Tag Archives: Coronavirus

What Has RMA Been Up to Lately?

by Marc Sazer, Recording Musicians Association President and Member of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) and Local 802 (New York City)

Pension Legislative Activism

We are very proud of the Recording Musicians Association’s role in pulling together a working group to help save our pension fund. With AFM President Hair’s support, many groups—ICSOM, RMA, ROPA, TMA, AFM Legislative Office (Alfonso Pollard and Sandra Grier), AFM Organizing Department (Michael Manley and Alex Tindal Wiesendanger) and AFM Communications Department (Antoinette Follett)—all worked together on the intense campaign.

Meredith Snow (ICSOM chair), Mike Smith (ROPA president), Tony D’Amico (TMA president), and I committed ourselves to activating rank-and-file musicians. The American Rescue Act has benefited musicians in a number of ways: allocating financial support to venues, making PPP loans available to unions, extending unemployment benefits, providing COBRA subsidies, and more. But creating a pathway to survival for our pension fund was a particularly tremendous accomplishment. Hundreds of AFM musicians generated thousands of targeted phone calls­—and we won!


RMA helped form a joint RMA-TMA committee on touring issues. Prepandemic, touring artists and musical productions provided a great deal of employment, yet rarely under union contracts. The industry is multi-faceted. There are superstar artists with groups of different sizes, productions that mix traveling with pick-up musicians in their orchestras, artists who travel with regular bands, and artists with side musicians who play regular weekend gigs from a home base.

The first goal of our committee is research. We know that this is a big conversation. Please feel free to contact me, if you have thoughts or questions about this project. We appreciate the participation of AFM Organizing & Education Director Michael Manley and Touring, Theatre, Booking Division Director Tino Gagliardi.


RMA is now preparing for film/TV negotiations by doing widespread research on TV contract compliance. In a survey of TV production by our signatory companies, you might be surprised to see how many projects out there could have and should have been under AFM contracts, but weren’t! Musicians should have and could have gotten standard wages, protections on the job, residuals and new use payments, and health and pension benefits, but they didn’t. In virtually every case, the actors, writers, directors, carpenters, costumers, and drivers all worked under union contracts. Only the musicians were denied.

Similar to the touring issues, research is central. We are identifying sources of information and cross-checking corporate filings, copyright office records, trade information, and more to verify and expose. RMA has formed a small research committee focused on this project.

Our goal is to share our methods and grow a cadre of AFM musician-researchers who are able to step in and support campaigns, whenever and wherever needed. If you are interested in participating, or have thoughts or suggestions, please feel free to contact me at marcsazer@gmail.com.

We’re all in this together.

new normal

Well, Now What?

Pour voir cet article en français, cliquez ici.

The consensus among the leadership and staff of the entertainment-based unions is that the devastation caused by COVID-19 is total and complete. Moreover, if and when business starts to open up and folks slowly return to work, the performing arts will be the last to get the all-clear sign; and then begins the hard part—recovery. Theatres, symphony halls, concert venues and bars are unlikely to suddenly fill with patrons. Indeed, there will be restrictions on numbers and spacing, which means fewer ticket sales and crushed profit margins.

This, on top of a music economy that was already severely weakened by 20 years of digital mayhem, cannibalized by the demonetization of recorded product. For decades, record sales were the lifeblood of musicians, and now have all but totally vanished. From Napster, Pirate Bay, and LimeWire, to the advent of Spotify and the streaming craze, young music fans got used to paying little or nothing for their musical entertainment. For musicians to make a living, that meant constant touring, selling merch and, if they were lucky, a few CDs. Now the venues, tours, concerts, and festivals have vanished, and when the viral dust clears, there will be a reckoning.

An artistic career cannot just be put on hold for months and then just picked up where it left off. The attention span of the modern audience is short, and momentum quickly fades and must be constantly regenerated. While many people will go back to some kind of normal, for musicians there may be nothing to go back to. After all, they are the job, the small business, and it requires hard work, consistency, and luck. The pandemic represents a screwing over of musicians on an epic scale.

There are those that believe that perhaps this virus is a good thing, since the absence of live audiences will finally force the record labels, Google, YouTube, and Amazon to recognize the annihilation, share their windfall, and compensate musicians properly for the content they produce. After all, letting the artists wither away means no creation of content, the very thing these ruthless, global giants have conspired to cheat the artists out of. And, no content, no profits. The hamster will not endlessly run on the treadmill in the absence of food and water.

And now, locked away in self-isolation, a surge in creativity is taking place. Songwriters are inspired, home recording studios are active, and home concerts are springing up everywhere. Is a new model about to emerge, with a new delivery system to audiences? And if it does, will musicians be smart enough to correctly monetize their work? Will they diligently fill out the proper paperwork to cover a streamed performance and ensure their work is union-protected? Or will they simply become online buskers, naively grateful to perform before a handful of Facebook friends, and settling for a few coins tossed in their direction through crowdfunding or virtual ticket sales?

Clearly, the new normal will be nothing like the old, and we may be stuck with it for quite some time. Make sure you have the AFM in your corner. Don’t go out into this new reality alone and unprepared.


How Understanding Your Temperament Can Help You Cope With COVID-19 Stress

emily agnew

by Emily Agnew, Member of Local 66 (Rochester, NY)

In August 1987, the Honolulu Symphony went on strike. During our four months on the picket line, I experienced a level of stress like nothing I had ever felt before. Our union strike fund stipend of $100 a week was a lifeline. I pulled myself together and got a job waiting tables for the lunch shift at an upscale restaurant. But I suffered terrible stomach aches. I lived in a state of near-overwhelm all the time. Anything could push me over the edge: I still remember the sheer panic I felt when my Plymouth Valiant overheated in rush-hour traffic.

Stressful as that strike was, it was a minor event compared to the challenge thousands of musicians are dealing with now due to COVID-19. Back then, I could just buy a new water pump for my car; restaurants were open for business. I felt scared to death about money, but the word “death” was a figure of speech, not the literal danger we face now from this virus. And most importantly, I wasn’t homebound or isolated. I could see friends, and I met with my fellow HSO musicians every week to eat the Portuguese bean soup that union president Milton Carter cooked for us.

Stress has two elements: an external stimulus, and our response to that stimulus. I’d like to talk about the response part of that equation, and specifically, the way your temperament affects your response to stress. The information I’ll share here won’t pay the mortgage, make your roommate less irritating, or flatten the curve. But it will help you to meet those challenges in a calmer, more effective way as the world works to get COVID-19 under control.

Temperament: Understanding How 20% of Us are Different, and What That Means

In 1992, a psychologist in California, Dr. Elaine Aron, identified a temperament trait she had observed in many of her clients. She called it “Sensory Processing Sensitivity,” popularly referred to as “High Sensitivity.” I learned about the trait eight years later from a psychology magazine. Glancing at the bulleted list in the page sidebar, I read an eerily accurate description of myself. “Needs 8-10 hours of sleep to function well.” Check. “Sensitive to bright lights, loud sounds, harsh fabrics, or strong smells.” Check. “Needs to recharge alone in a quiet room.” Check. “Gets rattled when rushed or required to do multiple things at once.” Check. No doubt about it: I was one of these “highly sensitive” types the article described.


In the years since Dr. Aron published The Highly Sensitive Person, her first book about the trait, dozens of studies have given us more information about it. High sensitivity is in fact an inherited trait, found inabout one in five men and women around the world. It is not a syndrome or a pathology. Rather, it is a functional evolutionary response to new situations, characterized by a “wait, watch, then act” approach. 

All highly sensitive people—HSPs for short—share the fundamental neurobiological characteristic of the trait: pronounced deep processing ability. HSPs are sensitive to subtlety, taking in more information from our environment. And we are keenly empathetic, feelingour own and others’ emotions more intensely than people who are not highly sensitive. In some ways, our trait makes us ideally suited for a music career, and many musicians are highly sensitive. However, all our noticing, feeling, and processing also contributes to HSPs’ biggest challenge: we get overaroused more easily than the other 80% of people.

Being Highly Sensitive During a Pandemic

Our vulnerability to overarousal is even more pronounced during an intensely stressful time like this one. Faced with the multiple complex implications of the pandemic and the overwhelming number of unknowns, our deep-processing minds can easily go into overwhelm. When a highly sensitive person gets exhausted or overaroused, or both, we lose connection with our natural empathy. At best, we feel miserably stressed. At worst, we shut down, act out, or even blow up.

If you are highly sensitive, you need to know how to take care of yourself to avoid overarousal. It takes skill to regulate your intense emotions. Ideally, you’d learn that skill as a child. But for those of us who didn’t, it’s never too late. (That’s the kind of work I do with sensitive clients using a process called Focusing.) And for those of you who aren’t highly sensitive, the odds are high that you live with, work with, or hang out with sensitive people. You can support the HSPs in your life by better understanding their trait.

Five Ways to Lower Stress and Overarousal

During this pandemic, each of us faces a unique configuration of challenges. Some people are in better shape financially than others, but no musician is unaffected by the pandemic. Highly sensitive or not, we all need practical, effective ways to keep our heads on straight in these extremely difficult conditions. These five steps can help anyone lower their stress, and are particularly important for sensitive people:

1. Learn more about the HSP trait. The better you understand it, the more effectively you can take care of yourself and/or support the HSPs in your life. Elaine Aron’s website (https://hsperson.com) has extensive research documentation and many articles about all aspects of sensitivity, and a self-test you can take to determine if you are highly sensitive.

2. Acknowledge your external stressors and calculate your stress level. If you need stronger motivation to take care of yourself, use the Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory to compute the total point value of recent external events in your life. Holmes and Rahe demonstrated the dramatic effect of stress on health, finding that when your point total exceeds 150 on the inventory, your risk of a major health breakdown in the next two years increases 50%.This risk increases by a startling 80% if your score exceeds 300 points.

3. Identify the internal stressors contributing to your level of stress. Your internal stressors may range from chronic worrying to catastrophic thinking and harsh self-criticism. In addition, highly sensitive people tend to be so conscientious and solicitous of the needs of others that we may minimize or ignore our own needs, creating internal stress. Talking to a friend, family member, or therapist can help you become more aware of such patterns, so you can regain perspective and respond in healthier ways.

4. Take steps to keep your arousal level down. Highly sensitive people need solitude to process and recharge. If you can possibly find some time alone each day, do. If your stress level is chronically elevated, you can re-train your body to a calmer baseline by resting in a simple, enjoyable restorative yoga pose for 15 minutes a day (found on YouTube at https://youtu.be/BgGQJTGMNe0). I do it every day after lunch.

5. Trust your intuition as you make decisions. Highly sensitive people are gifted with particularly keen intuition. As your stress level decreases, your access to this sense of inner rightness increases—another motivation for taking care of yourself and skillfully managing your arousal levels. Meditation helps by lowering your arousal and is a powerful support to your intuition.

These five steps can benefit all of us during the COVID-19 pandemic, and they are indispensable if you are highly sensitive. I’m living proof: though my current Holmes-Rahe score is similar to my score during the 1987 Honolulu Symphony strike, I’m relatively calm. I’ve avoided the kind of stress tsunami I experienced back then. The difference? Greater knowledge of my sensitive trait, and hard-won arousal-management skills.

If you think you might be highly sensitive, take the self-test and begin learning. Managing your overarousal is a vital skill to help you stay well during this pandemic.

After 30 years of performing and teaching, including five years playing second oboe for the Honolulu Symphony, Emily Agnew now works with creative, sensitive people around the world in 1:1 sessions and courses. You can find more free stress-relieving resources on her website at https://sustainablysensitive.com.


Getting Through This Crisis

We have all been hunkered down for over two months now while confronting the most formidable health emergency in a century. The current pandemic has created serious challenges for members, locals, and the Federation. In what seemed like overnight, the music industry came to a screeching halt, leaving musicians unemployed, sheltered in place, and wondering when the next paying gig will be allowed to take place. Broadway theaters, concert halls, nightclubs, recording studios, venues large and small have been closed.

Shelter-in-place directives have forced the temporary closure of all our Federation offices, while most AFM employees continue to work remotely. The Federation has been focused on ensuring musicians were eligible for unemployment benefits available from states and the federal supplemental amount added to the state benefit. While small businesses can avail themselves of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) helping small businesses keep their employees on the payroll, this support has not been made available to unions. As AFM revenue streams have been severely compromised, locals and the Federation are feeling the effects. While a short duration can be withstood, it has become increasingly clear that this will not be over anytime soon.

In fact, the experts are predicting it will be at least 12 to 18 months before an effective vaccine will become available—and that’s just a best guess. While other businesses may be able to engage in a careful, phased-in opening, it’s hard to imagine the public being willing to enter a concert hall or a theater anytime before a proven effective vaccine is widely available. So we must be ready to endure this for the long term.

Whether a member, a local, or the Federation, preserving resources, reducing expenses, and creating efficiencies are necessary at this time. Before making any purchase, ask yourself if you really need to make this purchase now or can it wait for when times improve? Better yet, ask yourself if you really need to make the purchase at all.

Before COVID-19 changed all our lives, the prevailing financial advice had been to keep six to nine months of emergency funds available for necessary expenses in a crisis. Now, based on the predicted 12 to 18 months it will take to return to some sort of “new normal,” it has become clear the six to nine months of reserves is insufficient.

There will be many lessons learned by all of us as individuals and together as a country while we navigate our way through the current crisis. As individuals, we need to be prepared mentally, physically, and financially for various situations that may well have profound consequences. As a country, I’d like to think we have learned that allowing most of our manufacturing jobs to leave our shores creates a national security risk. Being dependent on other countries to supply us with critical supplies during a crisis can be fraught with danger.

It has been a painful experience for all of us, especially those who have lost loved ones to COVID-19. As I hear about some of our AFM members lost to this pandemic, I think about how they spent their lives bringing the joy of music to so many. What a wonderful legacy they have left us all, although their lives were cut short much too early. We will miss them dearly.

Finally, I urge everyone to stay safe and healthy. Please don’t give up hope. I am so looking forward to the day we can all return to the concert halls, theaters, night clubs, and all venues where live music can once again enrich all our lives.

new reality

The New Reality for Musicians: How Our Union is Working For Us and How We Can All Adapt to the New Environment

new reality
Dallas Symphony Orchestra

We are more than two months into the coronavirus pandemic and nationwide quarantine, with just a glimmer of hope beginning to shine that society and the economy may start opening back up soon. But even a Phase 1 reopening will not much help musicians, whose profession relies on people in close contact, whether it is in studio, onstage, in a restaurant or bar, or at a large outdoor live music venue. Musicians practice a communal craft, and, currently, musicians are nearly 100% unemployed.

But that does not mean musicians have been forgotten or neglected, that their interests are being ignored. The AFM—at the local, national, and international levels—has been fighting tirelessly for its members’ rights and needs.

It also does not mean that union musicians have no outlet for their creativity. The new reality is a digital one, in which musicians have transitioned to online existence in order to keep creating, marketing, and sharing their music.

Our Union on the Job

The April issue of International Musician detailed what the AFM had done up to that point to respond to the coronavirus crisis and to assist and protect its members. Since then, union members have relentlessly continued working: lobbying state and federal legislators to include musicians in all relief legislation, ensuring financial and health assistance is available for its members, directing members to further assistance, keeping track of employers and holding them responsible for adhering to union contracts for pay, benefits, and residuals; and creating new, necessary side letters and contracts to expand flexibility in existing contracts, thereby ensuring nobody gets left out of the new reality of the music and entertainment industry.

As President Hair and AFM Legislative Director Alfonso Pollard have explained and will continue to explain every month in these pages, the AFM has been on the front lines in Washington fighting for musicians’ recognition as affected employees in the US economy. After the first national coronavirus relief legislation became law, the AFM, joining with other industry unions and organizations, decried the egregious absence of freelancers, independent contractors, and part-time workers—or W2 wage earners—from the bill, and fought to remedy the situation the subsequent legislation. The AFM is also fighting to ensure that once a return to work is underway, musicians are not forgotten in terms of opening venues, limiting audiences, and ensuring healthy workplaces.

Up north, the Canadian office likewise fought for employment insurance for gig workers, joined a task force to fight for the entertainment industry, and participated in a second coalition of organizations to identify long-term issues of wages, benefits, and safety once musicians return to work. The AFM is present in talks at the highest levels, as shown in Vice President from Canada Alan Willaert’s column last month, in which he was on a conference call with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

On the symphonic side of things, with regular season concerts completely suspended and cancelations for summer seasons beginning to roll in, symphony orchestras in the US and Canada have turned to digital means to maintain connection with their donors, patrons, subscribers, and local communities. The most creative and effective of these strategies capitalize on each orchestra’s unique place in its community and help reinforce the orchestra’s existing “brand.”

new reality

Many orchestras are using content for which musicians previously received payment under the Symphony, Opera or Ballet Integrated Media Agreement (“IMA”) or other AFM agreements and which is still in a “rights period” during which the employer is entitled to distribute it via streaming. Other symphonic employers are availing themselves of streaming opportunities pursuant to a COVID-19 IMA Side Letter, which provides flexibility to stream archived concerts via a private link, password-protected site, or to individuals who provide contact information and agree to receive marketing from the employer. Some are taking advantage of both paid-for media and archival streaming pursuant to the Side Letter.

The IMA and COVID-19 Side Letters also allow for the creation and distribution of more informal “promotional” content, including pieces that rely on the over-layering of individual home recordings to generate a virtual ensemble. Individual orchestra musicians (and the numerous musician couples sheltering together) speak and perform directly from their living rooms and home studios, reaching homebound audiences with an unprecedented degree of intimacy, despite the physical separation. These projects have artistic value but function most vividly to reinforce the shared experience of musician and concertgoer, both temporarily exiled from the concert hall. While these conditions are not ideal, these smaller, individual offerings are unique and let our audiences see and hear the talents of our exceptional musicians in a way they probably never have before.

AFM agreements to expand flexibility for streaming during this crisis period are predicated in every case on the employer continuing to compensate musicians pursuant to the terms of the CBA, whether or not services can occur. Orchestras that have over the years accumulated significant recorded archives are taking this opportunity to share historic performances with their audiences. Some are building more robust digital platforms that will also host newly created content when musicians return to their stages and orchestra pits. The current expansion of digital distribution will have a lasting effect on how orchestras and their audiences interact.

Similarly, projects recorded under AFM agreements administered by the Electronic Media Services Division can and have resulted in much needed income for musicians. As EMSD Director Pat Varriale explains in his column this month, re-broadcasts of daytime talk shows and taped performances done under union contracts, as well as documentaries containing clips licensed from signatory companies, have resulted in significant reuse payments to the musicians on those shows, which is a great boon during the current pandemic.

The AFM and its members are also doing their part to help raise funds for their brothers and sisters (both inside the union and in their own communities), whether it be by participating in large fundraising events or by hosting smaller online livestreams. On April 26, a historic all-Canadian special television broadcast, Stronger Together, Tous Ensemble, raised more than $8 million for Food Banks Canada. The 90-minute special—done under an AFM contract—was broadcast on hundreds of TV, radio, streaming, and on-demand platforms and featured nearly 100 Canadian artists, activists, actors, and athletes, including union musicians such as Sarah McLachlan of Local 145 (Vancouver, BC), Geddy Lee of Local 149 (Toronto, ON), Charlotte Cardon of Local 406 (Montreal, PQ), Sam Roberts of Local 406, Randy Bachman of Local 145, and Jann Arden of Local 547 (Calgary, AB), among others.

On a smaller scale, 30-year AFM member Ray Chew of Local 802 (New York City) hosted a four-part virtual series on Facebook Live to raise funds for union freelancers who have been impacted by COVID-19. Each episode featured music by and interviews with some of music’s greatest artists. The series was done in conjunction with the AFM, and was also promoted by the AFL-CIO.

New Performance Reality

new normal
Boston Pops Orchestra

Since social gatherings are prohibited across North America, the new performance reality for musicians is digital. Like Ray Chew, many musicians are taking to Facebook and other social media outlets like Instagram, YouTube, Twitch, and more, to not only showcase their music, but to support their fellow musicians and human beings, and hopefully to even make some income.

The Boston Pops Orchestra, under the direction of Keith Lockhart—all members of Local 9-535 (Boston, MA)—recently posted a musical video tribute on YouTube, Summon the Heroes, featuring the work originally composed by John Williams for the 1996 Olympic Games as a tribute to first responders. John Williams, also a member of Local 9-535 and Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA), joined the virtual tribute with a musical and spoken introduction taped from his home studio in Los Angeles.

The Dallas Symphony Orchestra—like so many orchestras in the US and Canada—put on a virtual orchestra performance about one month after quarantines started.  They performed the final movement of Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite, and did it under the volunteer promotional provisions of the IMA.

DSO harpist Emily Levin of Local 72-147 (Dallas-Ft. Worth, TX), wrote about it in the Dallas Morning News, and came away from the experience inspired by her colleagues. She stated she expected everyone to just record their parts at home and send them to her for editing, but instead she found the string players worked together to coordinate their bowings, the woodwinds came up with recording systems that allowed them to tune to one another, and players recorded multiple takes and created videos of the highest musical and technical quality.

“They went to extraordinary lengths to make the project a success,” she wrote. This made her realize that her fellow musicians were committed to the same level of artistic excellence they strive for every week while playing live. “That spirit of camaraderie was still thriving in the DSO, even though we had to stay separate,” Levin wrote. “The virtual art we created may be only a taste of the joy that comes from being enveloped by the sound of a live orchestra, but I hope it reminds us all of what we can look forward to experiencing, once we are together again.”

Numerous orchestras across North America are turning to the internet to post virtual concerts to keep their fans happy and their brands alive and relevant. Thomas Derthick, principal bassist with the Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera and president of Local 12 (Sacramento, CA) told Sacramento Magazine that he encourages supporters of the arts to help keep music alive by donating the cost of tickets that have already been purchased back to the respective orchestras.

“That cash will help keep the doors open for the arts organizations. This is true for theater, for dance and for anything else,” he said. “The sooner we can share our work in person, in the flesh, in the room with an acoustic, with people, the better for humanity.”

While virtual concerts are keeping musicians playing, they are not paying the bills or promoting musicians the way gigs did before quarantine.” Derthick said he has seen the “heartbreak” from his fellow union musicians across northern California. “Our local, like so many in the Federation, is facing major challenges as our work dues income has now evaporated. In the meantime, the work continues as we seek PPP monies from employers for our members,” he said.

In an interview with WUTC 88.1 Chattanooga’s NPR station, Taylor Brown, principal bass of The Chattanooga Symphony and Opera and president of The Tri-State Musicians Union, Local 80 (Chattanooga, TN), said how musicians endure the current crisis of their profession depends on their individual situations. Some musicians do nothing but play and perform, while others have additional forms of income that are still viable. Brown is in the latter category, but still, he says, the future is “concerning.”

“When all of this started many of us lost about a month of work in a day, and now it’s stretched on for a few weeks, and I personally have lost five months of work,” he said. “And it takes a long time to get that stuff accrued, to become in demand and go to just so you can have a year of work; and very quickly it went away.”

new normal
Dallas Symphony Orchestra

Brown says that turning to the internet to produce music, as many musicians are, is “helpful” and “a good option to have right now,” but nothing can replace in-person contact, performance, and collaboration. “I’m very concerned about 1) when will we get to go back to work, and 2) what will that look like? Large gatherings are crucial to music-making and art-making. I wonder when will we do it, and will people be hesitant to gather again? I certainly hope not, but it would make sense,” he said.

Guitarist and singer Phil “The Tremolo King” Vanderyken of Local 174-496 (New Orleans, LA) also wrote about his concerns in a recent opinion piece on
www.godisinthetvzine.co.uk. “Streaming took away our ability to sell recorded music, and Corona took away our ability to gig and tour for God knows how long. So, strictly speaking, we have lost all our streams of income,” he wrote. “But giving up won’t do. We must find another way. We have to rethink the entire industry … along lines of solidarity and cooperation.”

Vanderyken stated that not only do musicians need to work together, but so do musicians and business owners and tech companies. He believes musicians need to embrace the idea of new business models: co-op venues, co-op labels or management companies, pooling resources to increase efficiency and reduce overhead. Also, streaming rates need to be raised, consumers need to be educated about the economic realities of streaming for musicians, and musicians need to look at owning their own tech infrastructures and start-ups and thereby cut out the companies that give the content creators a pittance as a handout.

Interestingly, just last month, Facebook announced plans to allow users to charge for livestreams, which would provide a way for musicians and other creators to monetize their performances and events on the platform. The company also announced it will be expanding its “Stars” tipping system to musicians, although, as Variety.com pointed out, with a $.01 tip per star, “a bag of groceries will require a galaxy of stars.”

Some musicians have moved from livestreaming on Facebook to creating subscription-based Patreon platforms so they can make some sort of income off their craft. “The response to the livestream has been overwhelming and very touching …  but I, and all of my musician friends, have begun to realize that it may be up to a year or more before people are comfortable sitting in a jazz club or a concert hall,” stated Local 802 jazz pianist Fred Hersch when announcing his recent switch to the Patreon platform.

Professor Gigi Johnson of the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music and host of the Innovating Music podcast says the new quarantine reality is rapidly changing the music industry on numerous fronts. The first and most obvious change regards performance venues. Virtual concerts and drive-in concerts—such as those happening in European countries—are the new normal. The “tremendous consumption of online content” is “creating new ways for musicians to connect with fans and audiences often without an intermediary,” Johnson says. This can actually increase artists’ branding, sales, and exposure in ways they may not otherwise have achieved simply by playing live gigs.

However, the new question now is not just when will we go back to live performances, but what will consumers want to do when we can go back? Will outdoor performances become more prevalent because the risk of coronavirus exposure is less than in indoor settings, or will virtual performances be a greater draw because that has become the norm?

Johnson says she also sees union organizing increasing, especially in European countries, during this time of pandemic because the “really important question” currently for creators is: How do I have a voice in this new environment? She says numerous organizations are now “stepping up” to better serve their members with online availability, training, and community access. This is also leading to a massive transformation of music education in terms of how music is taught, what size and type of audience can be reached, and how to manage online teaching as a growing revenue stream.

Johnson’s advice to musicians during this time is to 1) focus on your mental and physical health, which may necessitate a reconfiguration of your creative processes; 2) reevaluate your skills and don’t be afraid to pick up new ones, especially technological skills, now that so much of music and performance is online; and 3) realize that people are at home and are therefore immensely more reachable. Invest in your “ecosystems”— it’s more important than ever to stay in touch with your colleagues and peers, and thereby expand your audience through artist cooperation and collaboration.

Pacific Symphony Reaches Settlement with Musicians Union on Compensation

Pacific Symphony musicians, management, and the Orange County Musicians Union, Local 7 (Orange County, CA), have ratified a short-term agreement to last until early September, providing the musicians financial support due to concerts the organization was forced to cancel due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The side letters do not replace the labor agreement that expires August 31, 2021, but modify the conditions under which the musicians are working. The Pacific Symphony was awarded a $2.1 million forgivable loan through the Paycheck Protection Program through the Small Business Association as well as additional funds pledged to the “Sound Future Campaign.” Both sources have helped the orchestra to “bridge” financially the period though mid-September.

According to the terms of the first set of agreements, Pacific Symphony will pay 95% of wages for orchestra services through June 6; 75% of wages for this season’s final Classical series concert; and 50% of wages for 20 services during the summer season. To maintain Pacific Symphony’s connections to Class Act schools and Heartstrings, a series of recorded and live online presentations will be produced. Musicians involved in those educational activities will be paid 100% of wages due under both the local contract and/or the IMA for these educational services through June 30.

“The union is gratified the Pacific Symphony took timely decisive action to apply for and receive a Paycheck Protection Plan loan. These funds will replace a significant portion of musician wages lost due to cancelation of scheduled work. This will also provide vitally important contributions to the union health and welfare and pension plans on the musicians’ behalf,” says Local 7 President Bob Sanders. “This agreement was overwhelmingly ratified by Pacific Symphony musicians.”

Musicians Make Concessions to Help Organizations Bridge Challenges

Musicians at many orchestras continue to make sacrifices amid the pandemic to assist their organizations in weathering this difficult time.

The Boston Symphony Orchestra is reporting $10 million in revenue losses from the cancellations of 130 events, including its tour of Asia. Its musicians—members of Local 9-535 (Boston, MA)—have agreed to pay cuts through the end of August, averaging 25% per player. Musicians have offered to restructure their vacation time for the next two years. Also, adjusted media language will allow the orchestra to use archival concert footage while live concerts are unable to happen. The media language reached is part of an agreement with the AFM.

Musicians of the Cleveland Orchestra—represented by Local 4 (Cleveland, OH)—took a 20% pay cut in April and May, and will take a 30% cut for June through September. The organization has launched a $6 million fundraising campaign to help fill in the revenue gap, with $3 million already pledged by board trustees.

At the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, musicians—represented by Local 5 (Detroit, MI)—have agreed to a 20% pay cut through August as well as adjusted work rules that will allow for additional summer performances—should health guidelines and trends make that possible.

The San Francisco Symphony expects $5.4 million in losses from canceled events. Pay cuts taken across the organization between April 19 and September 5 average 25%. San Francisco Symphony musicians are members of Local 6 (San Francisco, CA).

At each organization, staff members are sharing in the burden, also taking salary cuts and in some cases experiencing layoffs or furloughs.

Player Conferences Council Leaders Coordinating to Serve Musicians

by Marc Sazer, Recording Musicians Association President and Member of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) and Local 802 (New York City)

What do two bass players, a violinist, violist, and bass trombone player have in common? What kind of quintet is this? This is the AFM Player Conferences Council (PCC). We have begun weekly videoconference meetings which have become a much-needed bright spot in the midst of this devastating COVID-19 pandemic.

The PCC consists of the top elected leader of each Player Conference, currently: Meredith Snow for the International Conference of Symphony and Orchestra Musicians (ICSOM), Robert Fraser for the Organization of Canadian Musicians (OCSM-OMOSC), John Michael Smith for the Regional Orchestra Players’ Association (ROPA), Tony D’Amico for the Theater Musicians Association (TMA), and myself for the Recording Musicians Association (RMA). Our conversations have covered issues unique to each group of musicians, but we have also found that we are facing common issues of huge proportions.

Streaming media issues affect all of us, and the impacts and consequences are spreading in all directions. As soon as it became apparent that social distancing would cause cancellations of live performances, the leadership of ICSOM and ROPA began working with Symphonic Services at the AFM to help craft an approach to streaming media that would both work for orchestral managements and protect the long-term rights of musicians. RMA has similarly worked with the Electronic Media Division and the International Executive Board (IEB) on ways of helping support AFM employment through remote recording. Our regular PCC conversations help us grapple with the ways in which streaming issues in one area have implications for all.

And like many, we have begun sharing notes on Unemployment Insurance (UI).

It quickly came clear that Canada and the US have different systems and treat workers somewhat differently, and that each US state administers UI differently and pays different amounts to unemployed workers. UI systems have traditionally depended on contributions made by employers on behalf of employees, so musicians who were hired as independent contractors were left without coverage in times of unemployment. That includes both freelance musicians not covered by Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs), freelance musicians (particularly in California) who work under contract but through their personal services corporation, and a number of Canadian symphonic musicians who, under Canadian law, can be treated as independent contractors even when they work under a union contract on a regular, tenured basis.

Fortunately, both countries have seen the importance of providing some level of support for those left out in the cold during this catastrophic pandemic. Legislation has been passed on both sides of the border to provide unprecedented UI relief for both employees and independent contractors who are now unemployed.

Like so many of my colleagues, I have now for the first time filed my own claim for UI, and I have daily conversations with musicians wrestling with forms and websites, trying to gather information and survive being completely unemployed. We’ve benefited from information being gathered and disseminated by our AFM and many of our locals. The role of our locals in demanding good information from state and provincial bureaucracies has proved vital. But any way you slice it, this is hard for all of us.

I’d like to express my deep appreciation for Tony D’Amico (bass), Bob Fraser (bass trombone), John Michael Smith (bass), and Meredith Snow (viola) for their thoughtful and intelligent dedication to the welfare of musicians, and for their kindness and friendship.


Stay-At-Home Requirements Promote Even More Creativity

by Terryl Jares, International Executive Board Member and President of Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL)

Musicians are creative creatures. Through this time of uncertainty, it is encouraging to see musicians express their talents in new ways. Through the use of online resources, I’ve enjoyed performances of everything from solo clarinet études and family ensembles performing in their homes to caravans of cars honking and singing happy birthday wishes. One musician with computer skills has taken individual recordings and put them together in a collage of sorts complete with conductor! On a neighborhood block with a collective of professional musicians, each night the families gather on each of their front porches and perform a selected composition ranging from “Old MacDonald” and “Over the Rainbow” to “Twist and Shout.” The only prerequisite is the song must be loud and upbeat.

Many musicians are finding supplemental income by teaching online music lessons to their existing students and introducing many children and adults to a new musical experience of learning to play an instrument. And, I understand, they aren’t having trouble getting their students to practice.

We are still under a stay-at-home order and nearly all employment for musicians, as we know it, has ceased across the United States and Canada. Orchestras have canceled their seasons, theaters are dark, restaurants and bars have closed, schools are shuttered, and even weddings are being postponed. This will eventually end. We will come out on the other side of this pandemic. It will be slow and we all must be patient to ensure the safety and security of everyone.

While we wait, be creative. Do something you never thought possible. Engage with each other in new ways. Find new outlets for your musical expression and experiment with new ideas. Most of all, continue to be as creative as you can be.

icsom orchestras

For ICSOM Orchestras, Collaboration and Transparency Are Key to Success

Meredith Snow

by Meredith Snow, ICSOM Chairperson and Member of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA)

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, our International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) orchestras are all in uncharted waters. With our seasons abruptly canceled, fundraising and ticket sales slowed to a near halt, and no idea how long we will be sheltering-in-place, it is impossible to anticipate when we will be able to return to making music or how our audiences can safely return to our concert halls. The differing financial stability and resilience within each of our 52 orchestras is going to create solutions unique to each situation. But as we navigate the physical and economic uncertainties of both our immediate and long-term viability, it is important to remember that where there is collaboration and transparency, we meet with the greatest success.

In some instances—notoriously the MET Orchestra and National Symphony Orchestra—the musicians were furloughed almost immediately with little or no consultation. Soon after, other casualties included Phoenix, Utah, Oregon, and Indianapolis. NSO has successfully grieved a violated contract and is back on reduced salary for at least the near future. In Phoenix, Utah, Indianapolis, and Oregon, musicians have been “hired” back thanks to taxpayer money made available through the federal CARES legislation, though not at full salary in each case.

But in many, if not most, of our ICSOM orchestras, we have succeeded in maintaining an environment of trust and cooperation in this unprecedented situation. Musicians and managers, along with the goodwill of their boards and donors, are finding solutions to the problems that beset our paralyzed industry. Kansas City Symphony, Dallas Symphony, and New York City Ballet have all negotiated one-year extensions at 100% of current salary. Chicago Lyric Opera Orchestra was paid the remainder of their season—a canceled Ring Cycle—and the regular musicians donated 10% of that salary to their extras and stage band players. As of this writing, Baltimore Symphony and Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra are still paying musicians at 100%, despite significant labor disputes in recent years, as are several other orchestras, including Charlotte, Grand Rapids, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, and Rochester.

This is not to diminish the financial sacrifices that musicians are making in many places. Orchestras including Los Angeles, St. Louis, and New York took deep cuts. Others, including Boston, Houston, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Cleveland negotiated cuts between 10% and 30%. But these cuts were not imposed. They were negotiated, and often managers and music directors took cuts as well, and staff were laid off. Thanks to the unceasing effort of Rochelle Skolnick and Debbie Newmark in the AFM Symphonic Services Division (SSD), many of our orchestras have been able to craft individual side letters to our Integrated Media Agreement (IMA) that allow for greater freedom in streaming content to our audiences during this crisis.

There is a very difficult and uncertain road ahead for our orchestras. In the coming months, as the country comes back to life and the economy gears up, we may be among the last back to work. It is frightening not to know how long these constraints will last. Our endowments will have taken a financial beating and we don’t know when our audiences will feel confident returning to our performance spaces. We must take heed and remember that we—musicians, board members, donors, management, staff, stagehands, parking attendants, catering, and cleaning staff—are mutually dependent on one another. We are all indispensable to our way of life and to the music we are privileged to play, as are—above all—our audiences, without whom our performances would be pointless. If we look out for each other and work together to keep the ship afloat, we will survive this crisis and come out stronger than we came into it.