by Marc Sazer, President Recording Musicians Association and Member of Locals 47 (Los Angeles, CA) and 802 (New York City)
Even as our national government is mired in anti-labor policies and politics, the entertainment industry has experienced pioneering organizing over the past few years. Actors, writers, even video game workers, are organizing, acting, and gaining improvements. For musicians, our need to participate in the new streaming economy is an existential imperative. The last few years have seen our union negotiate key improvements from major media companies, especially in regards to our US pension fund, Music Performance Trust Fund, and Sound Recording Special Payments Fund.
But the rapid move across all media to streaming platforms threatens to leave musicians behind. This would be devastating, not just to those of us who work directly in recording studios, but for all of us. Our funds and our place in pattern bargaining would be damaged irrevocably, if we can’t achieve fair compensation in streaming media. But perhaps the greatest harm would befall the next generation, and the next after them—aspirations dashed, a decent future denied.
We all have a stake in this, not just the house band players on the late night shows and the performers on The Voice and Dancing with the Stars. This includes musicians who prepare and perform the music on films, television, and streaming shows, from little indie and student projects to Star Wars, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and The Orville; the players on records that are licensed into these media; as well as sideline musicians all over North America who bring these projects to life.
And we can do it! Take a look at some recent news headlines, as people working all across the entertainment industry seek real-life improvements through organizing.
“As Video Games Make Billions, the Workers Behind Them Say It’s Time to Unionize”
Organizers with Game Workers Unite, a group that has sprung up in the last year to push for wall-to-wall unionization in the $43-billion game industry, kicked off each session with an icebreaker: “Damn the man.” (Sam Dean, April 12, 2019 LATimes)
“Telemundo Actors Vote
Overwhelmingly to Join SAG-AFTRA”
Actors at the Spanish-language TV network Telemundo have overwhelmingly voted to unionize with SAG-AFTRA, bringing to a close a protracted dispute between Hollywood’s largest union and NBCUniversal, which owns the network. (David Ng, March 8, 2017 LATimes)
“SBS’s La Ley Staffers Vote to Join SAG-AFTRA”
The on-air talent at
Spanish Broadcasting System’s Chicago radio station La Ley 107.9 (WLEY-FM)
voted overwhelmingly to recognize SAG-AFTRA as their union.
(Veronica Villafañe, October 1, 2018, Mediamoves.com)
“Aaron Sorkin and David Chase Among the Writers Who Support WGA in Fight with Agents”
Ratcheting up the pressure in its fight with Hollywood talent agencies, the Writers Guild of America has released a statement of support from hundreds of its members who are saying that they intend to vote in favor this week of a new code of conduct that would limit agency practices, including the packaging of productions. (David Ng, March 25, 2019, LATimes)
“Actors’ Equity Reaches Development Deal with Broadway Producers; Strike Over”
Actors’ Equity Association and Broadway producers have reached what Equity is calling a “historic” agreement on a profit-sharing contract model for union members participating in early stage production development. The new lab agreement includes profit sharing, higher wages, and additional stage manager contracts, according to Equity. (Greg Evans, February 8, 2019, Deadline.com)
“Musicians Seek Streaming Residuals as Contract Talks Launch with Studios”
The AFM held a press conference Wednesday prior to the start of negotiations at the headquarters of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers in Sherman Oaks, Calif. Musicians are working under the terms of an extended contract that was signed in 2015 as a three-year deal. The AMPTP had no comment.
The AFM noted that SAG-AFTRA, the Writers Guild of America, and the Directors Guild of America have been able to negotiate residuals for films made for streaming, but musicians have been excluded. The union noted that musicians currently receive residual payments for secondary-market uses of theatrical and TV films, but not for films made for the Internet.
“As streaming consumption grows, the absence of streaming residuals will prevent musicians from being able to afford a home and feed their families, and threatens to erode the major contributions our members make to our local communities,” said Ray Hair, AFM International President.
“AFM members must take on the changes in technology by ensuring that we maintain good jobs and a rightful place in the future of the industry,” he added. “We are seeking a productive dialogue with AMPTP as we work to reach a fair resolution of these negotiations.”
SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris said in a letter, “Working people in the entertainment industry must face the changes in our business together. For generations, we have fought for quality jobs and won. Now, as the industry moves toward new media, we believe it is time to stand together again. Our members recognize the tremendous value that musicians bring to our films and television shows, and we support their demand for a fair contract for streaming.” (Dave McNary, March 13, 2019, Variety)