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


President’s Message


Ray Hair – AFM International President

    In Unity, There Is Strength

    Last month, I announced that I would not be a candidate for International President during the election of officers at the 102nd AFM Convention, scheduled for June 26-29 in Las Vegas. After more than 40 years of service—28 years as president of Local 72-147 (Dallas-Ft. Worth) and 13 years as your international president, I have decided to step away from the calling that has followed me my entire adult life—improving the welfare and interests of the Federation, its locals, and its members.

    When I decided to run for AFM president 13 years ago in 2010, I knew how rough the road would be. Our Federation was in the middle of its worst financial crisis ever. The board-restricted Relocation Fund, held in reserve to provide money to move Federation offices upon lease expiration, was owed $1.2 million, borrowed by the General Fund. The Music Performance Trust Fund (MPTF) was in trouble and preparing to wind down. Stress at the Pension Fund had led to the reduction of its benefit multipliers. Federation relationships with two of its player conferences had fallen to an all-time low.

    When I accepted the call to run in 2010, I did so to end the bad politics and the confrontational policies that pitted country against country, local against local, member against member, and had us blaming each other for the expensive internal turmoil at a time when we needed leadership and change. I wanted to do more than just beat back that kind of politics in the short term. I wanted to end it once and for all. In 2010, we changed things for the better because we believed in the unlimited potential of the union.

    I’ve studied the history of our union, and our story has never been an easy one. It’s been about rising to the moment when the moment was hard. It’s about rejecting division for unity of purpose. That’s how we came together as a union back in 1896. That’s how we bargained the theater pits in the 1920s, radio in the 1930s, records in the 1940s, and television in the 1950s. That’s how we won MPTF and our pension fund to begin with. That’s how we overcame dual unionism in the 1960s. That’s how we won intellectual property rights in our performances on satellite radio and webcasting. That’s how we won streaming residuals in live television. And that’s how we will win streaming residuals from producers of motion picture and television films.

    If we want to meet the challenges of the moment and those of the future, we need to continue to heed our past and stay beyond the old divides between player and union. We need to reject the self-centered path of individualism and uphold the values of unionism—that an injury to one is an injury to all.

    Thirteen years ago, a new AFM administration did all of that and more. As your president, I went through the Federation’s budget line-by-line, cutting useless expenses and making necessary programs work better and cost less. We returned to fiscal responsibility and civility. The changes made during those first few years led to smart decisions that set the foundation for the strength we needed to preserve the pension fund, renew MPTF, restore fiscal health, and survive the deadliest health crisis in our lifetime. We came together, and we changed this union for the better.

    But change doesn’t come from leadership alone—it comes from each of us doing our part, looking after our Federation, our locals, and our members. I’ve seen it happen throughout my decades of service as your president, and as a local officer in North Texas, where I had the privilege to book gigs, confront employers, organize the unorganized, bargain contracts, settle grievances, win arbitrations and lawsuits, and collect the claims.

    I’ve loved being part of what is best about our union. I’ve seen it in the faces of the thousands of musicians I’ve recruited into membership, who spoke of their struggles but also of their hopes and dreams. Countless times, by working together, we overcame adversity to improve the lives of professional musicians and their families.

    There will be excitement, new energy, and better days ahead for our union. But we will have to work like our future depends on it, because it does. In a few short weeks, there will be new leadership and a new International Executive Board. I hope you will join them to build a new unity of purpose for professional musicians everywhere. And please don’t forget, members who love their union can change it.

    In unity, there is strength.

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    Actors’ Equity, Touring Producers on Verge of a Strike

    As I write this column over Easter weekend, my thoughts turn to the actors and stage managers who work and perform the Broadway touring musical productions across North America, represented by the AFL-CIO affiliated Actors’ Equity Association (Equity). For months, Equity has been negotiating with producers, represented by the Broadway League and Disney Theatrical, for a fair agreement covering its members who work on the road. At issue is the producers’ refusal to increase traveling per diem rates, which include housing and food costs for employees. Equity and the producers were scheduled to return to the bargaining table on April 11 and 12 under threat of a strike.

    By contract, musicians touring with the shows receive any subsequent per diem increases obtained by Equity from their negotiations with the producers; thus, the producers must match any Equity per diem increases and apply them to touring musicians. This arrangement is another reason that the AFM and its musicians working under our Pamphlet B and Short Engagement Touring (SET) Agreement have expressed such strong support for Equity’s efforts to improve conditions of employment for touring professionals.

    The AFM’s International Executive Board endorsed Equity’s “Unite the Road” contract campaign. I issued a statement declaring that AFM members will stand together with Equity members in their quest for fairness, just as we do when we provide the music essential to every performance.

    By the time you read this column—probably during the first week of May—it is highly likely that either Equity 1) has reached an acceptable agreement with the tours or 2) has initiated a work stoppage. And in the event the tours have been struck, all other workers traveling with the productions will be affected, including musicians performing under the AFM’s Pamphlet B and Short Engagement Touring Agreement, as well as union stage employees represented by the International Alliance of Stage and Theatrical Employees (IATSE).

    If discussions break down and Equity has declared a strike, actors and stage managers are expected to refuse to perform, halting further performances of the affected shows. AFM musicians traveling with the shows are subject to the existing “no strike” rule contained in the Pamphlet B and SET Agreement, which prohibits musicians from engaging in or condoning any strike or sympathy strike.

    The unique situation presented by an Equity work stoppage on the road is such that without actors and stage managers, the show would not go on. With no show running, there would be no work for musicians to perform, no gig to play, and no show for theatergoers to attend. Producers could not assemble replacement cast and crew members to continue a single show or to resume the 23 shows now touring across the US and Canada.

    AFM’s Touring/Theatre/Booking Division Director George Fiddler and I are in direct communication with Equity officers and staff and monitoring the latest developments at the bargaining table and with the “Unite the Road” campaign for fairness for all touring professionals. We will also strictly enforce the existing producer obligations toward AFM musicians on the road relating to weekly salary, housing, and living expenses in the event of a work stoppage. The AFM International Executive Board, which maintains and administers the AFM’s Theater Defense Fund, is discussing preparations for its use for the purpose of assisting participating members who may be affected in the event of an Equity work stoppage.

    As I stated earlier, by the time you receive the May 2023 edition of the International Musician and read this column, there will either be a deal or a shutdown, unless the parties are continuing to negotiate. AFM stands in solidarity with Actors’ Equity Association in its quest for fair pay and safe working and living conditions for all professionals on the road. The Broadway League and Disney Theatrical should wake up and smell the nachos and negotiate in good faith with Equity for an agreement that will meet and protect the needs of its members and all other touring professionals.

    On a personal note, you will find elsewhere in this issue a section containing statements from candidates seeking election as AFM officers at the 102nd Convention, which will convene in Las Vegas in June. You will find my name absent from that section. After over 40 years of service—28 years as president-secretary of Local 72-147 (Dallas-Fort Worth, TX) and 13 years as your international president, I have decided to step away from the calling that has followed me during my entire adult life—improving the welfare and interests of the Federation, its locals, and its members. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to serve.

    Note: Actors’ Equity Association, the Broadway League, and Disney Theatrical reached a tentative agreement on a new touring contract April 13, averting a strike. Full details of the contract settlement are not currently available.

    Actors’ Equity and Broadway League Reach Tentative Agreement

    Actors’ Equity Association, the national union representing more than 51,000 professional actors and stage managers working in live theater, and the Broadway League, the national trade association for the Broadway industry, have reached a three-year collective bargaining agreement for a new contract governing touring productions. The agreement remains subject to ratification by Equity members in a vote by electronic ballot.

    The deal comes after the union for actors and stage managers had recently authorized a strike pending a resolution over disagreements on wage increases and per diem rates. They had been negotiating since mid-January to create a new contract.

    The union’s priorities for the touring contract included increasing members’ per diem rates to cover the rising cost of food and housing on the road and wage increases. Members made gains around equity, diversity, and inclusion; paid sick leave for everyone in the Equity company (regardless of their contractual salary); as well as reproductive care.

    Ahead of the final bargaining days, union members across the entertainment industry supported Equity’s #UniteTheRoad campaigning with social media posts and in-person leafleting about the negotiations to audience members. 

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    Post-pandemic, Unionism Is More Important Than Any Other Time in Our Lives 

    It has been a treacherous road weathering the storm of the health crisis. People want to know if and when the pandemic will be over. Some think the pandemic is over when everyone acts like it's over—no more masking or social restrictions—like we were doing before this all started.  

    If that’s true, people tired of restrictions could ignore health recommendations and create the impression that the pandemic is over, despite the continued huge numbers of cases in the US, Canada, and around the world. That may be where we are right now.  

    It is said that a pandemic eventually becomes endemic, where the infection is still present in a region or community, but the behavior of the virus is predictable, and the number of cases and deaths no longer spike. Health care workers say that an endemic virus is one that we have learned to live with, like the flu, but we may not be able to clearly see the transition from pandemic to endemic until after it happens.  

    Whether we have morphed from pandemic to endemic, no one can dispute that the Federation, our locals, and our members are still tormented by the past three years of crisis. It is affecting our ability to organize and bargain, our relationships with employers, and our personal and musical relationships with each other. Our lives will continue to be affected by it for a long, long time.  

    Over the past three years, Federation officers and staff worked hard to preserve the union’s ability to support and protect our locals and members from employer attempts to use the pandemic as an excuse to impose unjustified workplace concessions. Despite the virus, we are in a better position today than we were one year ago in some very significant areas.  

    By the end of last year, symphonic employment had recovered to 100% of pre-pandemic levels and electronic media employment recovered to nearly 100%, except for sound recordings, which stood at 80% pre-pandemic. (Sound recordings are expected to rise to 100% by the close of 2023.) 

    Federation-negotiated touring employment rose to 120% of pre-pandemic levels as of year-end 2022. This is despite last year’s Omicron surge that interrupted some itineraries, suspended some performances with layoffs, or delayed reopenings. 

    Film musicians ratified an extension to the Motion Picture and TV Film agreements last year with a 3% raise on wage items, preserving the progressive provisions we won from the studios in 2019. That deal will expire November 14 this year, when full bargaining with the producers will commence.  

    Touring theater musicians ratified a one-year extension with Disney and the Broadway League last year with a 3% raise in wage items applicable to the Pamphlet B and Short Engagement Tours agreements, which expires in August this year. Negotiations over all terms of those agreements will begin later this summer. 

    Session musicians this month ratified a new three-year deal with the Sound Recording Industry—Sony, Warner, Disney, and Universal—featuring yearly increases of 6%, 3%, and 3% to wages, plus health and welfare increases, new provisions for audiovisual live and in-studio capture, and a bigger piece of the labels’ worldwide streaming revenue for our pension fund, the Special Payments Fund, and the Music Performance Trust Fund.  

    As explained in last month’s column, on March 11, the AFM-EP Fund applied for $1.5 billion in special financial assistance, under the provisions of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) needed to pay benefits through 2051, without any reduction to participant benefits. The Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation has 120 days to review the application and will pay approved plans their financial assistance in a lump sum within 60-90 days of approval. The ARPA payment is not a loan. It is a grant that does not have to be repaid. 

    Yes, we are better off this year than last, but COVID consequences have reordered the economy. That may have resulted in a labor shortage and higher wages for essential workers but did not result in a shortage of musicians. It’s entirely the opposite. Coronavirus strengthened the power of our employers.  

    The immediate risk for musicians is coping with fear against a background of uncertainty used by employers to exploit us. It happens even in good times, but more so now, in the aftermath of this health crisis. Unionized workers are in much better shape to weather the post-pandemic economy. Pressure from the union is the only reason employers don’t behave worse.  

    We can better cope with these difficult post-pandemic days by moving away from patterns of individualism, promoted by our employers and by self-serving dis-unifiers within the union, who push for more for themselves or for a smaller part of the union at the expense of the whole. The antidote is unified collective action, which employers hate.  

    Patterns of individualism have plagued unions from their earliest days. Employer relations must be approached as a collective and as an institution, united toward making employers do better for us. You get that through collective bargaining agreements that can be improved, and by dovetailing disparate workplace interests. Organizing during this post-pandemic environment is challenging. The reality is that, with uncertainty and unemployment, fewer of us are willing to take chances when we are worried that we can’t find another job.  

    Generally, employers don’t give you things because they like you, or have a heightened sense of benevolence or moral responsibility. You get things when employers are afraid of what will happen if they don’t give them to you. Unions exist because the power of the employer to control your fate demands an organized response. Unionism is more important now, post-pandemic, than any other time in our lives. A better world for professional musicians depends on all of us sticking together because we are stronger together. 

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    Pension Fund Update: Financial Assistance Application Set for March Filing

    As you may recall, after an all-out lobbying effort by the Federation, our player conferences, rank-and-file AFM members, AFM and Employers’ Pension Fund (AFM-EPF) participants, and organized labor, Congress passed the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) in early 2021. ARPA provides financial relief to multiemployer defined benefit pension plans facing financial distress. Troubled plans will be supported with enough money to pay benefits for decades into the future (at least through 2051, if projections hold). The AFM-EPF will be applying for assistance in early March this year.

    We are all grateful and proud of the grassroots organizing and determination of AFM-EPF participants and AFM members to push for this legislation, which now stands to improve the lives of tens of millions of workers and retirees. This month, I want to take the opportunity to provide some details about the application process and rules that apply once the fund receives assistance.

    ARPA is one of the most important pieces of legislation in a generation, adopted in support of pension plans and their participants. The AFM-EPF, and other union pension plans like it, are essential to the dignity and welfare of workers. They are also an integral part of the financial foundation of our communities.

    Under ARPA, pension plans are allowed to apply for Special Financial Assistance (SFA) on a priority basis set by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), the federal agency that oversees pension plans and administers the ARPA SFA program. That priority depends on how underfunded a pension fund may be, as well as other factors. For example, plans that were already insolvent or about to become insolvent were allowed to apply first, starting July 2021. Many of those plans have already received assistance.

    The AFM-EPF is considered a priority plan because it is such a large plan. The application window for our group just opened this past February. The fund intends to apply before March 11, 2023. The PBGC has 120 days to review the application and expects to pay approved plans their financial assistance in a lump sum within 60 to 90 days of approval. The ARPA payment is not a loan, it is a grant that does not have to be repaid.

    Denied or withdrawn applications can be revised and resubmitted. If the PBGC has questions or concerns about any aspect of the fund’s application or assumptions, the AFM-EPF will address them promptly. Revised applications only need to address issues identified by PBGC and can be resubmitted quickly. According to the law, there is no limit on the amount of money available for eligible plans, so any delay should not adversely affect the fund.

    Once the AFM-EPF receives financial assistance, it is required to be invested in stocks and bonds, and the law requires plans to keep SFA money separate from other plan assets. One-third of the SFA may be invested in “return seeking assets,” generally, publicly traded stocks, and at least two-thirds must be in investment-grade, fixed income securities, generally bonds. All ongoing benefit payments and expenses can be paid out of the SFA money so that the fund’s other assets can continue to grow from contribution income and investment returns.

    Under ARPA rules, plans that receive financial assistance are not permitted to increase benefits in the first 10 years after receiving help, unless the increase is for future accruals and is fully paid for with new contribution increases. After 10 years, a plan may request an exemption from this rule, if it can demonstrate that it will avoid insolvency, even with the benefit improvement.

    Also, a plan receiving ARPA SFA money will not be permitted to allow reductions in employer contributions. An employer’s contribution rate cannot be any lower than it was on March 11, 2021, the date that ARPA was signed into law. These restrictions on benefit increases and contribution reductions will expire after 2051. Reductions or increases in contribution rates that took effect July 9, 2021, or later are disregarded in calculating the amount of assistance. (Lower contributions wouldn’t have resulted in the fund receiving more assistance and contribution increases wouldn’t have resulted in the fund receiving less.)

    We won’t know exactly how much assistance the AFM-EPF will receive until the application is approved, but our actuaries predict it will be over $1 billion. It is a significant sum and will go a long way toward shoring up the fund. The final funding amount is based on the fund’s financial status at the time of filing. Many other factors, including projections about future benefit payments, expenses, and contributions, are considered. AFM-EPF is doing everything possible to obtain all of the assistance it is entitled.

    The ARPA assistance is projected to provide enough funding so that the AFM-EPF is able to pay benefits through 2051 without any reductions to participants’ benefits. The fund will keep participants informed as the application process moves forward.

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    Three-Year Deal Reached with Sound Recording Industry

    I am pleased to report that on January 11, 2023, the Federation reached an agreement with recording industry representatives for a successor Sound Recording Labor Agreement (SRLA) for a period commencing the first Monday after ratification through January 31, 2026 (approximately three years).

    I am even more pleased to report that the agreement brings significant gains in upfront session payments, including a 6% increase in scale wages in the first year of the contract, followed by 3% increases in each of the second and third years, together with Health & Welfare payment increases, which also become effective in the second and third years of the agreement.

    The agreement continues to ensure that the Special Payments Fund (SPF), Music Performance Trust Fund (MPTF), and AFM & Employers’ Pension Fund (AFM-EPF) will receive sizable payments and a secure portion of the industry’s revenues from the exploitation of our music from digital streaming and licensing.

    In addition, new provisions in the agreement provide for per-tune payments from live location audiovisual recordings and from audiovisual studio sessions. These gains were hard-won. Negotiations began January 7, 2020, and continued through four separate rounds, until the final conclusion on January 11, 2023.

    Significant Increases in Up-Front Payments

    We told industry from the outset of negotiations that we had to have significant improvements in session wages, and we got them. The scale wage increases of 6% in the first year of the agreement, and 3% in each of the second and third years, total for an aggregate increase of 12.45%.

    Juneteenth was added to the list of holidays set forth in the agreement that require payment of two times the basic session and overtime rates for all hours of recording.

    Health & Welfare payments will also increase in each of the second and third years: in year two, the H&W contribution amount will increase from $28 to $30 for the first session in a day. In year three, the contribution amount for each service beyond the first session in a day will increase from $22 to $25.

    Streaming Revenue: Security for Pension, Residual Funds Continues

    The new agreement continues to provide and ensure that our pension and residual funds—AFM-EPF, SPF, and MPTF—will share in the subscription and on-demand streaming revenue that has replaced the companies’ income from physical product. The streaming payment obligations represent a significant advance over the old physical sales formula and are calculated as 0.36% of receipts for streaming throughout the world. During the term of the agreement, Universal, Warner, Atlantic, Sony, and Hollywood Records will make the following combined lump sum payments to the AFM-EPF:

    • $7 million in year one
    • $7.5 million in year two
    • $8 million in year three

    Payments calculated in excess of those sums will be made to SPF and MPTF. Those funds will continue to share in this important revenue stream, so that significant payments from the recording industry’s new and dominant business model—streaming revenue—are made into the funds that have suffered so greatly from the decline of the old sales model—physical product revenue.

    Expansion of Traditional and Nontraditional New Use Licensing

    The negotiating committee was persuaded that the following limited expansions of existing nontraditional and foreign licensing provisions would be beneficial:

    Mobile Applications. The agreement removes the sunset provision relating to mobile applications that was part of the predecessor SRLA and which permits the licensing of sound recordings into mobile applications for the payment of 3% of the license fee to SPF (2/3) and MPTF (1/3). These licenses shall require Federation approval. This provision does not cover music services on mobile phones, which are, instead, covered by the agreement’s streaming provisions.

    Nontraditional Blanket Licenses. The agreement will now allow the companies to enter into blanket catalog licenses for any nontraditional use, including mobile applications and noncommercial “life-cycle” videos and montages (e.g., weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs, or nonpublic business conferences) with payments to be made in accordance with the audio streaming formula (36% of worldwide receipts with a cap of 55% of domestic receipts) and paid to SPF (2/3) and MPTF (1/3).

    Foreign Traditional Use Licenses. The agreement will allow licenses for worldwide use of covered recordings to be issued to licensees domiciled outside the US and Canada for television and cable broadcasts, motion pictures, commercials, and video games. The fee will be 4% of the company’s revenue, with a $150 minimum and a $4,500 maximum, to be paid to SPF (2/3) and MPTF (1/3). If a licensed commercial is exploited inside the US and Canada, the fee will be equal to the full traditional new use payment, including AFM-EPF contributions and payroll costs in accordance with existing SRLA provisions. The company will work with its foreign affiliates to ensure that foreign licensees are informed of their obligations via a letter.

    New Audiovisual Live Performance Capture and A/V In-Studio Provisions

    Audiovisual Electronic Distribution of Songs from a Live Performance. Industry agreed to a Federation proposal to include audiovisual recordings produced from live performances (when not covered by Low Budget Location Recording provisions) that are to be distributed as individual songs within the scope of the agreement. For capture of the content, a payment of $250 is due to each musician for the first song released from such a performance, plus $125 for each subsequent song. All other SRLA premiums, benefit contributions, and doubling provisions are applicable.

    Audiovisual Capture at Sessions. When musicians are engaged in the production of audiovisual content at a recording session, the rate payable to each sidemusician is $350 per three-hour minimum call, and 1.5 times pro-rata for work in excess of three hours. All existing SRLA premiums, benefit contributions, rest periods, and doubling provisions are applicable.

    Our Negotiating Team

    I’d like to thank our entire negotiating team for their contributions: AFM International Vice President Bruce Fife; Vice President from Canada Alan Willaert; Secretary-Treasurer Jay Blumenthal; and International Executive Officers Ed Malaga, president of Local 161-710 (Washington, DC), and Dave Pomeroy, president of Local 257 (Nashville, TN); Tino Gagliardi, president of Local 802 (New York City); Chris Anderson-Bazzoli, president of Recording Musicians Association (RMALA); Marc Sazer, president of Recording Musicians Association (RMA) and vice president of Local 47; Roger Blanc, second vice president of RMA and member of Local 802; Stephanie O’Keefe, president of Local 47; Pat Hollenbeck, president of Local 9-535 (Boston, MA); BJ Levy, president of Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL); Kale Cummings, president of Local 6 (San Francisco, CA); Dean Rolando, electronic media director of Local 10-208; Dusty Kelly, executive director of Local 149 (Toronto, ON).

    A special thanks to former AFM Electronic Media Services Division Director Pat Varriale; AFM Electronic Media Services Division Director John Painting; Executive Director AFM Canada Liana White; Outside Counsel Susan Davis; In-house Counsel Jennifer Garner and Russ Naymark; and Symphonic Electronic Media Director Deborah Newmark.

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