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Supporting Musicians During Difficult Times with May 22 Fund Distribution

by Kim Roberts Hedgpeth, Film Musicians Secondary Markets Fund (FMSMF) Executive Director

As I write this, Americans have lived through almost two months of tragedy and disruption in their lives. And in a cruel irony, at a time when many Americans have turned to entertainment to ease the fear and anxieties caused by the current pandemic, the very artists whose talents create the entertainment that is soothing America’s soul have seen their livelihoods vanish in the blink of an eye.

Even before California issued its formal “shelter in place” orders, the Film Musicians Secondary Markets Fund (FMSMF) was tracking the rolling shutdown of production and understood that as production ground to a halt, so would session work for film and TV musicians. The Fund shifted its focus in order to accelerate its annual July distribution, in the hope of getting residuals to musicians as soon as possible. A skeleton crew worked through late March and April to finish out the 2020 fiscal year and prepare for the FMSMF distribution. It helped that the Fund is exempt from state and city closure orders, so some employees could continue in office. (Although exempt from closure, in an abundance of caution, Fund management arranged for most employees to remain out of the office until we could fully research and implement recommended hygiene and distancing protocols).

We are pleased to report the FMSMF distribution is being issued on May 22, more than a month earlier than the originally scheduled normal distribution date of July 1. The millions of dollars being sent to musicians and their beneficiaries in this annual distribution will hopefully serve as a critical lifeline to ease some of the stress on the community of professional film and TV scoring musicians affected by the abrupt and widespread loss of work caused by this pandemic.

Accomplishing this unprecedented—and one time—acceleration of the FMSMF annual distribution was not without cost. In order to have any chance of getting the larger FMSMF distribution processed early, work on the relatively smaller Live Television Videotape sub-fund (LTVF) was temporarily deferred. This will require redoubled efforts in order to distribute LTVF residuals by the July 1deadline. In addition, the Fund temporarily deferred processing unclaimed residuals and beneficiary claims, which has created a backlog of requests. But consistent with its commitment to its participants, the Fund will leave no stone unturned to move forward, get back on track and accomplish this work post haste.

Keeping Eyes on the Road Ahead

Fiscal 2020 collections came in slightly below Fiscal 2019, with over $114 million collected in FY2020 as compared to $115.7 million in FY2019. The question remains whether this slight dip in collections is a temporary blip, or the harbinger of a trend. The steady growth in residuals collected by the FMSMF between 2010 and 2019 has been driven by two key factors: increased compliance activity by FMSMF to recover residuals not voluntarily paid by companies and primarily by the rapid growth in residuals from secondary release of theatrical motion pictures and TV programs into digital platforms such as SVOD.

The shutdown of production and closure of movie theaters has accelerated the shift by companies to invest more in content made directly for digital streaming services. The pandemic has also incentivized companies to promote heavily in the rollout of their own digital streaming services that can retain exclusive rights to both their made for streaming content and digital release of their existing libraries of theatrical films and TV programs. These changes in the business paradigm would have a significant impact on musicians’ residuals in the future in any event, but the pandemic has accelerated these trends faster than anyone could have anticipated. 

As new streaming services, such as Disney+, Peacock, HBO Max, along with Netflix, Prime Video, Hulu, and others increasingly invest in original content made directly for their services while a “traditional” platform like pay television experiences a drop in subscribership down to 1995 levels, the future is unclear. It is clear that the question of whether terms in the AFM Theatrical and TV Agreements governing made for “new media” content will be updated in the 2021 negotiations—to ensure musicians employed on content made for streaming services receive residuals—becomes even more pressing. Although the Fund does not participate in the negotiations between the AFM and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), the outcome of the 2021 theatrical and TV negotiations and the impact of the pandemic-driven acceleration of changes in the industry’s business models will be watched closely by the Fund, and should be of keen interest to every recording musician.

Keep Up to Date

Please make sure that your beneficiary information is up to date with the Fund. In recognition of the difficulties for musicians in finding notary services in the current environment, until further notice, the Fund will accept non-notarized Beneficiary Designation Forms so long as valid proof of government-issued identification such as a driver’s license or passport is provided. You can find more information about the Fund’s Beneficiary policies at www.fmsmf.org/beneficiary or email us at participantservices@fmsmf.org with questions.

The Fund is committed to providing prompt and courteous service to participants throughout these challenging times, despite working at reduced capacity. Please note that until the Fund is back working at full capacity, responses to correspondence sent to us by US mail may be delayed. The best way to reach us is to send your questions or concerns via email to participantservices@fmsmf.org. And please visit our website at www.fmsmf.org and our page on Facebook for updates on Fund information.

On behalf of the Fund, we extend our sincere wishes to all members of the AFM and their families to remain safe, healthy and in good spirits. We are here to support you, and stand united with the community of professional musicians as we navigate the times ahead.