our sisters and brothers in Canada. Our local and national leadership have demonstrated a selfless commitment to our cause, all in the name of music and musicians. They have kept our federation intact, pulling us through the unprecedented challenges and the once in a lifetime crisis that COVID-19 has dealt us.

As governments continue to debate what path will lead our nation to a true recovery, focused and commonsense solutions must include support for labor unions. And with these targeted solutions, we will emerge stronger together.

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