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 » Executive Board Members » Respect Yourself by Protecting Your Intellectual Property

Respect Yourself by Protecting Your Intellectual Property

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

As technology and the music industry evolve, so must we. It can be hard to look ahead while you are trying to make the present happen, but it is essential to try. How a musician makes a living these days can be very different than in the past. Rather than having one main gig, many of us are reliant on multiple small revenue streams that hopefully add up to a living wage.

This precarious formula practically demands that you do all you can to maximize your income in every way possible. Getting paid more than once for your work is the true meaning of intellectual property rights. When you work without a contract, or worse yet, sign your rights away with a work-for-hire document, you are forfeiting those rights forever.

When you are recording a new project for yourself or someone else, the importance of putting it on an AFM agreement should be obvious. Unfortunately, too many lead artists and side musicians ignore the reality that protecting your work opens the door for other revenue streams.

There are AFM agreements to fit virtually any scenario—Demo and Limited Pressing, Single Song Overdub, Low Budget Master, and more. If you are an artist, in addition to filing contracts for backing musicians, you need to register your recorded works with SoundExchange to receive revenue from digital radio play. If you are part of a co-op band, you can file a Joint Venture contract that documents the revenue split, and also file with SoundExchange.

Mailbox money is not just for songwriters; it can be found in various ways. Residual funds that pay musicians include:

1) The Sound Recording Special Payments Fund, which is essentially a bonus payment for every AFM master session you have done “on the card” over the past five years. This fund distributed nearly $8 million to musicians last month.

2) The AFM-SAG/AFTRA Fund has been a game changer for musicians who play on recordings that are broadcast on noninteractive digital satellite radio. This fund paid out $60 million to backing musicians and singers in its latest annual distribution.

3) The Film Musicians Secondary Markets Fund, which pays residuals based on 1% of an AFM-covered film’s post-theater revenue, paid out $111 million in June 2022. This fund covers scripted television series as well, under the Television Film Agreement.

All of the above income sources can add up to significant money, but it’s up to you to take care of business in order to get what’s coming to you. It is always much easier and more effective to file the paperwork up front rather than chase it down later.

Now, more than ever, you never know what independent artist, song, or film is going to go viral and become huge. This is the world we live in. You do not want to be left behind when the revenue streams start to flow.

Speaking of being left behind, the US is still one of a few countries that do not pay royalties to artists, backing musicians, singers, and record labels for the use of their work on AM/FM terrestrial radio. The other countries on this not-so-illustrious list include North Korea, China, and Iran.

For more than half a century, US terrestrial broadcasters have successfully advocated for these intellectual property rights to routinely be denied to everyone but songwriters and publishers. They even tried to brainwash songwriters into thinking that money paid to anyone else would be coming out of songwriters’ pockets.

The American Music Fairness Act (AMFA), currently before Congress, is the solution to this longstanding injustice. It finally gives us the AM/FM rights that 99% of the world already has. It includes language ensuring that any money paid will not come out of other parties’ money. It also takes into account the difference between huge corporate broadcasters and independent and community stations, which are given extremely reasonable rates. We hope to get the AMFA through Congress, so please reach out to your representatives and let them know you support this long overdue legislation.

As I have explained many times over the years, AFM agreements protect employers as well as musicians. Any legitimate licensing and sync company knows we are empowered to collect money due musicians. Then, the artist and label can keep their license fee with a clear conscience, rather than play hide and seek with the players who deserve something for the use of their work.

Believe it or not, the music business can still be a win-win, but only if everyone involved does the right thing. Document your work for all time using an AFM contract. It’s more than worth the effort in the long run. You won’t regret it.

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