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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Home » Officer Columns » Streaming Will Starve Musicians Without Fair Residual Payment Agreements


Streaming Will Starve Musicians Without Fair Residual Payment Agreements

  -  Recording Musicians Association President and Member of Locals 47 and 802

Streaming is front and center for all of us: Porch concerts posted to Facebook, Broadway shows like Hamilton playing online, symphony orchestras recording new streaming content, and the release of the new big-budget live-action Mulan on Disney Plus … whew! It seems as if we’re all recording musicians now!

Even in the middle of this pandemic, the Recording Musicians Association (RMA) is participating with our AFM media negotiations, with the record labels for a successor Sound Recording Labor Agreement, and with the TV networks for our Live TV contract, covering late night bands, awards shows, sports and news shows, and more. The move from traditional film and TV production and initial distribution was already moving to streaming-first, but the pandemic has dramatically speeded up the clock.

In just one example, NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell announced that NBC television will “shift resources from linear to streaming.” The emergence of NBCU’s Peacock, HBOMax from Warner Bros., Disney Plus, and other streaming giants as producers means that as more of the content produced by our signatories is for streaming, less of our AFM signatory projects will provide fair compensation through residuals. This means less income for musicians, and fewer dollars from our residuals fund going unallocated to our pension fund.

Let’s say that again. The move by AFM signatory studios and networks to streaming will starve musicians and our pension fund until we can win fair residual payment for our work.

We are all living in the same world and are part of the same moment of history. We in the recording musicians community have been grappling seriously and passionately with issues of racism, exclusion, and justice. We authored a public statement (which can be found online at www.rmala.org), but we’ve also moved to create a diversity caucus to educate us, help us find pathways to change, and hold us accountable. We have been engaging in conversations about what we expect of our union—of ourselves as union members—in addressing these issues. We have a long history and are compelled to work for change.

We’re also working on the profound issues of pandemic-era health and safety. RMA participated with Local 47 in Los Angeles in the creation of two working groups charged with developing protocols—one for recording and one for live performance. There is still so much half-known or unknown, but we’ve learned a tremendous amount about the science, about navigating state and local political structures, industry employer groups, relationships with adjacent unions, and our AFL-CIO state and local groups, always listening to musicians’ fears and hopes.

A few weeks ago, I had a personal glimpse into the future. On a Tuesday morning, I drove to the Fox lot in LA for my first day back at work since the pandemic, scoring an upcoming 20th Century Fox film. This followed months of meetings, research, preparation—and unemployment insurance. Comporting with government directives and AFM oversight, we were met with a health screening station, a COVID overseer, a nurse, training sessions, rules for behavior, and, finally, a roomful of almost 50 carefully distanced string players! I have to say, it was such a relief and joy to finally sit down and play with a roomful of “us”!

Not long after that return to music scoring in Los Angeles, the LA Phil returned to the stage, using the wide-open spaces of the Hollywood Bowl to perform for streaming distribution. The safety issues facing orchestras, theater, opera, and ballet pits, touring groups, and recording stretch out beyond the horizon, haunting our ability to even imagine what normal will be in a year, or two, or five.

The economic and employment picture is grim, with no end in sight. Perhaps the hardest part of all is the endless uncertainty. But we know that across industries union workers fare better in surviving catastrophic events. Now, more than ever, from protecting our health and safety, to protecting our contracts and livelihoods, to giving us a place to demand a voice in the major issues of the day, now more than ever we need our union. We are always stronger together.







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