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



jay blumenthal

Jay Blumenthal – AFM International Secretary-Treasurer

    A Couple of Things

    Musical Equipment Insurance Program Update

    In February, I gave an update on the search for a replacement carrier for the AFM’s instrument insurance program. AIG/New Hampshire, the previous carrier, pulled out of the business at the end of 2023, offering one-year renewals only to those participants whose policy dates fell earlier than December 31, 2023. Those with renewal dates later than December 31 would not be renewed. This only applied to US participants. Instrument insurance for Canadian members is offered through a different broker, HUB International, and that coverage continues undisturbed by the developments with the US program’s carrier.

    For US members participating in the program, the wait for a new carrier has been long, and, for those with policy renewal dates in January, February, or March, perhaps a bit harrowing. I was informed in late February by our US group benefits broker, AMBA, that they had located a new carrier, and that coverage would be available in April. Subject to final confirmation, I’m informed that the premium rate multiplier will be a little cheaper, although the minimum premium will be a bit higher. We’ve been promised that notice will be sent to all participants shortly, and those whose policies have already expired will be offered coverage “retroactive” to their renewal date.

    I trust that this will prove to be good news for all, but the uncertainty of the past few months has served as a wake-up call not to get caught in this kind of a bind ever again. Musical equipment insurance is a core component of any professional musician’s economic life and cannot be taken for granted.

    Freelance Musicians Player Conference

    My office recently received a request signed by about 40 local union officers asking that the International Executive Board to approve the creation of a player conference for freelance musicians. Article 22, Section 15, of the AFM Bylaws sets forth the underpinning for the request:

    “Conferences … composed of representatives from Symphonic Orchestras or of member- musicians in other specialized fields (“Player Conferences”), may be organized and granted official status in the AFM by the [International Executive Board] IEB.”

    Current player conferences of the AFM include International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM), Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA), Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (OCSM), Recording Musicians Association (RMA), and Theater Musicians Association (TMA). Each of these player conferences has special and unique characteristics that bind their respective constituencies together. ICSOM generally includes higher-budget orchestras, where the musicians are working more or less full-time throughout their performance season. OCSM includes all the Canadian orchestras. ROPA includes medium-budget orchestras, where the musicians may or may not be working full-time throughout their season. RMA includes several local chapters and musicians who are intent on making their living under AFM-negotiated electronic media agreements.

    Through their delegates, AFM-recognized player conferences have enhanced access to the workings of the Federation: an official voice (but not vote) at AFM Conventions, an expectation for their leaders to meet annually with the IEB and to serve in an advisory role when the IEB is considering business that directly impacts the workplaces represented by the conferences, and to meet annually in nonconvention years under the auspices of the joint meeting of the Local Conferences Council-Player Conferences Council (LCC-PCC).

    The request to authorize the creation of a freelance musicians conference is unique. Unlike other player conferences, this request does not come from rank-and-file members, but from local officers. Further, unlike the other player conference members, freelance musicians can’t be generally categorized as working for one particular type of employer. In our industry, the word “freelance” is a very big tent. Identifying the workplace commonalities that would bind a conference of freelance musicians together to express their common interests to the Federation will be no small task.

    Freelance musicians—however defined—represent the largest population of musicians in North America. Deciding whether and how to silo them into this particular aspect of Federation structure will be one of the most interesting and challenging intellectual and organizing exercises of this decade.

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    Arts Councils – Public Funding Traffic Managers

    Every major city in North America has an arts council—some type of public service organization whose mission is to disburse dollars, usually public funds, in support of visual or performing arts. These fund granting councils are staffed by professionals but depend on volunteers from the community to assist in allocating those funds and deciding which are the meritorious projects that fit the community’s needs.

    Serving as a volunteer board member on one of these councils is both a privilege and a serious responsibility. A good arts council member would be a person of selfless integrity, with an awareness of the locale’s arts scene, and perhaps endowed with a particular knowledge about a specific aspect of the arts.

    Not so many decades ago, local union officers or prominent members of a local music community were fixtures on these arts council boards. It made sense, of course. An arts council would need a specialist’s eye and mind to vet grant applications, and where a musical performance project was being proposed, who better than someone tied to the instrumental community to help with that task.

    In the years that have since passed, however, union representative participation on these arts councils has dwindled. In the 1980s, “union” was considered an unseemly term by the local culture vultures. As union representatives’ terms of service on these councils ended, they tended to be replaced by lawyers, financiers, municipal “influencers,” and societal ladder climbers. The union’s influence and expertise were gradually airbrushed out of the local arts scenes.

    As an adjunct to my recent participation with the AFL-CIO’s Department for Professional Employees work on prevailing wages for projects funded through the National Endowment for the Arts, I did a quick survey of the membership of arts councils across the Canadian provinces and US states. The survey revealed that today the working musician has virtually no representation on these councils.

    True, the performing arts are represented, but often by an entrepreneurial personality, or a lawyer who represents a bunch of musical organizations, or a banker or other business exec, each of whom may be simultaneously serving on parallel councils at the state, provincial, or national levels. I was struck by the similarities between the populating of arts council boards and corporate boards—an emphasis on networking and connections, with only a tip of the hat to specialized expertise.

    It’s time to put our expertise back into the deciders’ arena. Take a look at your municipal, county, and state or provincial arts councils. Is your local represented on the council? Or is a respected and fair-minded rank-and-file member of your local union on the council?

    If the answer is “no,” bring it up with your local officers, or at a union board or membership meeting. Help start the process of learning what it takes to get your union voices back on those councils to regain the influence over how those public dollars get spent and, when it’s for music performance, that the musicians get paid appropriately.

    We’ll be expounding on this topic in subsequent issues. Stay tuned.

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    Instrument and Band Liability Insurance History and Update

    In the early mid-1980s, the administration of former AFM President Victor Fuentealba introduced a groundbreaking musical equipment insurance program designed expressly for professional musicians, and in particular, for musicians whose working environment placed their gear at higher risk—club and lounge players, traveling acts (whether steady or a series of one-nighters). These were musicians who insurance companies generally considered not risk-worthy.

    At the time that the AFM’s program was created, instrument insurance coverage had been primarily limited to homeowners or renters insurance, and those policies didn’t cover equipment being used on the job. The AFM’s instrument insurance program was a revolutionary change. Coverage was all-risk, replacement value, at home, on the road, in the car or van, on stage at the venue, 24/7, anywhere in the world.

    Over time, other organizations introduced copycat insurance programs, some of them cheaper than the AFM’s, and some with different benefit schedules, better or worse. Through all those iterations of pop-up programs, the AFM’s was considered the standard against which the others were measured. During some of our continent’s more cataclysmic events of the past decade— floods, fires, storms, hurricanes—subscribers to the AFM’s program learned how rock-solid our program was.

    As the music business evolved, venues began to insist that bands carry their own liability insurance as a condition of getting hired. This placed a great amount of economic stress on musicians. In response, our insurer stepped up and designed a band business liability program to meet that need.

    These two mainstay programs were underwritten by the New Hampshire Company, later merging with AIG, which has been with us since the beginning. Until now, that is. Upon this administration’s assuming the Federation’s reins in August, we found a notice from our group insurance benefits broker, AMBA, that AIG/New Hampshire was pulling out of the equipment and band liability insurance program entirely, not just the AFM’s. Although the program was profitable, apparently it wasn’t profitable enough to keep AIG interested.

    AMBA sent notices of this unwelcome news to all the subscribers, and my office has kept locals apprised. But not all emails get read before they disappear down into the inbox black hole. And even when US Postmaster DeJoy’s post office delivers a letter to the correct address, it isn’t always recognized as something other than junk mail. This month’s column is intended to fill in any notification gaps.

    Our group benefits broker has been searching for a replacement underwriter for our program for the past five months. We were advised in November that a new underwriter was interested, but two months later, as of this writing, that deal has yet to be inked. Our advice to members who are affected by this is that, if their policy has expired or is about to expire, or if they have new equipment that they need to cover now, they should seek out other programs through other organizations. No member’s gear should be unprotected while waiting for the corporate bureaucratic engines to warm up their ink bottles.

    Our hope is that a replacement underwriter will be in place very soon. If that doesn’t happen, the International Executive Board will start an in-depth investigation into how to provide AFM members with an alternative cost-effective equipment insurance program that won’t fall victim to the stockholders of a profit-driven insurance company.

    Stay tuned.

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    Subways, New Yorkers, and Musicians 

    I’m a native of the Pacific Northwest, born and bred. We of that soggy land always viewed places like New York City as evil, dark, and scary nether regions, to be avoided at all costs. So, when I moved to New York City for the first time to take a job with the AFM in 1987, it was with palms a-sweating and knees a-quaking.  

    All the ills of Western society, as reported by the media, were going to be on full display in the Big Apple. The streets and subways, in particular, were known to be unsafe and fraught with peril. A friend who had moved to New York before us had even warned me never to look at the subway maps posted inside the subway cars because doing so would mark me as a newbie, and I would surely be mugged shortly afterward. 

    It was three days into my new adventure as a NYC resident, going home from work, that I stepped boldly onto the wrong subway line. Upon realizing my mistake as the doors closed, and prepared by my friend’s warning, I pulled my subway map out of my back pocket. It was carefully folded origami-style down to the size of a Loonie (the Canadian $1 coin), so that I could unobtrusively consult it in the palm of my hand (to avoid drawing the attention of opportunistic muggers), locate myself in the subway system’s maze, and rescue myself from my misadventure. 

    But the subway train’s rapid progress down the tracks outpaced my ability to flip through my map folds. In frustrated panic, I finally opened my map completely to see it better, only to discover that the dampness of my pants pocket had degraded the map along the creases of the folds by wearing off the ink, essentially making it unreadable. Out of options, and with fearful misgivings, I crept as invisibly as possible over to the system map posted on the inside of the subway car to figure out where I was and how to get to where I needed to be. 

    And then my worst fears were realized. My cover got blown. 

    “Hey!” hollered a guy (undoubtedly a mugger) four seats away. “Where ya goin’?” he bellowed. 

    “28th and 8th,” I mumbled as quietly as I could, desperately wishing for a magic invisibility button. 

    “Oh! Well, yer on the wrong train!” he trumpeted for all to hear. “Ya gotta get off at 14th and cross over the platform to the uptown local train!” 

    “Er, OK, thanks,” I replied as softly as possible. 

    “No, no, no!” another mugger yelled from the other end of the car. “If he gets out at 14th, he’ll have to pay another fare to get to the uptown train!” 

    “No, he won’t,” a third mugger shouted at the second mugger, “but he should cross over at 4th because it’s easier!” 

    “That’s no good,” retorted a fourth mugger, “At this time of day, 4th is a nightmare! He’ll get lost!” 

    And in the space of 10 seconds, I had an ad-hoc rescue committee of New Yorkers all raucously arguing with each other about the best way to help me—a complete stranger that they’d never see again—get out of my predicament so I could get home. In the midst of that melee, a bony, papery-skinned hand clutched at my wrist and a white-haired woman with a sister-of-Marge-Simpson-husky-smoker-voice rasped, “Don’t worry, dear, I’m getting off at the stop you need, and I’ll show you where you need to go.” 

    My West Coast preconception of an evil and dangerous New York City immediately disintegrated into a pile of dust. New York City, I realized in that moment, was a place where people watch out for each other because, apparently, it’s the right thing to do. In New York, a stranger’s welfare is umbilically attached to one’s own welfare. 

    Now in my second iteration as a New York City resident, I find that paradigm undiminished; stronger, actually. There’s something about the shared experience of millions of people, squished onto two islands—rich, poor, and in-between, all navigating together the streets, subways, and sidewalks, deeply conscious of civic welfare—that has manifested as a sort of hive mind. New Yorkers seem to know instinctively that their security and well-being depends on maintaining awareness of everyone else’s well-being. 

    When I first joined the musicians’ union, it was much like that. It mattered not whether one was a symphonic player, a club or lounge player, show musician, a general business player, freelance, or full-time. We members of our local were all in the same soup, we watched out for each other, we honored minimums, and we supported our local because our economic lives relied on that interdependence. We set a bottom line for ourselves and we stuck to it. 

    As I got deeper into the affairs of the Federation, however, I became aware that setting a bottom line nationally and internationally wasn’t so easy to achieve. Standards are set or bargained, but sticking to them is complicated. Balancing the needs of musicians in various sectors of our work and across different geographic regions, so as not to intrude upon or compromise each other’s economic security, is tricky and has become one of the Federation’s primary imperatives. 

    The need to engage in that balancing act I find galling because it arises from producers putting downward pressure on us and convincing us that we musicians stand in the way of producers’ success. The most fundamental task of a union is to take workers’ wages out of the competition between producers. In our business, however, producers have not only succeeded in pushing musicians’ pay into that stream but we’ve come to believe, in some cases, that it’s actually our responsibility to help producers achieve competitiveness by tailoring our union policy to their needs, rather than presenting our own solid and unified face to the producers.  

    Our care and passion for our art sometimes obscures the underlying fact that every one of us deserves to make a living as a musician, not at each other’s expense, but at the expense of those who hire us to do that thing we do so well. Our imperative as musicians, therefore, is to keep aware and alert to each other’s welfare—locally, nationally, and internationally as we move through our lives. 

    If 8.5 million New Yorkers can do it, we should be able to as well. 

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    The Mayan Calendar and Us

    The Mayan calendar was said to “end” on December 21, 2012, and with it would come the end of the world. Or so said the Western societal New Age Q-Anon-ish popular belief.

    As that supposed doomsday drew nearer, I happened to be keeping company from time to time with a First Nations elder in Southern California. He possessed some spiritual knowledge of the universe and shared with me his understanding of that approaching event: The Mayan calendar (actually, three intersecting calendars) is circular in concept, because the Mayans viewed time as circular, not linear. Therefore, life on Earth unfolded and progressed in cycles. December 21, 2012, was the end of one such cycle (it was a very, very long cycle), and with it there would be a transformation (as he put it) from the era of “No Time” to the era of “Time.” Far from being the end of the world, it was to be a good thing.

    As he explained it, the soon-to-end era of No Time—which began more than 3,000 years before the common era (BCE), and ending in 2012 (that’s 5,000 years)—was an era understood to be driven by a dark energy and marked by violence, greed, corruption, extraction, warring, and selfishness. The approaching new era of Time, on the other hand, would be influenced by a bright and light energy that would bring enlightenment and harmony to human existence. Indeed, indigenous traditional spiritual leaders around the world looked upon the approaching “end of the Mayan calendar” with positive anticipation.

    But make no mistake, my friend cautioned, that dark energy of the ending era of No Time would not go away willingly. In fact, he predicted that life immediately following 2012 would become more difficult and more horrifying as that dark force struggled to maintain primacy in the face of its imminent demise.

    Whether or not one accepts the validity of prophecies, it must be admitted that dark forces have been in full flower in recent history. War, societal strife, criminal amassing of capital, plundering other nations’ resources, pollution, subjugation, and dishonesty have all concentrated alarmingly in the past 75 years.

    Dark energy is how nine legal scholars can conclude that a business entity is entitled to human rights, how right-to-lifers can embrace the death penalty, how billionaires can be seen as civilization’s salvation, how fundamental evangelists can see that dumpster fire of a 45th US president as the embodiment of Christian principles, how environmentalists can be prosecuted as terrorists, how sacred lands can be given over to exploitation and extraction, how skin color can be used to evaluate one’s worth, or how the complete annihilation of one society by another is seen as the only way to a rewarding life.

    Viewing life through that kind of a lens can be discouraging. But we all have choices. Do we want to merely survive or build something much better? Do we want to merely sustain ourselves or create something brilliant? The forces that encircle our profession and therefore our lives are no match for our brains, hearts, and spirits if we choose to combine them all together to a good purpose.

    Dark versus light. If you must take something from me to survive, or if I must prevent you from obtaining something so that I can survive, then the dark wins. But we already know how to chase away the dark because we work with light. We do it all the time with our music—through collaboration, through improvisation, through listening, both with our ears and our hearts.

    Music is our collective life. Who’s to say we can’t make everyone’s life their collective music? Whether light or dark prevails is simply a matter of deciding which energy we feed.

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