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


Home » Officer Columns » Protect Yourself and Your Work with AFM Recording Contracts

Protect Yourself and Your Work with AFM Recording Contracts

  -  International Vice President and President of Local 257 (Nashville, TN)

After serving on the AFM International Executive Board for 13 years, I am honored to be writing my first column as AFM International Vice President in this special Electronic Media Services Division (EMSD) issue. As a 45-year AFM Local 257 (Nashville, TN) member, recording is near and dear to my heart, and it has been central to the AFM’s mission for a long time.

The methods of creating and marketing music continue to evolve in ways that would have been nearly impossible to predict years ago. These technologies have placed more power in the hands of creators than ever before, but we need to use them wisely.

We must learn from the successes, and failures, of the past and enhance our collective future by getting important information out about the various recording options that are available to AFM members. Our contracts cover a wide range of recording work, from joint venture band projects to independent artists, major and indie record labels, TV and film soundtrack work, and more, including the use of your recorded tracks onstage by touring artists.

These are all things you can and should be paid fairly for. That will not happen if you don’t protect yourself. By communicating in a respectful but realistic manner with potential employers and convincing them to cover your work under an AFM contract, you can protect your future intellectual property rights in perpetuity.

In this era of social media and viral PR campaigns, it is more challenging than ever to anticipate what might become a huge hit around the world. Over the past decade, we have created several new and efficient ways to ensure you are paid fairly for the use of your work. These include:

•The Single Song Overdub agreement, which is the only negotiable “per song” AFM agreement, with a minimum of $100/song, and the only contract that gives you the option to pay into your own pension.

•The AFM Limited Pressing and Demonstration agreements, where recording scales can be set by the individual local if they are above the reasonable minimum rates established by the Federation. This is a viable option for artists, songwriters, and musicians who are getting started in the business.

•Low Budget Master agreement was created to allow for smaller projects (less than $10K per song) to be covered if the Low Budget application is submitted and approved in advance of the recording sessions.

There are numerous examples of how the lasting power of an AFM contract protects you and your work and creates multiple possibilities for additional revenue from a wide variety of sources for decades to come. A few years ago, Mazda used a Patsy Cline song from 1962 for two years in a commercial and those musicians made 20 times the original scale. The movie Ford vs. Ferrari featured an instrumental version of “Polk Salad Annie” by James Burton, recorded on a day when Elvis had a toothache and couldn’t make it to the studio. More than 50 years later, all those players (or their beneficiaries) are now sharing the back-end residuals from the new uses of these recordings. These are just two of many examples. When you work “off the card,” what you make that day is all you will ever make. Don’t make that mistake—cover your work because, now more than ever, you never know where it might end up.

We also have a variety of streaming audio/visual contracts that cover the new business model of putting content on YouTube and elsewhere. The pandemic brought these types of projects to the fore, and we were able to come up with a number of different ways to cover this work. Technology can be our friend, but we also have to pay attention to what is going on around us, and anticipate where things are heading. The AFM is your first and only line of defense when it comes to protecting your work.

Make no mistake, there is recording going on all over the US and Canada, and we have a golden opportunity to help bring this work under AFM contracts, for the better of all concerned. We have been working with EMSD Director John Painting to create “toolkits” for the various AFM agreements. These will help answer questions and guide AFM officers and members through the different electronic media contracts, both audio and audiovisual. Our agreements protect employers as well as musicians. When that is explained to them in a calm, respectful way, you might be surprised at the positive results that can come from the “union conversation.”

Please help us help you by using these contracts, which were designed to protect you and your intellectual property. We have the greatest community of musicians in the whole world, so let’s not sell ourselves short by giving work away for less than you deserve. We have the power—let’s use it!

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