Tag Archives: covid-19

The COVID Blues

Ugh! What a time this is: May 15, 2020. Everything below is based on my view from today. What the world looks like when you read this will/could be completely different. As of this writing is a phrase you should put in front of everything below.

When I let my imagination run, I speculate what the folks experiencing the Spanish flu in 1918 must have gone through. As much as we keep updating information every day about this pandemic, is it really helpful that we can disseminate information so fast, or does it work against us, keep us in a constant state of panic, because just as soon as we settle on a “truth,” new information unfolds that changes it? Masks are not needed; yes everyone needs to use masks; and maybe now, again, they don’t really accomplish much, but hopefully remind us of what’s going on and that we need to be careful, so wear them. Then there is all the speculation about when we can reopen for business. Whatever I might hypothesize today will probably have changed 10 times by the time you read this, and, it’s different from state to state, county to county. There is no national strategy.

We have to stay nimble and we have to determine ways that we can use this tragedy as an opportunity for making systemic change, work to come out stronger on the other side. When it comes to reopening, no one has the answer. Clubs may be the first to reopen in the entertainment world, but in Seoul, South Korea this week, the entertainment district has been shut down again after a surge of infected citizens can be traced back to several clubs. Concert halls have a whole different set of challenges because of the sheer numbers, and it’s not just about physical distancing, it’s also about time, as the longer you are in a closed space with people, no matter how well distanced you are, it’s possible for the level of coronavirus “droplets” to build in the environment, and then in your system, leading to a level where you can become infected.

What I do know is that many groups are working on this issue of “how to open safely.” Each state is determining their own guidelines, International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) has standards that they’re building, but most importantly, what will make the audience, as well as the workers, feel safe in our venues? Our orchestras, operas and ballets are all looking carefully at the issue, but there are a couple of outside organizations that I’m aware of that are also focused on this in the venue/club side. One is called the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) and the other is called Reopen Every Venue Safely (REVS). As of today, these are brand new organizations, but I believe that it is critical for us, musicians, to be part of the discussions with all these organizations about safely opening, as we will be the workers on the line.

It’s our safety that needs to be critically looked at, especially given that we will be spending more time, hence increased risk, in the venues. Additionally, NIVA appears to be looking for funding to help sustain the venues through this period. It is my opinion that anything they are able to attain should flow through to the musicians as well. Maybe this is an opportunity to change the power dynamic that exists between the venue owners and musicians, a way to create a more level playing field (can you say, fair pay).

I encourage you to look throughout your communities, to find organizations that are working on these safety issues, and find a way to insert your voice into the conversation so that when we can perform again, we find ourselves in a better place than when the pandemic began. Every challenge can be an opportunity.

Stay safe out there.

LA Opera Cancels Remainder of Season, Reaches Agreements with Unions

The LA Opera has canceled its remaining performances, events, and in-person community outreach programs for the rest of the 2019-2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The company has reached agreements with each of its impacted union partners regarding these, and previous, performance cancelations and is implementing additional cost reduction strategies across the organization, including pay reductions for senior management. The company also set up the LA Opera Relief Fund to help support the artists, artisans, and staff negatively impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak and corresponding cancelations. 

Opera musicians include members of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA).

Union employees hired for Pelléas and Mélisande, which was canceled on April 10, 2020, were paid in full through the cancelation date, and at 75% thereafter. Those hired for The Marriage of Figaro, which was scheduled to begin rehearsals on May 4, were paid at 75% per the agreement. Union benefits, which are paid by LA Opera and administered by the unions, will be paid in full.

These settlements also cover all canceled work under LA Opera Connects’ programming for the community.

“In a health crisis, ultimately the individuals are the ones that will suffer the most,” said John Acosta, president of Local 47. “During this crisis, LA Opera has truly demonstrated that its values are centered on the health and well-being of its performers.” 

The LA Opera has continued to pay its employees due to support from the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program. It has offered support to its contractors who were not covered under the Paycheck Protection Plan through donations to the LA Opera Relief Fund, and it has implemented additional cost reductions across the organization, including pay cuts exclusively to senior management, ranging from 10-25%, as part of an effort to manage the short-term cashflow and secure its long-term future.

Commissions in the Time of COVID-19

Unique orchestral works are emerging as a result of commissions in response to the pandemic and in tune with social distancing.

The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra (NJSO) has commissioned a new work from composer José Luis Domínguez, Gratias Tibi, for physically distanced orchestra and choir, to express gratitude to the state’s frontline medical and essential workers. The Montclair State University Singers will join NJSO musicians for a virtual world premiere on June 8. Performers will all record their parts individually and each part will be edited together to create the finished work.

The commission is an extension of NJSO at Home, the orchestra’s collection of concert recordings and other video content featuring NJSO musicians sharing at-home performances, instrument demonstrations, and insight into their lives. NJSO musicians are represented by Local 16-248 (Newark/Paterson, NJ).

The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (CSO) and Cincinnati Pops will commission more than a dozen composers to write one-minute fanfares for solo instruments. The Fanfare Project will feature works by an initial group of 13 composers, with additional artists to be announced. Each composer will choose a musician with whom to collaborate on the piece; the world premieres will be video-recorded by the soloists from their homes and released one-by-one, along with the score. The inspiration for the project originated with the 18 fanfares commissioned by the CSO in 1942 to support the Allied war effort, that included Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man. The orchestra’s musicians are represented by Local 1 (Cincinnati, OH).

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.

going viral

Not What I Meant By ‘Going Viral’

Pour voir cet article en français, cliquez ici.

In 1927, a movie called The Jazz Singer was released. As the first “talkie,” it sounded the death knell for live music work in theatres throughout North America. The phasing out of radio orchestras resulted in a large number of musicians being unemployed. However, 2020 will be infamous in history as a virus now identified as COVID-19 effectively shut down an entire entertainment industry in an extremely sudden and devastating manner. This is not what we hoped for when using the term “going viral.”

On March 13, the Canadian Office (CFM) instituted reduced hours, a rotating but skeletal staff, and proceeded to provide services on a work-from-home basis. On that same March 13, work kicked into overdrive as the true extent of the damage became apparent, and action had to be taken quickly to mitigate the toll taken by a total work stoppage.

A letter from the CFM went out immediately to all levels of government because in the initial Federal response workers not normally eligible for Employment Insurance (EI) were off the radar—meaning 98% of Canadian musicians were excluded. The letter stressed the following points:

  • A waiver of the one-week waiting period for EI.
  • Expanding the benefit to include “gig economy,” or freelance workers.
  • Funding for symphony, theatre, and arts organizations to allow them to maintain payroll.
  • Assistance to stimulate and revitalize the industry once the crisis had passed.

Videoconferencing had begun almost immediately with other entertainment unions. CFM was an active participant, and signed on to a joint letter to government, along with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA), the Directors Guild of Canada (DGC), the Canadian Actors’ Equity Association (CAEA) and others. We also asked Canadian locals to track, as much as possible, the lost work suffered by their respective memberships. While this was clearly a monumental task, we were able to create a combined spreadsheet, updated weekly, in the event the government was insistent upon having backup data as the only justification for compensation.

Michael Murray, executive director of Local 149 (Toronto, ON), was instrumental in the creation and administration of an online petition containing several recommendations to the government for response to the crisis. A joint letter from CFM and Local 149 was sent to Heritage Minister Guilbeault on March 26. In short, the recommendations were:

  • Ensure that all musicians would be eligible for the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS).
  • Implement Live Arts Labour Tax Credits and Live Arts Labour Rebates.
  • Consider allowing arts and cultural industry companies, including small, medium, and large for-profit, not-for-profit, and charitable companies, to have access to the Business Development Bank’s working capital loans and that these loans are fully forgivable.
  • Consider providing significant targeted funds of at least $50 million to CBC/Radio-Canada to be put towards the wages, production, broadcast, and streaming of live performance studio recordings, within the bounds of public health guidance both during full COVID-19 restrictions and at a time of recovery.
  • Grant a reprieve on the remittance of Harmonized Sales Tax (HST).
  • Consider a contribution to each of the AFC, Fondation des Artistes and its affiliated funds, and Unison Benevolent Fund to support their Emergency Financial Assistance Programs at this time of high demand.
  • Consider advocating to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services for visa extensions and provide refunds on visa fees.
  • Consider the payout of all grants and subsidies from the Department of Heritage and waive the requirement for completed activity for those who have provided cancellation fees to musicians and other artists.
going viral
AFM Vice President from Canada Alan Willaert recently had a Zoom meeting with the Canadian Labour Congress, Canada Council. Pictured is a screen
shot of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaking during the meeting.

Rosalyn Dennett, who is an Electronic Media Services Division (EMSD) staff member at the Canadian Office, has been instrumental in posting updates for available subsidies, as well as all things COVID-19, in our social media outlets. In addition, she has created a one-stop centre for all information in the Canadian section of the AFM website, located at www.cfmusicians.org/resources.

The CFM was also asked to participate in a task force, spearheaded by the Canadian Media Producers Association (CMPA). This has proven useful because the employers of the entertainment industry are also shut down, and they have many of the same concerns as the musicians whom they employ. A united voice to government, on behalf of the industry as a whole, is far more likely to be a credible barometer, wherever our objectives are not contrary.

We are also participating in a separate coalition of entertainment unions, specifically IATSE, CAEA, AFM, and Associated Designers of Canada (ADC). Again, as one voice, we are in the process of creating a letter to government to identify long-term issues, and make suggestions for the industry to re-energize, once clearance to return to work is given. These issues are:

  • Income earning thresholds should be implemented to allow live performance workers/artists to generate a reasonable level of “gig” income while still in receipt of Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) support.
  • Seasonal and contractor workers/artists who would have generated income from live performance work in the spring and fall of 2020 but for the health crisis should be entitled to the CERB.
  • The duration of the CERB for live performance workers/artists needs to be extended to at least until the end of 2020 given the fact that the recovery of the live performance industry to its pre-health crisis norm will take at least that long.
  • Live performance employers should be able to claim the 75% wage subsidy for all regular full-time, part-time, contract, and/or seasonal workers/artists.
  • Live performance employers should be able to claim the 75% wage subsidy for all workers/artists irrespective of whether those workers/artists are engaged as traditional “employees” or in a self-employed capacity.
  • The duration of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) for live performance employers needs to be extended to at least until the end of 2020 given the fact that the recovery of the live performance industry to its pre-health crisis norm will take at least that long.

In addition to the foregoing, we propose the following additional support initiatives for the federal government’s consideration to assist the arts and culture industry in its health crisis recovery:

1. Specific Arts and Culture Emergency Economic Support

  • Increase funding allocations to the Canada Arts Council and various provincial arts bodies that will allow those bodies to utilize their expertise to allocate additional funds to arts and culture organizations to assist them in attracting live audience attendees—using an organization’s previous years’ ticket sales averages as the eligibility criteria for funding amounts (i.e. providing organizations funding equal to 50% of the average of the previous five years’ ticket sales so that the organization can attract audiences with reduced ticket prices).
  • It is our understanding that the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy does not include municipally/provincially run venues if they are owned by a provincial and or municipal entity. We therefore ask for the inclusion of municipally/provincially run venues in the CEWS or commitment of separate funds earmarked exclusively to assist in the recovery for municipally and provincially run venues.
  • Amend the Income Tax Act on a temporary basis so that live performance ticket purchases are treated as charitable donations for tax purposes for 2020 and 2021.
  • Devise and implement federal tax credit incentives for live performance organizations similar to the types of provincial tax incentive policies that have given rise to record-setting levels of film and television production across Canada.
  • Identify and implement longer-term financial assistance initiatives that recognize the recovery of the live performance industry will take much longer than any other industry.

2. National Marketing Campaign to Rediscover and Support the Arts

  • Work with all arts and culture stakeholders to design, implement, and fund a national marketing campaign aimed at encouraging Canadians to return to the various arts and culture venues as patrons and audiences.
  • As part of any marketing campaign, allocate funding to provincial and municipal organizations to enable them to use their expertise to design and implement more focused localized campaigns collaboratively with stakeholders.

3. Safe Return for Workers and Audiences

  • Work with all arts and culture stakeholders and all levels of provincial and municipal government to design and implement appropriate public health protocols that will provide an environment for the safe return of workers/artists and audiences to the various arts and culture venues.

As you can see, we continue to be involved in many initiatives in an ongoing effort to ease the stresses imposed on our members because of this worldwide phenomenon. But, make no mistake—musicians would have not been included in the CERB without the persistence of the CFM and our sister unions to ensure that “gig economy” artists would be covered, and that any incidental revenue they had because of students, royalties, or other small amounts of income would not render them ineligible. When I pressed him for answers during the CMPA videoconference, Minister Guilbeault stated emphatically that he had heard our message “loud and clear,” and that adjustments would be made to accommodate our freelance players.

While none of us can predict what the short-term future is of the COVID-19 fiasco, please be aware that your union is doing everything it can, along with our partners, to ensure our members are included in all government subsidies, and to provide a positive transition into the world post-virus. For now, please embrace safe practices and distancing, that you and your families remain safe and healthy.

The AFM’s Coordinated Federal Response to COVID-19

As the scourge of the COVID-19 virus rips through the arts and entertainment community with devastating effects, AFM officers, the International Executive Board, and senior staff have coalesced daily, internally as well as with other AFL-CIO affiliate unions and music groups, to help guarantee that working professional musicians’ voices are heard clearly on Capitol Hill, the epicenter of COVID-19 federal policy and decision-making. As legislative work on the virus advances across the Capitol, it remains incumbent on this office to keep AFM members apprised of any new policies and coalition work in place.

FYI, at the direction of President Hair, the Washington office regularly engages the following organizations: AFL-CIO President’s Subcommittee on Pensions and Retirement Security, the AFL-CIO Legislative Committee-COVID-19 Working Group Taskforce, and the AFL-CIO Department for Professional Employees, which all interact almost daily with Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s special coronavirus outreach offices.

The union has several principal goals. First, to effectively engage the federal government at the highest levels to ensure that working musicians are included in all policy decisions. Secondly, to look out for the health and safety of our members on and away from the worksite, preventing unscrupulous employers from taking unnecessary advantage of our hard-won agreements. Third, to provide meaningful guidance and financial resources whenever possible. Fourth, to the extent possible, help keep you on your employers’ payrolls. And last but not least, to help you analyze federal policy and provide the resources necessary to keep you engaged in advocacy so that your legislators will hear directly from you on the issues that most directly impact your lives.

On the first count, President Hair and Secretary-Treasurer Jay Blumenthal, with help from the AFM Legislative Office, have been engaged with the AFL-CIO Legislative Department as well as with the AFL-CIO Department for Professional Employees AEMI unions, to help outline specific needs of entertainment unions/professionals to be submitted to the Speaker of the House Representatives and to the US Senate as each chamber formulates specific policies needed to keep working artists whole. These challenges have seen the successful inclusion in the CARES Act of W2 wage earners, musicians working in the gig economy, music contractors, and part-time music/entertainment workers.

Secondly, the AFM has supported the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for artists in the workplace and for first responders by supporting AFL-CIO guidance for workers in other professions who risk their lives daily looking out for the infirm. The AFM has also initiated a system of “social distancing” among staff and officers encouraging all AFM locals to follow federal, state, and local guidelines that help prevent the spread of the disease. Though COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on our industry, our continued engagement with federal officials to help identify financial resources and encourage federal relief for distressed arts organizations and artists is partly our best weapon to help bring safety and some financial relief to our artists. Examples of our advocacy can be found in the document QR codes in the sidebar.

We invite you to visit our COVID-19 Resource Page along with the April 2020 International Musician, which both offer in-depth background information and can be accessed by members on our homepage at AFM.org. In the meantime, we will continue to work Capitol Hill and bring you the latest updates that impact your working life as an artist and creative professional.

Update on Coronavirus Response, Reports, Conferences, the 2019 Audit

Without question, the COVID-19 crisis has created the most serious challenge to AFM members in our 124-year history. Essentially, live music has temporarily ceased due to social distancing and shelter-in-place rules. As a union, we have been working tirelessly to help mitigate the myriad of challenges we face today. We have had success in Washington, DC making sure our advocacy for musicians produces real results. The coronavirus (COVID-19) emergency provisions expand unemployment insurance to include “gig workers” and freelance musicians in addition to W-2 and 1099 employment. There are supplemental payouts up to $600 in addition to the state benefit. Also, there is extended benefit coverage up to an additional 13 weeks and a waiver of the one-week waiting period before collecting your benefit.

As you know by now, all AFM offices are temporarily closed due to governmental directives and our desire to protect the health and safety of AFM members and staff. Most AFM staffers are working remotely and are able to respond to questions by email. An email address list of AFM staff can be found by way of a link on the AFM.org website homepage.

Annual Report

The AFM 2019 Annual Report will soon be available on the AFM.org website for review and download. I will have an email blast sent to members as soon as it is ready to view. After it is posted, go to the Document Library/Financial Documents and Annual Report folder and look for the 2019 Annual Report. In the past, the AFM annual report has been printed, however, the delegates to the 2019 AFM Convention voted to print the annual report only in convention years. This represents a savings of the cost for printing, shipping, and mailing in two of the three years between conventions.

The 2019 Annual Report includes the international president, vice president from Canada, and secretary-treasurer’s officer reports, as well as reports from several AFM staff members. It also contains the recently audited 2019 financial statements and the International Executive Board 2019 meeting minutes. If you have any questions, please feel free to give me a call.

AFM Conference CHANGES!

As of this writing, there have been some changes to the AFM regional conference schedule. The Eastern Conference has been rescheduled to take place April 17 through 18, 2021 in King of Prussia, PA. The Locals’ Conferences Council/Player Conferences Council (LCC/PCC) meeting has been rescheduled to take place October 17 through 18, 2020 in Las Vegas, NV (Westgate Hotel). The Canadian Conference has been postponed, with new dates to be announced. Future date changes will be posted on
AFM.org. Click on the Document Library tab and then the Conferences folder.

AFM Bylaws books and List of Locals booklets

The AFM bylaws books and List of Locals booklets were mailed to all local affiliates. The French language AFM bylaws were mailed to the appropriate Canadian locals. If your local has not received your copies, please let us know by emailing a message to the AFM Secretary-Treasurer’s Office.

LM Reports

For those locals that have a calendar fiscal year (January 1 through December 31), your LM report should have been uploaded to the Department of Labor site. The deadline was 90 days from the close of your fiscal year (This year March 30 was the due date—2020 being a leap year). Your latest local constitution and bylaws should have been uploaded as well.

AFM Audit

The annual AFM audit is well underway. While it appears we will have a surplus for 2019, there are many unknowns for 2020. The coronavirus (COVID-19) governmental directives are having a severe economic impact on musicians, locals, and the Federation. In anticipation of the economic fallout, we are monitoring our affected revenue streams and doing our best to manage expenses. We will remain vigilant during these challenging times.

We wish continued good health for all AFM members. Be smart—stay safe, wash hands frequently, practice social distancing, and use good sense if you must leave your home.

COVID-19 Lockout: When It Ends, What Will Recovery Look Like?

With the continued spread of the coronavirus outbreak, governments throughout the world have implemented various forms of lockdown, now affecting a third of the global population including the major cities of North America. The impact of the pandemic on musicians and performers, due to the ban on public gatherings, has shut down entertainment venues of all sizes, halted nearly all media production, and eliminated thousands upon thousands of jobs.

The live entertainment industry has gone dark. In the freelance gig economy, we are 100% unemployed. Under emergency governmental restrictions, we are unable to publicly perform. The virus has locked us out—employees, employers, and audiences alike. We are all in limbo. No one knows when or where the infection curves will “flatten.” No one can tell us with any degree of certainty when restrictions will be lifted. No one can say when our communities will be deemed safe enough to risk restarting non-essential businesses and performance venues with the resumption of live entertainment.

Today, as we ride out this deadly virus, we are in uncharted territory. Nobody—the musicians in the gig economy, the promoters, the audiences who support us—none can hazard a guess where or when the venue doors might re-open. Where will the next paying live gigs be? What will they look like? Fear is the stalking horse of uncertainty.

More broadly though, what short- and long-term consequences will we endure from this severe economic shock, and how will we recover? Will we return to our level of pre-shock earnings and productivity? Will the social distancing legacy of the COVID crisis choke economic activity in the live entertainment sector? If so, it could adversely affect our workplaces—the theaters, the concert halls, the convention dates, the nightclubs, the bars and restaurants.

In every economic downturn, winners and losers emerge. How will our employers and those who control our work behave toward us as the lockout ends and the economy comes back to life? Will employers see a window of opportunity from depression-level unemployment to depress wages, extend profit margins, and gain more power over musicians’ lives?

These are hard questions for hard times. Our individual and collective strength will be tested as the pandemic eventually recedes. The decisions we make as the smoke clears may profoundly shape the rest of our lives.

While musicians are sheltering in place, venues closed, worried about the next gig and long-term shifts in live entertainment spending, there remain some positive relationships between musicians, employers, and the Federation as of this writing, April 20. I hope they will outlast the coronavirus.


There are no symphonic concert performances, but the majority of the 52 major US symphony orchestras affiliated with the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) are continuing to pay rostered musicians in accordance with agreements governing the shutdowns negotiated with their respective local unions. Some agreements continue wage payments into the summer.

Touring Theatrical Musicals

A total of 23 Pamphlet B and Short Engagement Tours were suspended during the week of March 15. Together with other workplace unions, the Federation negotiated a shutdown agreement with the Broadway League covering touring employees providing for cancellation payments and necessary expenses for musicians to return home. The unions are expected to meet and discuss workplace issues in connection with the resumption of touring production prior to the end of suspensions.

Motion Picture/TV Film/Live Television

Film producers and TV networks halted all production in mid-March. Company heads are now in discussion about easing back into production and what content to show in a society changed by the pandemic. Despite the hiatus, some films and dramatic TV series had finished production before the emergency declarations. Scoring sessions have continued for those shows with the Federation facilitating contract applications during the crisis (also applicable in sound recording) for the use of remote recording sessions, where individual musicians perform simultaneously, captured alone in safety, but all mixed together for the soundtrack master. In live TV, the late-night bands have continued to be paid, with some shows hosted live, and others remotely, using clips from previous episodes. Primetime TV shows like The Voice are airing prerecorded shows. Musicians in live TV production receive substantial payments for re-runs.

Sound Recordings

With the proliferation of home studio technology, remote recording sessions have continued and are being processed through the Federation’s Single Song Overdub Agreement and Sound Recording Labor Agreement remote recording applications for use during the crisis.

Commercial Announcements (Jingles)

While slowdowns in local and regional media advertising have taken hold, national accounts are continuing to advertise via online and traditional media. New original sessions will likely decline short-term, with increased use of licensed pre-recorded content such as legacy sound recordings. Musicians whose performances are embodied in original and licensed recordings will receive new use and reuse payments as ad cycles continue.

The pandemic and its social distancing regimen will alter how consumers consume, work, and play. In America, the virus has killed over 46,000 people in just two months. It has also killed businesses and it has killed our jobs.

Live musical performances are social by their very nature. Through our performances, we are social and cultural drivers. The disease has already caused the adoption of unfamiliar ways of doing business, but it won’t stop the power of our music. And it won’t stop our union. When the lockout ends, we will adapt, we will perform, and we will thrive.